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A young Cuban couple finds love while surviving desperate times of lack and longing.
A young Cuban couple finds love while surviving desperate times of lack and longing. Source: Simon & Schuster

‘Your heart, my sky': Cuban history for young readers

Cuban American author Margarita Engle explores Cuban history in books for young readers.

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Summer of 1991

The people of Cuba are living in el período especial en tiempos de paz—the special period in times of peace. That’s what the government insists that this era must be called, but the reality behind these words is starvation.

Liana is struggling to find enough to eat. Yet hunger has also made her brave: she finds the courage to skip a summer of so-called volunteer farm labor, even though she risks government retribution. Nearby, a quiet, handsome boy named Amado also refuses to comply, so he wanders alone, trying to discover rare sources of food. A chance encounter with an enigmatic dog brings Liana and Amado together. United in hope and hunger, they soon discover that their feelings for each other run deep. Love can feed their souls and hearts—but is it enough to withstand el período especial?

In 2021, acclaimed Cuban American author Margarita Engle published “Your heart, my sky”, a  painful, poignant story of love in a time of hunger inspired by her own family’s struggles during a dark period in Cuba’s history.

“Writing a historical novel in verse feels like time travel, a dreamlike blend of imagination and reality. It is an exploration. It is also a chance to communicate with the future, through young readers,” Engle writes on her website. “I love to write about young people who made hopeful choices in situations that seemed hopeless. My own hope is that tales of courage and compassion will ring true for youthful readers as they make their own difficult decisions in modern times.”

Margarita Engle is the Cuban American author of many books including the verse novels ‘Rima’s Rebellion’;’ Your Heart, My Sky; With a Star in My Hand; The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor winner; and The Lightning Dreamer. She was born in Los Angeles, but developed a deep attachment to her mother’s homeland during childhood summers with relatives on the island. She also developed a lifelong passion for tropical nature, which led her to study agronomy and botany, along with creative writing.Engle  now lives in central California with her husband.

This coming month she published a new book, “Singing with Elephants” (Penguin Random House) a powerful novel in verse about the friendship between a young girl and the Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral that leads to healing and hope for both of them.

The main character is a Cuban-born eleven-year-old named Oriol who lives in Santa Barbara, California, where she struggles to belong. But most of the time that’s okay, because she enjoys helping her parents care for the many injured animals at their veterinary clinic.

Then Gabriela Mistral, the first Latin American winner of a Nobel Prize in Literature, moves to town, and aspiring writer Oriol finds herself opening up. As she begins to create a world of words for herself, Oriol learns it will take courage to stay true to herself and do what she thinks is right–attempting to rescue a baby elephant in need–even if it means keeping secrets from those she loves. 

A beautifully written, lyrically told story about the power of friendship– between generations, between humans and animals–and the potential of poetry to inspire action and acceptance.

singing with elephants
Inspired by her friendship with a famous Latin American poet, an 11-year-old Cuban American girl attempts to rescue a baby elephant.

 

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