Citation: Engle, M., & López, R. (2017). Bravo!: poems about amazing Hispanics. New York, NY: Goodwin Books, Henry Holt and Company.
Overall Review: Bravo! Poems About Amazing Hispanics opens with an author’s note about her poems contained within. This clarifies the use of modern names for the countries discussed in the poems and why the subjects were chosen. Each poem is then presented with the subject’s name at the top of the page along with years of birth and death and their country of birth. Every poem is also accompanied with an illustration of the subject on the opposite page. Often, these illustrations are a bit abstract to capture the passion of the subject. For example, a rainbow of colors escapes from a book held by Pura Belpre to symbolize the magic she helped to free from books in her work at the library. The end of the book holds one extra poem titled “More and More Amazing Latinos” that discusses other famous Latinos that did not fit in the book as well as a section of notes about the lives of each of the subjects of the poems for more information.
Each one of Engle’s poems is in free verse and uses similar style elements which aid in the flow of the book from poem to poem, connecting them even more. While each subject was famous for something different, their shared heritage keeps the poems connected as well and ties into the theme of the book.
This book is equally appealing to someone without a knowledge of the history of the countries discussed as one who is versed in the history of the subjects. The poems bring new perspective to the stories of famous people like Cesar Chavez that most people are familiar with and introduce new, lesser known, subjects like Faboila Cabeza de Baca. Even when introducing new concepts and more mature themes like exile, the language is kept simple and the emotions and repercussions of complex matters are explained in a child-appropriate way that is accessible and relatable.
Spotlight Poem: “The Magic of Words”
“As a child on the island, I see injustice,
so I write about freedom, but at sixteen,
I’m arrested, and after months of hard labor
in prison, I am forced to flee my homeland.
In New York, I stroll through Central Park
with the children of other exiles, telling stories
of gentle elephants and enchanted shrimp . . .
I say that each day is a poem.
Some hours are green and peaceful.
Others are red, like festivals or storms.
I love teaching children how to tell
their own stories.”
The first thing that strikes me about this poem is the use of formatting to convey such strong messages. The poem appears broken in two on the page. The first stanza appears on the far left while telling about his childhood in Cuba while the second and third stanzas appear separate as he describes his life in America. The distance on the page tells of the physical and emotional distance the subject experience in his transition.
Each line begins with an end to a story that afforded him a new beginning. For example, we see that the phrase “As a child on the island, I see injustice,/so I write about freedom, but at sixteen,/I’m arrested…” broken into three lines. Beginning to write was an ending of sitting idly by and seeing injustice happen; it started his story. Being arrested was an end to his childhood and innocence, but it was the beginning of his fight for freedom. This theme continues throughout the poem with each line separated into a different chapter of his life laying the groundwork for the last stanza where he says that “each day is a poem.” His life, separated by the different days or chapters is building up to his own unique poem.
The richest lines to me are “Some hours are green and peaceful./Others are red, like festivals or storms.” Not only does this show the complexity of life and tie it to a common association children use for feelings (colors) to make it feel relatable and tangible, it also shows the complex side of these color associations. Red can mean exciting (like a festival) or dangerous (like a storm). This complexity can tie back to the rollercoaster of emotions we experience in this poem from anger at the injustice he witnesses, sadness as he leaves his home, tranquility and inspiration as he talks about telling stories in the park with other children, to hope at the end when he talks about teaching children “how to tell their stories.”
Take 5 Activity:
- Read the poem and discuss the use of colors.
- Have children help make a list of color associations.
- Write a poem together using their color descriptions to describe a rainbow day/life.
- Re-read the poem, having the children read aloud together.
- Let the children begin writing their own poems about their own colorful stories.