The Poet Slave Of Cuba: A Biography Of Juan Francisco Manzano

ISBN-10: 0312659288
ISBN-13: 9780312659288
Author: Engle, Margarita
Illustrated by: Qualls, Sean
Interest Level: 7-12
Publisher: Square Fish

Publication Date: March 2011

Copyright: 2006

Page Count: 208

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Interest Level

Grades 7-12

Reading Level

Lexile: NP
Accelerated Reader Level: 6.3
Accelerated Reader Points: 2.0



BISAC Subjects

YOUNG ADULT NONFICTION / History / Central & South America *


Born a slave, raised by a woman not his mother, and denied an education, Juan overcame all the personal obstacles he faced as a child in order to reach freedom, pursue his natural talents, and become the celebrated poet he was destined to be.
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Emma Williams, Collection Development Specialist

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8/10/2011 4:17:35 PM
In The Poet Slave Of Cuba readers hear the story of Juan Francisco Manzano, a man enslaved in Cuba in the nineteenth-century. Author Margarita Engle uses free verse poems to present Juan’s biography from several perspectives; Juan’s and those of a number of different people in his life. With many voices describing him, readers come to a rich and deep understanding of Juan’s character and life. The format and the authenticity of the various voices allows readers to feel the haunting, harsh reality of slavery and the triumph of the human spirit.

Some of the narrators are those who try to destroy the poet-slave. Juan’s first master celebrates him because of his talent to memorize and recite poems, plays, and sermons. But, ultimately, she treats him like a fancy show dog, making life a lonely existence for the brilliant man. Juan’s second master, a mentally disturbed woman, tries to crush him, persecuting him for his remarkable gift and for expressing himself with it.

Yet other narrators are those who help Juan, such as the son of Juan’s second master who slips Juan food and water when he is in confinement as well as paper and quills for writing.

Other narrators suffer alongside Juan—his hurt is their hurt. Juan’s mother, Maria Del Pilar, laments:

Always hungry, the whisperers say

a child forced to hide under the table

to find a few scraps, just like a stray dog.

If only he were a stray,

then I could find him and feed him,

my son.

With its variety of strong voices, The Poet Slave Of Cuba can be used to the greatest effect as a read aloud by students in the classroom. The words of the story will resonate as the classroom community brings Juan’s community to life. The book also includes some of Juan’s original poetry (in English and in Spanish) that students may also enjoy reading aloud. A historical note fills in some details on the life of this remarkable poet who escaped slavery, rose above harsh circumstances, and lived to tell about it.

The Poet Slave Of Cuba is the winner of the 2011 Pura Belpré Award. Booksource recommends this title for grades 7-12.