The past can feel so far away - locked in pictures and passages chronicling distant people from distant places. Reaching through to it, and connecting with it, can seem an impossibility.
Author and poet Margarita Engle bridges this gap, breathing life into the past - giving it emotional footing and enduring meaning. Through vivid, sensory storytelling, Engle guides us directly into the minds and hearts of her characters, bringing history's dates, names and places into focus and reminding us of the universality of dreams.
Engle has a particular gift for reaching children. She is the current Young People's Poet Laureate, an honor awarded by the Poetry Foundation. During her two-year term (2017-2019), Engle is raising awareness of young people's natural receptivity to poetry, especially when poems are written specifically for them.
This week, I'm thrilled beyond measure to feature this master of the written word - Young People's Poet Laureate Margarita Engle.
Engle has two new books out this year. Her latest picture book is The Flying Girl, How Aída de Acosta Learned to Soar, illustrated by Sara Palacios (released by Atheneum Books for Young Readers in March 2018).
In this tale, readers meet young Aida - a girl who longs to fly and dares to make her dream come true. Engle's story places us firmly in time, when brave, bold women were viewed as social outcasts unfit for marriage. But Aida doesn't care. She longs to "pull this lever, tug that rope, drop more ballast, believe, practice, hope!"
My girls were enthralled by Aida's adventure and thrilled to find that she was a real woman. Their mom (that's me) was surprised to learn that Aida's flight in the summer of 1903 occurred six months before the Wright Brothers flew a fixed-wing airplane. We have borrowed this book from our library three times. Aida's story, as told through Engle's heart-driven narrative, is a powerful example of following that passionate, persistent voice inside.
Engle's newest young adult book is Jazz Owls, a Novel of the Zoot Suit Riots, featuring art by Rudy Gutierrez (released by Atheneum in June 2018).
This novel-in-verse illuminates the story of the Zoot Suit Riots - when navy sailors about to deploy for battle in World War II descended upon Mexican American neighborhoods of Los Angeles, attacking young boys and men and burning their zoot suits. The story is told through many voices. The most prominent are two young "jazz owls," the term used to describe the Mexican American girls who danced with sailors before they left for the front lines.
I wish you could see my copy of this book. I'm a dog-ear reader, and one-third of it is off-set by folded corners. So many verses in this novel just take my breath away. I find myself reading and rereading them, trying to figure out exactly how Engle has done it. The words she uses are so familiar - like the fabrics you live with, wearing and softening with repeated use. But her arrangements are spellbinding, three dimensional with discernible pitch and dynamics. Alive, with a heartbeat you can hear and feel.
Engle's words are a gift. And so it's with great pleasure that I pass along the gift of her writing wisdom to each of you! I hope you enjoy this Author Spotlight:
3 Questions with Margarita Engle
Your books amplify and enliven the stories of so many people from history. How do you choose who to feature, and how do you hone in on character voice?
It's a contemplative process. First, I read as many first person narratives as I can find, including diaries, letters, and memoirs. Then I daydream. I imagine. It's almost as if I'm still listening to those historical voices, but now they're floating above their own pages, helping me wonder how it felt to live in a particular time and place.
My girls are so engaged by your books! I look up to find them hanging on every word. Can you describe your special connection with young readers?
That's so wonderful. I was a shy, quiet, serious child who read more grownup books than children's books. As an adult, I became a scientist, but never lost my love of poetry, which I had been writing since the age of 5 or 6. After I had my own kids, I discovered poetry written for young readers, and fell in love with verse novels. Now I feel free to imagine, and that includes feeling free to imagine my eleven-year-old self, time-traveling across oceans and borders, or back into history.
There is such elegance, focus, and spirit in your work. What advice might you give to writers developing their craft - particularly in the area of revision?
Thank you! The first draft offers complete freedom. Write from the heart. Write by hand, with a pen, on paper. Let it flow. Say what you really need to say, without worrying about publication. By the time you reach the second draft, it will be hard work. There's no escaping the pain of revision. Remember, this is your chance to make the book better, so you can't afford to get discouraged. It takes laser sharp concentration, one page at a time.
Thank you, Margarita! Both of the books featured in this post are available through your local bookstore, or via the online bookseller of your choice. You can learn more about Engle, author of more than 25 books (including Newberry Honor winner The Surrender Tree and one of my all-time favorite picture books, All the Way to Havana), at www.margaritaengle.com. Connect with Engle on Twitter at @YPPLaureate.
One lucky reader will receive a copy of THE FLYING GIRL and JAZZ OWLS. Here's how you can enter to WIN these new books:
*** Win THE FLYING GIRL and JAZZ OWLS ***
1. "Like" this post (click the heart below)
2. Follow me (@anitraschulte) on Twitter
3. Retweet my pinned contest tweet by 7/20/18
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