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

by Margarita Engle
Illustrated by Sean Qualls

Published by Henry Holt, 2006
183 pages
ISBN: 0-8050-7706-5

Age 12 and older

Juan Francisco Manzano was born a slave in Cuba in 1797. Taken from his loving birth mother, he was placed in the home of a wealthy woman who insisted he call her mother. She treated young Juan like a pet. The boy found solace in words, reading books and making up poems of his own. “I love the words / written with my feathery mind / in the air / and with my sharp fingernails / on leaves in the garden.” In this breathtaking biography, Margarita Engle has written poems to tell the story of Juan’s childhood and young adulthood. Her powerful narrative—in the voice of Juan and others in his life—is both joy and heartbreak to read, evocative of all the cruelty, beauty, and irony that was Juan’s life. Sean Qualls’s occasional black-and-white illustrations are haunting in a volume that concludes with a note providing additional information on Juan’s life, and brief excerpts (in Spanish, with English translations) of his remarkable poetry. (MS) ©2007 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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