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Margarita Engle

Margarita Engle is the Poetry Foundation’s Young People’s Poet Laureate, serving from 2017 to 2019. Awarded by the Poetry Foundation for a two-year term, the Young People’s Poet Laureate aims to raise awareness that young people have a natural receptivity to poetry and are its most appreciative audience, especially when poems are written specifically for them.

Read more about Margarita Engle.

From Poetry Off the ShelfJune 2017

Margarita Engle on the subject of her poetry, and her message to young readers.

Margarita's March Pick

Book Pick

A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks
Alice Faye Duncan
(Sterling Children’s Books)

Image of the book cover A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks

For Women’s History Month, Americans tend to celebrate leaders, lawmakers, and other public figures, but poets deserve attention too. Alice Faye Duncan has written a powerful portrayal of Gwendolyn Brooks by combining her own lovely verses with the famous poet’s. Perhaps the rhythm can be described as Chicago blues. “Sing a song for Gwendolyn Brooks. / She greets each day in her velvet glory. / Her head is filled with snappy rhymes. / She writes her poems in dime store journals.” The story follows Brooks from home—where she buried her poems in graves if she was dissatisfied—to school, where she was accused of cheating because she was so gifted. At a South Side community center, she met Black poets who analyzed white Modernist poets: “Gwen enters her poems in magazine contests. / Again and again—she wins first place!” College. Marriage. “Sing a song for Gwendolyn Brooks. / Time rocks and rolls at a steady pitch.” Then Brooks wins a Pulitzer Prize, the first ever awarded to an African American writer. Eventually, she becomes the U.S. poet laureate. “Gwendolyn believed. / She found her light. And— / A furious flower / GREW!” This book will inspire young poets of any race and gender.

Margarita's February Pick

Book Pick

Martin Rising: Requiem for a King
Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney

Image of the book cover Martin Rising: Requiem for a King

Happy African American Heritage Month! Martin Rising is unique: it’s a beautifully illustrated picture book but longer than many chapter books. It’s a biographical look at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, but it’s also imaginative. The story is tragic yet playful at times. For instance, during Dr. King’s last days, he is shown enjoying a pillow fight with other civil rights activists. There is also an avian character named Henny Penny, who appears as a spirit. Martin Rising is suitable for any age group because all levels can read and enjoy these poems. It is an inspiring tribute to Dr. King’s later life and role as a nonviolent leader. In the poem “Heaven’s Railroad,” Dr. King’s gift of eloquence is described: “His words, / coursing wind, / fill the wings / that lift this crowd, / enraptured.” Death is the known element of the story, but the overall effect is joyous, and the message is a repeated refrain: “Peace, / peace / only peace.”

Margarita's January Pick

Book Pick

Here We Go: A Poetry Friday Power Book
Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong
(Pomelo Books)

Image of the book cover Here We Go A Poetry Friday Power

January is Creativity Month, and there are no better guides to creativity than the Poetry Friday anthologies. Here We Go includes activities that teach everything from rhyme, simile, and alliteration to cinquain, tercet, free verse, the narrative poem, and messages written with emojis. All these skills are incorporated into a series of poems about activism, ranging from environmental issues to social justice, equality, tolerance, and volunteerism. Naomi Shihab Nye’s contribution shows empathy: “What if instead of war / we shared our buckets / of wind and worry?” Janet Wong describes friendship in “The Language of Healing”: “A hand-picked flower: / We belong.” In the poem “Look for the Helpers,” Michelle Heidenrich Barnes shows readers how to “Look for the helpers / The healers / The Givers / / The arms-open / Hand-holding / Everyday heroes.” Here We Go is both practical and inspiring!

Margarita's December Pick

Book Pick

Every Month Is a New Year
Marilyn Singer
(Lee & Low Books 2018)

Image of the book cover Every Month is a New Year

I think of December as a reminder of international friendship and peace. Every Month Is a New Year features a wide diversity of traditions, and because there is a world map, it also teaches geography. This delightful collection begins with a poem called “The Year Turns,” which shows that even the way New Year’s festivities are determined varies from culture to culture: “We choose the dates. / From the earth’s movement, / from the moon’s phases, / these clocks and calendars / we create.” The rest of the poems honor New Year’s traditions that occur in every month, somewhere around the globe. They range from familiar images such as the midnight ball drop (New York City, December) and dragon dance (China, February) to festivals that will be new to most North American readers. April is Thailand, May is Jordan, June is New Zealand, India has celebrations in both August and November, and September is Ethiopia. My favorite is a poem called Las doce uvas de la suerte about the grape gobbling tradition in Spain and Latin America. “May all our dreams come true. / ¡Feliz Año Nuevo! / ¡Buena suerte! to you.”

Margarita's November Pick

Book Pick

Words Like Love
Tanaya Winder
(West End Press 2015)

Image of the book cover Words Like Love

Native American Heritage Month deserves recognition at every grade level. Tanaya Winder is a writer and an educator from the Southern Ute, Duckwater Shoshone, and Pyramid Lake Paiute Nations. Words Like Love is a beautiful adult poetry collection that teens will find meaningful. In poems ranging from tragic to joyful, an element of hope runs throughout. Some poems could be introduced to younger children. “In My Mother’s Womb” includes a passage about prayer: “when grandmother sings / she is calling on horses to run in on clouds // to protect us, to save us.” A short poem called “intertribal” begins with “So many heartsongs to give voice to” and concludes with “Remember, / remember, / re-member.” This book honors history by celebrating the beauty of language.

Margarita's October Pick

Book Pick

They Call Me Güero
David Bowles
(Cinco Puntos Press 2018)

Image of the book cover They Call me Güero

In this lively Spanglish verse novel, David Bowles introduces readers to middle school life in a border town. It’s a story about everything from bullying to belonging, family, and friendship. It’s also about poetry: “My mind and heart swell with all the things / I need to say, and one day it just happens: // I put pen to paper, and my soul / comes rushing out in line after line.” Rich in storytelling, culture, and immigration issues, the book has enough humor and romance to keep the plot moving quickly. One of my favorite stanzas is about Spanglish: “I hear the echo of their calls / when I speak. / My own tongue / is an aviary.” They Call Me Güero is the perfect book for this second half of Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month.

Margarita's September Pick

Book Pick

Dreamers (Soñadores)
Yuyi Morales
(Neal Porter Books, Holiday House 2018)

Image of the book cover Dreamers

Just in time for the beginning of Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month, celebrated children’s book illustrator Yuyi Morales expands her brilliance into free verse. Published in separate English and Spanish editions, Dreamers (Soñadores) is an exquisite picture book about a mother and child who “crossed a bridge outstretched like the universe.” As immigrants, they adapted to a different language. After walking and walking, they found a place “where we didn’t need to speak, / we only needed to trust.” In the marvelous public library, “books became our home.” Even though this book is not specifically about the Dream Act, it is about learning to have a voice and that “we are stories.” Both the art and words rise and soar off the page in this wonderful tribute to hope.

Browse more book picks!
Poems by Margarita Engle
    • poem
      By Margarita Engle
      Mad has decided to catch a vulture,
      the biggest bird she can find.
      She is so determined, and so inventive,
      that by stringing together a rickety trap
      of ropes and sticks, she creates
      a puzzling structure that just might
      be clever enough to trick a buzzard,

    • poem
      By Margarita Engle
      On an island of music
      in a city of drumbeats
      the drum dream girl
      of pounding tall conga drums
      tapping small bongó drums
      and boom boom booming
      with long, loud sticks
      on big, round, silvery
      moon-bright timbales.
      But everyone
      on the island of music
      in the city of drumbeats
      believed that only...

    • poem
      By Margarita Engle
      Newsmen call it the Cuban Missile Crisis.
      Teachers say it's the end of the world.

      At school, they instruct us to look up
      and watch the Cuban-cursed sky.
      Search for a streak of light.
      Listen for a piercing shriek,
      the whistle that will warn us
      as poisonous...

Past Laureates
    • Image of the poet Jacqueline Woodson.

      Jacqueline Woodson was born in Columbus, Ohio and grew up in Greenville, South Carolina and Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of over 30 books for children and young...

    • author

      Kenn Nesbitt was born in Berkeley, California. He grew up in Fresno and San Diego and attended National University in San Diego, where he majored in computer science. Nesbitt’s poetry for...

    • author

      Former Children's Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis grew up in Gary, Indiana and earned a BA at Saint Joseph’s College, an MA at Indiana University, and a PhD in economics...

    • author

      Mary Ann Hoberman was born in Stamford, Connecticut. She earned a BA in history from Smith College and (35 years later) an MA in English literature from Yale University. She...

    • author

      Jack Prelutsky is a creator of inventive poems for children and adults alike. He served as the Poetry Foundation’s Children’s Poet Laureate from 2006 to 2008. Prelutsky grew up in...