For this final conversation around “Rethinking conceptual otherness in history: Exploring untold histories in the U.S. and global communities,” Michele Ebersole and Yoo Kyung Sung give their takes on Lion Island: Cuba’s Warrior of Words by Margarita Engle. They began the discussion with A Diamond in the Desert by Kathryn Fitzmaurice, Bronze and Sunflower by Cao Wenxua and Gaijin: American Prisoner of War by Matt Faulkner.
MICHELE: Of all the books that we read this August, this novel provides the most historical information for readers. It fits nicely into the theme of rethinking conceptual otherness in history because it gives voice to the untold histories in a global sense. The other stories seem to center around a personal story that takes place within a historical context while the historical context seems to frame this story. Engle opens the novel with historical background, then provides the story in beautiful, narrative prose and closes with a historical note. This style makes it easy for young readers to understand the historical context and why the author crafted the text in a particular way. This story moves fairly quickly and I love the way the various voices weave into the story. Adolescent readers may find that appealing and it can lead to a rich discussion for students.
YOO KYUNG: I agree. Through the unknown histories we read this month, I came to rethink the ways teachers and authors make history accessible for children in meaningful ways. The previous books engage young readers with themes of childhood cultures in historical contexts, two different communities connected through kids and marginalized voices with atypical reasons. Even though Lion Island has simplicity in verse novel, it may not be easy for children to locate immediate personal connection. I appreciate the gaze each character gives to other characters and also awareness of the gaze each of them receives. Love is a type of gaze I appreciate that Engle includes in this book. Perhaps our world is like living and interpreting gazes in a human relationship after all. The power structure in a human relationship creates a broad range of dynamics and thought processes, yet it is so necessary to make the history of humankind better with lots of thought processes that make imagination for the world possible. Engle opens a door into Cuban history, Cuban-Chinese and Cuban slavery, which didn’t get much attention compared to the U.S. history of slavery.
Lion Island is a beginning for me to learn about Cuban history and talking points about one’s cultural identity. The book will bring a range of discussion prompts regarding ways to define one’s identity. Writing a poem in the style that Engle demonstrates in this text would be a great writing activity where students could have a creative self-introduction when a new school year begins.
Title: Lion Island: Cuba’s Warrior of Words
Author: Margarita Engle
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Date Published: August 30, 2016
This is the final installment of August 2017’s My Take/Your Take. To follow these continuing conversations, check back every Wednesday.