When we meet people from the past, people who lived and died during our lifetimes and those still living among us today, our world becomes larger, more colorful and fascinating. Their example elevates our thinking; these people who made this place we share better, raise us up. If they can do it, we can do it.
Author Margarita Engle continues to enlighten readers in her most recent title Bravo! Poems About Amazing Hispanics (Godwin Books, Henry Holt and Company, March 14, 2017) with illustrations by Rafael Lopez. Highly respected individuals for their contributions find a place in the pages of this book. Some of them will be familiar to readers, others will be new and welcome acquaintances.
The first of eighteen poems is:
JUAN DE MIRALLES
I believe in the good cause
of American independence from England.
Thousands of soldiers from Spain
and all regions of Latin America
are fighting side by side
with George Washington's men,
as we struggle to defeat the British. ...
As a close friend of George Washington, he helped the troops to combat scurvy by sending ships to Cuba to bring back fresh fruit. Born a few years after Juan De Miralles dies, Felix Varela leaves Cuba in fear of his life. Kindness saves him and the Irish immigrants settling in New York after the potato famine who he assists. The medicinal skills and courage of Juana Briones, a rancher in California earned her the name of the Founding Mother of San Francisco.
Her home in Florida was a refuge for poets. His poems voicing freedom caused him to be imprisoned at sixteen. They were friends united in their beliefs, both born and died in Cuba.
Sometimes our path is not known until we are older. Ynes Mexia, a botanist, shows us how determination can create opportunities. His method of painting birds and the results show us how to love Nature's creatures. Perhaps this woman, the first to fly an airship (even before Wilbur and Orville Wright), soared with those very birds captured on canvas. Her teaching methods focused on the use of English, Spanish, Tewa and Tiwa and her cookbooks blended the old with the new.
A storyteller and a cowboy, Arnold Rojas, kept his culture alive. Pura Belpre was the first Puerto Rican hired in the New York Public Library System. Her name is attached to the prestigious award given to Latino authors and illustrators each year by the American Library Association. Another first was held by George Melendez Wright, chief of the Wildlife Division for America's national parks; protecting and preserving animals under his care.
A woman rises up to champion for women's rights and care for children in poverty. A man, stricken with asthma, looks for cures through research. Another man takes his "noise" and makes music. Remembered for his tireless peaceful protests to better the life of farmworkers, his name is synonymous with labor and civil rights.
His life was lost in a tragic airplane accident flying to assist those in need but his baseball records cannot ever be changed. Roberto Clemente was the first Latino to reach 3,000 hits. He was a mentor to many; reading and writing whatever he could find as his family moved with the crops. He was the first Latino leader of a University of California campus. Tomas Rivera.
Imagine this. You and others are seated in a small, comfortable theater in the round. In the center is a stage; also seated are persons born as early as 1713 and who died as recently as 2011. A hush falls over the room. It remains as each one of these eighteen people read the poems, in their own voice, as written by Margarita Engle. As the final sentence
Sometimes the best way to teach is by example.
is read the silence stays for several heartbeats until as one the entire audience stands and delivers their applause.
This is exactly how you feel when reading this title. You are drawn into the lives of these individuals by the words chosen by Margarita Engle. For each person she gives us their name, their birth and death dates and their country of origin. As they talk to us those sterling moments of their lives are revealed as is the journey they took to accomplish their achievements. Here is the portion of another poem.
JULIA DE BURGOS
Six of my twelve brothers and sisters
died of hunger, but my gentle mother
took me for long walks
beside a river
of beautiful dreams.
I learned to love nature and the island,
even though we were so poor that I
had to climb into classrooms
through a window, because we
could not afford school tuition. ...
Opening the dust jacket you can see the black background for the title text extended to the spine and the left two-thirds of the back. Four more geometric portions of portraits are displayed to the left of the spine vertically. Each face, on the right and the left of the jacket, conveys the full emotional intensity of the person, capturing them at their best. On a turquoise background on the front and a purple background on the back of the book case, Rafael Lopez features a girl first and then a boy benefiting, like all who read this volume, from the variety of lives depicted. The girl is lying on her back holding an open book over her face. Drops of water, a rainbow of colors, fall from the pages. The boy is seated, knees up with a book held in his hands. His head and neck are rainbow striped with a strip in the middle black with stars.
Each of the people are given an entire page for their portrait. The backgrounds reflect the time period and their successes. A portion of the background appears next to their name on the opposite page along with a small image acting as a symbol of their remarkable deeds; a fruit with leaves formed of American flags for Juan De Miralles, a stylized bird standing on a paint brush sprouting leaves for Louis Agassiz Fuertes and a fashionably dressed smaller version of Aida De Acosta with wings. These illustrations rendered in
a combination of acrylic on wood, pen and ink, watercolor, construction paper, and Adobe Photoshop
belong on the walls of an art gallery or museum. They are stunning!
One of my favorites of many is Juana Briones. Behind her is a golden canvas with a symbolic sun, rays extended, over her right shoulder. She is standing tall facing us, part of her long hair back and up. In her right hand she holds a basket filled with herbs, balanced on her hip. In her left hand she holds a small decorated pot. To the left and right of her are two large floral herbs. A small layer of purple extends along the bottom. She is wearing a striped black and gray skirt, white, round-necked blouse and a shawl knotted in front. Her face is full of quiet strength.
I have read these poems over and over, the warmth and greatness of these people filling my soul. Bravo! Poems About Amazing Hispanics written by Margarita Engle with illustrations by Rafael Lopez is a book needed on all professional and personal bookshelves. This book will inspire you to research more about each person. At the close of the book Margarita Engle lists more influential Latinos on two pages. Four more pages expand on the information about the eighteen notable Latinos in this book.
To learn more about Margarita Engle and Rafael Lopez please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names. Rafael Lopez has several pages from this book showcased on his site. He also maintains another website here. At the publisher's website you can see some pages not shown at Lopez's website. Margarita Engle wrote a post for the Nerdy Book Club, January 20, 2017.