Tuesday, April 03, 2012

5Q Poet Interview Series: Margarita Engle

Our 5Q Poet Interview series for National Poetry Month continues with Margarita Engle. Gradate student Rebekah Espinosa offers this interview (plus) with Margarita.

About the Author:
Margarita Engle is the celebrated author of novels in verse for young adults, including The Wild Book. Her novels all take place in historical Cuba, highlighting her own Cuban-American ancestry. Engle’s stories are heavily influenced by her childhood summers spent visiting her mother’s homeland and her educational background in botany. Find out more about Margarita Engle and watch videos of her speaking at the 2010 National Book Festival, her interview with Colorin Colorado, and her response to receiving the 2012 Pura Belpre Honor at her website http://margaritaengle.com. Click the following link to watch a book trailer for Engle’s Newbery Honor Book, The Surrender Tree at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wL6cm6opIeU.

About the Book:
The Wild Book, released March 20, 2012, is Margarita Engle’s most recently published work. Through a collection of poems in free verse Margarita tells the story of a young girl named Fefa as she struggles to read and write despite a diagnosis of dyslexia. Fefa’s journal, her mother’s idea, shows Fefa’s literacy development and gives the reader insight into a strong child’s will to survive despite a doomsday diagnosis and the string of kidnapping occurring on her home island of Cuba. Taking place during the early 1900s, The Wild Book was been inspired by Margarita Engle’s maternal grandmother who struggled with dyslexia as she grew up in Cuba.

Praises for The Wild Book:
Booklist (March 01, 2012): “Written in free verse and inspired by family stories, the slender narrative conveys the frustrations of dyslexia and captures the lush setting.”

Voice of Youth Advocates (December 01, 2011): “The Wild Book is a beautiful collection of poems”

School Library Journal (March 01, 20120): “Engle uses words sparingly and with grace”

Five Questions with Margarita Engle:
This interview was conducted through email on March 2, 2012 before the release of The Wild Book.

Espinosa: Being certified as a special education teacher, I am particularly fascinated by the fact that you have told this story from the viewpoint of a girl with dyslexia. What influenced you to tell your story from this viewpoint?

Engle: I wrote about a girl with dyslexia because The Wild Book was inspired by stories my grandmother told me about her childhood. She always spoke as if there was something wrong with her eyes that made it difficult for her to read and write. I was shocked when I learned about the archaic medical term, "word blindness," which led her to believe she could not see words, and greatly damaged her confidence in her ability to learn.

Espinosa: If and and how did your experiences of growing up Cuban-American, and being separated from your Cuban relatives, influence the main character, Fefa, and her dealing with the kidnappings in her community?

Engle: I am Cuban-American, but I am not a refugee. My mother came to the U.S. before the revolution, to marry my American father, so throughout the first decade of my life, we were able to spend summers in Cuba. Even after the revolution, we continued to visit. I was not separated from my Cuban family until after the Missile Crisis of 1962, when I was eleven. During my early childhood, I had the chance to meet the extended family and bond with my grandmother, whose stories about her own childhood later inspired The Wild Book.

Espinosa: You have said your parents were artists in several interviews. I am curious as to how this influenced your development from botanist to poet and how these aspects of yourself played out in your writing of this book.

Engle: I was fortunate to grow up around creative adults who also loved nature. My mother is an amazing gardener and birdwatcher. My father loves to travel. When I was little, I watched him sit beside a tropical river, painting the beautiful green landscape. During those adventurous road trips, I wandered around, exploring the plant and animal life. I soon discovered that I loved both books and the outdoors. I ended up seeking a balance between science and poetry.

Espinosa: What was the biggest challenge or obstacle you faced in completing The Wild Book?

Engle: The greatest challenge was simplifying my writing style. This was a conscious effort, because I wanted to write a short book that could be dedicated to reluctant readers like my grandmother.

Espinosa: Most of your work, including The Wild Book, is historical fiction. What do you enjoy about most about this genre and why have you continued to write within it?

Engle: I love historical fiction-in-verse because I feel like it allows me to distill complex situations down to their emotional essence. I always hope that along the way, modern young people might find some inspiration in stories about courageous young people who made hopeful decisions in times that must have seemed hopeless.

Poem Preview:
Margarita Engle has given permission to share a few lines from her new book, The Wild Book. The following is an excerpt from her poem, “School.”

The others laugh.
They always laugh.
When I am forced to read
they mock
my stumbling voice,
and when I have to practice
my horrible
they make fun
of the twisted

Suggested Extension Activity for “School”:
-After reading this poem gather students in a circle. Have students think of one kind thing they would be willing to share about the person on their left and the person on their right. Then have students share with the class what makes each individual a wonderful addition to the group.

-Have students create a visual piece of art that represents something they find difficult. Since Fefa struggles with letters and words, have students use letters and pictures they have cut from magazines and newspapers as their starting point. Additional art supplies such as glue, water colors, crayons, markers, toothpicks, ribbon, and leftover fabric may be utilized by students as well.

Engle, Margarita. "Margarita Engle- Home." Margarita Engle. 2011. Web. 25 Mar. 2012. .
Engle, Margarita. The Wild Book. New York: Harcourt Children's Books, 2012.ISBN: 978-0547581316
Morrow, Stacey. "The Surrender Tree.m4v." YouTube, 2009. Web. 25 Mar. 2012. .

Image credit: penguinpr.co.uk;blogidrive.com

Posting by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2012. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

laurasalas said...

Adding this to my MUST READ list. Sounds wonderful! Thanks for the interview.