Novels in Verse: Hispanic Heritage

Novels in verse are a great genre for ELLs and reluctant readers. These books tell all kinds of stories, from the arrival of Holocaust refugees to the shores of Cuba to the coming of age of a young woman following 9/11. Recommended for grades 7-12.

Many of the books on the list are written by Margarita Engle, featured in our Meet the Author interview.

Call Me Maria

Age Level: 9-12

Product Description: Maria is a girl caught between two worlds: Puerto Rico, where she was born, and New York, where she now lives in a basement apartment in the barrio. While her mother remains on the island, Maria lives with her father, the super of their building. As she struggles to lose her island accent, Maria does her best to find her place within the unfamiliar culture of the barrio. Finally, with Spanglish ringing in her ears, she finds the poet within herself.

Cinnamon Girl: letters found inside a cereal box

Age Level: 14-16

"Yolanda's grasp on reality crumbles along with the World Trade Center after her beloved Uncle DJ is injured on September 11. Still coping with a tragic incident from her past in Iowa, Yolanda's fear after this new calamity is palpable through the poetry used as the vehicle to tell her story.

CrashBoomLove

Age Level: 16-18

Mexican-American poet Herrera wrote one of the first novels in verse for the teen audience. Sixteen-year old Cesar is the son of migrant workers, and he shares his coming-of-age experiences.

Downtown Boy

Age Level: 12-14

"In 1950s California, 10-year-old Juanito is tired of moving with his migrant-worker parents and staying in relatives' homes in San Francisco's Mission District. He aches for his often-absent father. Finally, Papi returns, and home becomes San Diego, where Juanito settles into a deeper sense of place and faces family secrets and hardship." — Booklist

Hurricane Dancers

Age Level: 12-14

"Young Quebrado's name means 'the broken one,' a child 'of two shattered worlds.' The son of a Taíno Indian mother and a Spanish father, he is taken in 1510 from his village on the island that is present-day Cuba and enslaved on a pirate's ship, where a brutal conquistador, responsible for thousands of deaths throughout the Americas, is held captive for ransom. When a hurricane destroys the boat, Quebrado is pulled from the water by a fisherman, Naridó, whose village welcomes him, but escape from the past proves nearly impossible." — Gillian Engberg, Booklist

The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba

Age Level: 12-14

Meet Fredrika Bremer, a Swedish suffragette who traveled the world and visited Cuba in 1851. Where other visitors might have been most interested in basking in the luxury of plantation owners, Fredrika sets out to learn about the slaves, free blacks, and poor whites, documenting her experiences in letters and diaries. Margarita Engle has transformed those writings into an intriguing novel written in verse with special attention paid to Cecilia, Fredika's bright young translator, as well as the overlapping struggles to end slavery and expand women's rights. Pura Belpré Honor Award.

The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba's Greatest Abolitionist

Age Level: 12-14

Opposing slavery in Cuba in the nineteenth century was dangerous. The most daring abolitionists were poets who veiled their work in metaphor. Of these, the boldest was Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, nicknamed Tula. In passionate, accessible free verse, Engle evokes the voice of this book-loving feminist and abolitionist who bravely resisted an arranged marriage at the age of fourteen and was ultimately courageous enough to fight against injustice. Historical notes, excerpts, and source notes round out this exceptional tribute.

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom

Age Level: 14-16

Winner of the Pura Belpré Award and a Newbery Honor Book, The Surrender Tree tells the haunting story of Rosa, a freed Cuban slave at the time of Cuba's third War of Independence from Spain. Rather than enjoy her freedom, she hides in the forest in order to tend the wounded with wild plants. Written in verse, Rosa's vivid description of the healing plants and tragedies of war will mesmerize readers long after they turn the final page. Bilingual edition available.

Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba

Illustrated by: Raúl Colón
Age Level: 12-14

Product Description: Daniel has escaped Nazi Germany with nothing but a desperate dream that he might one day find his parents again. But that golden land called New York has turned away his ship full of refugees, and Daniel finds himself in Cuba. As the tropical island begins to work its magic on him, the young refugee befriends a local girl with some painful secrets of her own. Yet even in Cuba, the Nazi darkness is never far away.

Under the Mesquite

Age Level: 12-14

The oldest of eight siblings in her Mexican American family, Lupita is a talented actress and gifted writer. As she wonders what world she belongs in — across the border, taking her dying mother's place, or building a life of her own — she tells her story in verse, offering intimate access to the daily lives and conversation of family and friends and an outpouring of her innermost thoughts as she tries to find and establish her own identity. 2012 Pura Belpré Award Winner.