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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 20, 2011
Summary: Quebrado finds himself a slave on a pirate ship after being traded around since his mother died and his father ran away. He doesn't even remember his own name, has just come to answer to el quebrado- half islander, half outsider- since his mother was from Cuba while his father was a sailor. He currently works for Bernardino de Talavera, the first pirate of the Caribbean Sea, who has recently captured Alonso de Ojeda, a brutal conquistador. However, Quebrado finally has his first chance of luck- Talavera's ship crashes in the middle of a hurricane and he is able to escape onto an island where he finds his first home in recent memory.

What I Think: If you follow my reviews you probably know that I am sucker for historical fiction and novels in verse, so I am a sucker for this book. Both aspects of the novel were well done- the poetry was beautiful and the historical element was interesting. I love walking away from a novel with more knowledge than when I started and it is even better when I learn about something I never knew about (like pirates of the Caribbean in 1500s). After finishing I went straight to wikipedia to learn more and have put a book listed in the references on hold at my library. I love how historical fiction makes me fascinated about a subject like no history class has ever been able to.

I also enjoyed how it was told from different points of view. It allowed you to get insight into the situation from different points of view. I will say, though, that I walked away wanting more. I wanted more conflict, more resolution, more action... just more. From the cover, I am assuming there will be more books, so maybe they'll contain the more I wanted.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 14, 2013
Margarita Engle's Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck is a beautifully written novel in verse, similar in many ways to her earlier book The Surrender Tree. Here again, Engle brings to life a lesser known period of Caribbean history through three distinct but intertwined stories: that of Quebrado; Naridó and Caucubú; and Ojeda and Talavera. While many of us are familiar with the history of Christopher Columbus, other stories of the conquest and colonization of the Americas are often overlooked. This book offers part of that missing perspective.

Set in the early 16th century, Hurricane Dancers tells the story of Quebrado, a young boy enslaved on a pirate ship after losing his Taíno mother and Spanish father. In learning about Quebrado's story, we also hear the tales of those around him. Here we learn about Alonso de Ojeda, a contemporary of Columbus, who sailed with Columbus on his second voyage to the Americas. Ojeda became famous for his brutality, both in his settlement of Hispaniola and his later conquest of South America. Yet, in Engle's book we find Ojeda the injured captive of Spanish pirate Bernardino de Talavera. We learn that Talavera is an impoverished conquistador. Once awarded a profitable land grant, Talavera literally worked his indigenous slaves to death, resulting in the loss of all his wealth. In order to avoid debtor's prison, Talavera steals a ship and takes to the seas. And then, on this ship, we are introduced to Quebrado. The sailors name him Quebrado, meaning a broken one, because he is half islander and half outsider. Enslaved and beaten, Quebrado is used by Talavera as a translator because he speaks both Spanish and Taíno. Quebrado eventually gains his freedom when a hurricane sinks the ship and kills most of the crew. After the crash, Quebrado is saved and befriended by Naridó, a Taíno fisherman. Naridó is in love with Caucubú, the daughter of the tribe's leader, who is to be given away in an arranged marriage. Meanwhile, in an interesting twist of fate, Talavera and Ojeda find themselves alive, albeit severely injured, and are forced to depend on each other to survive and find help.

In the prose-poetry that follows, Ojeda and Talavera find themselves among the same villagers who have taken in Quebrado. Banished to an alligator infested swamp, the two Spaniards seem to have the nine lives of a cat, surviving even this. Quebrado is soon banished as well and sent away from his newfound home. Ultimately, Quebrado must find the courage to banish the two from the island forever.
Hurricane Dancers is one of those books with limitless possibilities for classroom use, appropriate across grade levels for read aloud, independent reading or novel study. If you're hesitant to use novel in verse in your classroom, don't be. I'll admit I had my doubts before I read Engle's Surrender Tree. But I, along with the other teachers in our monthly book group, loved it. The novelty of this style will be interesting to students not familiar with it. It's also a much simpler read. There's no complicated dialogue to keep track of or dense pages to wade through. Each page is a poem written from one character's perspective which makes it a great book to be read out loud--especially if you have enough copies for each student to have his or her own. Then, students can take turns reading the lines of the different characters as if it was a play. The simple style won't intimidate struggling readers, but the engaging plot and beautiful descriptive imagery will catch the attention of all of your students. Booklist writes in its review, "Engle distills the emotion in each episode with potent rhythms, sounds, and original, unforgettable imagery. Linked together, the poems capture elemental identity questions and the infinite sorrows of slavery and dislocation. . ." It would be a perfect book to teach elements of literary or poetic analysis. Many students can struggle to understand or analyze the symbolism or imagery of a short poem, but within the context of an entire novel, these things can be easier to uncover and understand. The simple but beautiful imagery will paint amazing pictures in the minds and imaginations of young and old readers alike.

But, it's not just a book for reading or language arts classes. It could be quite powerful in a social studies or history course. Hurricane Dancers could easily be integrated into any study on early exploration and conquest of the Caribbean and South America. An amazing unit could be put together using Engle's novel along with Michael Dorris' Morning Girl, and the teacher's guide Rethinking Columbus published by Rethinking Schools. Quite often our classroom resources focus on the point of view of Columbus or other explorers, but rarely do they give voice to the indigenous groups who inhabited the land or even name those groups. This is not the case with Hurricane Dancers. Engle's "Author's Note" at the end provides a wealth of information on the background of the historical figures and peoples mentioned in the book. Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years also has a number of great resources written specifically about the Taíno. While Engle's book doesn't focus on current events, it could be an excellent resource for those teaching about more contemporary Social Studies issues, like child slavery. We featured another novel in October, The Queen of Water, that, if paired with Hurricane Dancers, could provide an excellent means for studying both historical and contemporary issues around child. If nothing else, this is a moving story of a young boy's journey to redemption. His final message is one that I believe we hope all our students understand and accept for themselves: "I no longer feel like Quebrado, a broken place. . .I am free of all those shattered ways of seeing myself. I am whole" (p. 133).

Check out our free educator's guide at http://teachinglatinamericathroughliterature.wordpress.com/january-2013-hurricane-dancers-the-first-carribean-pirate-shipwreck/
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 8, 2015
In free verse, Engle gives voice to five characters based on early 1500s Caribbean history, including the ruthless conquistador Alfonso de Ojedo and the pirate Bernardino de Talavera. The protagonist, the fictional Quebrado, a boy born of a Taino mother and Spanish father, is enslaved on the pirate ship holding Ojedo captive.

With literary legerdemain, Engle’s light, quick-moving verses pack—into a mere 8,000 or so words—a hefty measure of Caribbean history and culture during the tragic years when the indigenous peoples attempted to survive Spanish conquerors. To catch the text’s many allusions, readers may want to first read the author’s historical endnotes and even do some independent research on the Taino and Ciboney peoples.

"Hurricane Dancers" gleams with lyricism and emotional resonance. Because Quebrado speaks both Taino and Spanish, he’s called upon to bridge the tenuous, danger-laden relationships between the two groups. Here he feels the freight of that task:

My quiet voice feels
like a small canoe
gliding back and forth
between worlds
made of words.

Teachers may want to use "Hurricane Dancers" as the basis of a classroom dramatization, using the text as dialogue among the five characters. Small groups might research the history and perspective of each party: islanders, conqueror, failed Spanish settler-turned-pirate.
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I recently read Engle's wonderful picture book treatment of one of the earliest female scientists, Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian, and when I saw she'd written a new book, I knew I had to get my hands on it. I was delighted and surprised to find it was a full-length novel in poetry format. Hurricane Dancers was completely different, but just as lovely. A variety of characters each takes turns telling the events of a famous shipwreck in the early days of European exploration of the American continent. Each poem is simply labeled with the name of the speaker, who naturally have very different takes on the turn of events. It's no secret that I am a fan of narrative poetry. As a connoisseur of the genre, I love the way that novels in verse read like any other kind of novel, with the same amount of story arc, but in a condensed, fast-flowing form that cuts directly to the heart of the matter in a spare and beautiful way.

Quebrado, whose Spanish name means "broken" has badly used by his Spanish captors. Bernardino de Talavera is a conquistador transporting his erstwhile comrade-in-arms, now captive, Alonso de Ojeda, both very cruel figures in their own right. After the hurricane, the tables are turned when the Spaniards are thrown on the mercy of Quebrado, the one person who has most reason not to help either of them. The dramatic tension is smoothly handled, and Bernardino and Alonso are petulant, self-justifying and guilt-ridden by turns. In the meantime, Narido, a poor fisherman of the village and Caucubu, daughter of the chief, are in love, but forbidden to marry and Quebrado, who changes his name to Yacuyo, must decide if and how he will help them run away together.

Here is an except from the first poem in the book.

a mourning moan
as this old ship
remembers
her true self,
her tree self,
rooted
and growing
alive,
on shore.

I love that imagery, of the boat being a tree longing to return to shore! It really highlights the perilousness of those early ocean voyages.

The book is appended with an author's note, a historical note, and a list of references. I found the list of English words taken from the Taino language simply fascinating. I had no idea that we owe the Taino for words such as barbeque, barracuda, canoe, guava, hammock, hurricane, iguana, papaya, savannah and tobacco.

Much like Paul Fleishman's Bull Run or Laura Amy Schlitz's Newbery winning book, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village, Engle's latest offering of poems would lend itself well to being read aloud in a reader's theatre format. Engle won a Newbery Honor for her 2008 novel, The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom, and I could honestly see Hurricane Dancers as a serious contender for the Newbery this year. Highly recommended.
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on October 22, 2012
I thought this would be sensational.

We studied Columbus's voyages and the beginnings of Spanish conquest. I thought this book would be a good tie-in and tell another side of the story.

I hate to say this about a book of poetry, but maybe it's too poetic? metaphoric? I am raising a family of boys, and I think they were about 50/50 on whether or not that "got" it. And age has nothing to do with it... it's more a thing where visual/spatial kids kind of miss a lot of the story, while auditory/verbal kids got it right away.

Tough book to teach with when only half the room "gets" it. Especially in a read-aloud situation -- teachers should think twice. Maybe an activity where the children can journal/doodle while they listen would help connect every kid to the story.

Personally, I liked it. I think the idea that this *had* to be done as free-verse poetry is a little hokey, because it could just as easily have been written as paragraphs and been about a 20-page book. But so it goes.
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This is a copy/paste from my Goodreads review
The poetic narrative in this book is admirable but I was easily confused by all the different storylines and characters with strange names.
No one talks to each other in this story.
No action except what is presented through stream of consciousness by each individual character. Drawings of each character next to their name at the top of the page would've made it easier to follow.
This becomes redundant, all these first person internal narratives presenting a thin tale of slavery, shipwreck, and some closure for the protagonist with a Romeo and Juliet story thrown in just to keep the reader turning pages. It's a quick read since it's written entirely in verse.
This exciting adventure story presented in such an obscure and lyrical format is why I can only give this book two stars and recommend it for all middle grade readers and up. It would've made a great novel.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 15, 2011
This book tells a fascinating story about a part of the world that many children are unfamiliar with, despite it's close proximity to the U.S. The story is told through the viewpoints of several of the characters, which provides a deeper look at the events described. While the main character is fictional the other characters are not. The story is a gripping one about slavery and what being free really means. The fact that the story is told in free verse poetry may turn some students off, but if they will stick with it there is much to enjoy and learn. This book would be great to use as a read-a-loud, or for class discussions. Highly recommended for those who love a well-told story.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 11, 2012
Another luminous novel in verse from Engle. The story is fascinating and the characters compelling. I love Engle's writing -- her word choice, phrasing, rhythm, everything!
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 10, 2011
Upon her arrival at Sparrow Road, Raine is greeted by Viktor, the elderly recluse and owner of the sprawling estate. She is also met by his rules for living at Sparrow Road: Do not disturb the artists and no talking until dinner every day of the week, except for Sundays. For a twelve-year-old girl that has been mysteriously pulled from her home in Milwaukee, these rules are hard to accept. Luckily for Raine, Sparrow Road is full of very colorful characters to keep her company. Josie is eccentric and full of energy; an instant favorite of Raine. Lillian is an elderly woman full of kindness and love that helps Raine overcome her homesickness. Then there is Diego. Raine imagines Diego as the father that she never had. His laugh can fill an entire room, and his warm, gentle spirit can calm the roughest of seas.

When Raine finds a drawing of Sparrow Road in the winter time, hidden in the attic of the old house, she is instantly drawn to the mystery that surrounds her summer home. Diego encourages her to find and write the story behind the picture from the attic signed by twelve-year-old Lyman, an orphan living in the house many years ago. By asking "what was or what could be," Raine begins to write Lyman's story. What she doesn't realize is that she is also writing her own in the process.

The characters in Sparrow Road are fantastic. You can picture Josie with her "rainbow colored hair" and patchwork dresses. Lillian's frailty and age becomes evident through the description of her skin feeling "like a well worn bed sheet." The physical descriptions of the characters match the personality that is penned for each within the pages of the novel. The author, Sheila O'Conner, does a brilliant job of mixing lively characters with beautiful descriptive language. I fell in love with each and every character, especially Raine. She was wise beyond her twelve years and the (physical) bond that brought her family together.

The stories that entwine at Sparrow Road are not always pleasant stories. There is a considerable degree of sadness that marks the lives of the characters in the story. However, there is a constant reminder of hope--like the charm Raine wears around her neck--that lingers in their lives as well. Sparrow Road is a layered tale of friendship, forgiveness, and what it means to be a family.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 23, 2014
Dear author/publisher,
You LOST a customer because this book wasn't offered on Kindle. Consider offering this book digitally next time.
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