This is a 2009 honor book for the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award:
Engle, Margarita. 2008. The Surrender Tree; Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom. New York: Henry Holt.
Here is a Digital Trailer for THE SURRENDER TREE created by graduate student Heather Garavaglia.
Here is a Readers' Guide for THE SURRENDER TREE created by graduate student Latoya T. Colley.
Recommended Age Levels 12 and up
Recommended Grade Range 7th and up
1. Summary of Book
The book takes the reader back to the year of 1896. Prior to this time Cuba had undergone three wars for their independence. Although the wars have been treacherous and fought with great vigor the people of Cuba are still not free. The book provides poetry which depicts the atmosphere around Cuba people where there is a high degree of illness and starvation. This book allows the reader into an inside look through the eyes of Rosa, the main character in this book. Although she is a nurse Rosa refuses to enter any of the camps afraid of being subject to persecution. However, even though she refuses to go the camps Rosa turns caves which are hidden and turns them into makeshift hospitals for those individuals who know how to find her. There are no limits placed on who Rosa will help. Her assistance is not limited to race or gender. Rosa utilizes her skill to help as many individuals as she can. The question that remains throughout the book is while individuals are being healed who can assist the ailing country that has been so downtrodden by the war.
2. Review Excerpts/Awards
2009 Newbery Honor Book
Amelia Bloomer Project/Feminist Task Force
American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults
American Library Association Notable Children's Books
Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award Honor Book
NCSS-CBC: Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People
Américas Award – Winner
Booklist Editors' Choice
Pura Belpre Author Award
Kansas State Reading Circle
Michigan Great Lakes Great Books Award Master List
“Engle writes her new book in clear, short lines of stirring free verse. Caught by the compelling narrative voices, many readers will want to find out more.”—Booklist, Starred Review
“A powerful narrative in free verse . . . haunting.”—The Horn Book
“Hauntingly beautiful, revealing pieces of Cuba’s troubled past through the poetry of hidden moments.”—School Library Journal
“Young readers will come away inspired by these portraits of courageous ordinary people.” —Kirkus Reviews
“The poems are short but incredibly evocative.”—Voice of Youth Advocates
Questions to Ask Before Reading the Book
- What do you know about war? What are your interpretations of what life is like during war time?
- Can you imagine living in a country that was devastated by war? How do you think your life would be different?
- What do you know about Cuba? How do you think life varies there as opposed to the life you currently live in the United States?
Suggestions for Reading Poems Aloud
“Rosa” – With these particular selections I would combine the girls in groups of 4 and have them read aloud to the class.
With these two poems (listed below) I’d have the entire class read and make it into a chant so that all students feel involved and it creates an engaging effect for the readers
This is how you heal a wound:
Clean the flesh.
Sew the skin.
Pray for the soul.
The Little War?
How can there be
a little war—are some deaths
smaller than others
a little less?
“Juan” I would combine the young men in the class in groups and have them read aloud these sections to the class. Having students read these selections using different voices allows them to gain a greater perspective and also helps establish the feel of the entire book.
Follow Up Activities
Tell students to take an experience from their own life and write a few lines of poetry to tell the story.
Tell students, to look to the end of the book where Silvia states, “Peace is not the paradise I imagined, but it is a chance to dream.” Ask students, What do you think she means by this? What do you think the rest of her life will be like? Have students form groups and come up with their own interpretation.
Have students create art work to depict what they feel life in Cuba was during the times expressed by the poetry. Students can take one poem and use art work to describe what is being explained by the poem.
Applegate, Katherine. 2007. Home of the Brave. Feiwel & Friends Publishers.
Boas, Jacob. 2009. We are Witnesses: Five Diaries of Teenagers who Died In the Holocaust. Square Fish.
Gifford, Clive. 2008. 10 Leaders Who Changed the World. Kingfisher.
Manzano, Juan Francisco. 2011. The Poet Slave of Cuba – A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano. Henry Holt.
Moying Li. 2010. Snow Falling in Spring. SquareFish.