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The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom Hardcover – April 1, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 9 Up—Often, popular knowledge of Cuba begins and ends with late-20th-century textbook fare: the Cuban Revolution, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Fidel Castro. The Surrender Tree, however, transports readers to another, though no less tumultuous, era. Spanning the years 1850–1899, Engle's poems construct a narrative woven around the nation's Wars for Independence. The poems are told in alternating voices, though predominantly by Rosa, a "freed" slave and natural healer destined to a life on the lam in the island' s wild interior. Other narrators include Teniente Muerte, or Lieutenant Death, the son of a slave hunter turned ruthless soldier; José, Rosa's husband and partner in healing; and Silvia, an escapee from one of Cuba's reconcentration camps. The Surrender Tree is hauntingly beautiful, revealing pieces of Cuba's troubled past through the poetry of hidden moments such as the glimpse of a woman shuttling children through a cave roof for Rosa's care or the snapshot of runaway Chinese slaves catching a crocodile to eat. Though the narrative feels somewhat repetitive in its first third, one comes to realize it is merely symbolic of the unending cycle of war and the necessity for Rosa and other freed slaves to flee domesticity each time a new conflict begins. Aside from its considerable stand-alone merit, this book, when paired with Engle's The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano (Holt, 2006), delivers endless possibilities for discussion about poetry, colonialism, slavery, and American foreign policy.—Jill Heritage Maza, Greenwich High School, CT
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* As in The Poet Slave of Cuba (2006), Engle’s new book is written in clear, short lines of stirring free verse. This time she draws on her own Cuban American roots, including stories from her grandmother, to describe those who fought in the nineteenth-century Cuban struggle for independence. At the center is Rosa, a traditional healer, who nurses runaway slaves and deserters in caves and other secret hideaways. Her husband, José, a freed slave, also speaks, and so does a refugee child, whom Rosa teaches to be a healer. Then there is the vicious slave hunter known as Lieutenant Death; his collection of ears is an unforgettable image of brutality (“shown as proof that the runaway slave / died fighting, resisting capture”). The switching perspectives personalize the dramatic political history, including the establishment of the world’s first “reconcentration camps” to hold prisoners, as well as the role of slave owners who freed their slaves and joined the resistance against Spain. Many readers will be caught by the compelling narrative voices and want to pursue the historical accounts in Engle’s bibliography. Grades 6-12. --Hazel Rochman
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 - 18 years
  • Grade Level: 7 - 12
  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR); 1st edition (April 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805086749
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805086744
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #291,109 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Margarita Engle is the Cuban-American winner of the first Newbery Honor ever awarded to a Latino. Her award winning young adult novels in verse include The Surrender Tree, The Poet Slave of Cuba, and The Lightning Dreamer, winner of the PEN USA Award.

Engle's most recent books are Orangutanka, Drum Dream Girl, The Sky Painter, and Enchanted Air. All of these books are to be released in 2015. For news and updates, visit http://margaritaengle.com/

She lives in central California, where she enjoys helping her husband with his volunteer work for wilderness search and rescue dog training programs.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Little Willow on April 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Cuba's three wars for independence raged on as Rosa la Bayamesa, a nurse, tended to the sick and the injured. Using medicine made from plants, she helped the fallen soldiers, the children, even those who fought for the other side.

This verse novel is based on actual events and people, and it follows Rosa's life from 1850 to 1899. Even when they were pursued by her enemies, Rosa and her husband Jose never stopped helping others. Jose and a few other supporting characters, such as a little girl named Silvia, step in from time to time to share a poem, but Rosa is the driving force behind the story. We could all learn something from her selflessness and determination.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Lindsey Miller on August 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover
It's not surprising that the Surrender Tree won so many awards, including a Newbery Honor. The language is beautiful, and the story itself is one that is not often told. Especially for an American audience, this text reveals a new type of Cuba that predates the Communist revolution that sparked an arms race during the Kennedy presidency. This is a Cuba much like the early America or Jamaica--a country of people who want to have their own independence, who want to live freely as one people, no slavery, all equals. It's interesting to see the story from so many perspectives, and I think that Engle adroitly switches through the first person narratives with ease. Often writers will struggle to create variance in the voices and speech patterns of their characters, but each of the four sounds different from each other, not only in style and rhythm, but also in their character--hopes, dreams, loves, actions, driving forces. I read it twice, and I would recommend it to all readers.

-Lindsey Miller, [...]
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Format: Audio CD
The Surrender Tree is a magnificently, wonderful book that should find its way into the hands of upper-elementary, middle, and high school readers. The print version of Engle's novel-in-prose holds great potential for opening young minds to the injustices of the world.

The audiobook version ruins the book. The main reader for the character of Rosa mispronounces Spanish words and is very monotone. Unless you want to discourage children from listening to audiobooks, steer them far away from this edition towards the print version of the book.
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Format: Hardcover
The Surrender Tree is a unique novel, both for its content and its style. It tells the story of an often overlooked or overshadowed period in early Cuban history when the country was embroiled in three different wars for independence between 1868-1898. In an unexpected move, the author, Margarita Engle, chooses to tell the story in verse form. Now, I have to admit to some hesitancy and a little bit of dread when I realized the novel was written in free verse. Yet, I was captivated by the story almost immediately, finishing it in an afternoon.

Part of my initial hesitancy stemmed from the difficulty I imagined would present itself for a teacher using a verse novel in the classroom--unfortunately, for many students poetry can be difficult and intimidating. Yet, I soon realized that Engle's use of verse to tell the story was actually quite brilliant. The verse form serves to make the story much more accessible to young adult readers. For one, the pages aren't visually overwhelming. Each page is devoted to one poem told from one person's point of view. This also makes the story easy to follow and the characters easy to track, students always know who is speaking. All of this creates a superficial simplicity that allows students to become easily engaged in a more complex narrative experience. Once engaged, students can take in the story of Rosa, the freed slave who worked to heal the injured in all three of Cuba's wars for independence. They see everything unfold as Engle's writing paints vibrant pictures of what life was like during this historical period. They are introduced to Cuban slavery, pre World War II concentration camps, and early U.S. involvement in Cuba.
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