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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 December Pick

Book Pick

This is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness
By Joyce Sidman
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007

Book Cover of This is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness

December invites us to consider the common ground that all religious traditions share, such as empathy, which leads to compassion and mercy. One of the most unique children’s books about peacemaking is Joyce Sidman’s This is Just to Say, Poems of Apology and Forgiveness. Poems in the voices of people who are apologizing for various offenses are followed by verses in the voices of those who are trying to forgive them. Some of the children’s mistakes seem small, such as stealing brownies or losing a spelling bee, but others are more emotional: keeping a hamster caged, euthanizing a beloved dog, insulting a teacher. “Words can help or hurt, the choice is ours.” Most of the response poems show forgiveness, even when anger persists. “I am wading into the river of forgiveness... / will I ever make it across?” This book is so versatile that it could be used to teach peacemaking skills or as readers’ theater.

Margarita's November Pick

Book Pick

Sing, Poetry From the Indigenous Américas
Edited by Allison Adele Hedge Coke
University of Arizona Press, 2011

Book Cover of Sing

November is Native American Heritage Month. I wish I could recommend a multilingual anthology of verses for children by poets from many nations, but until such a book gets published, adults can choose suitable poems for children and teens from Sing, Poetry From the Indigenous Américas. “Bow-Riders” is a poem about protecting a dolphin habitat, by Roberta Cordero, a Chumash, Yaqui mestiza. “Land Song” by Paula Nelson is a powerful bilingual verse in Cherokee and English: “I am this land / I want you to see / that I am human / And you are just like me.” Some of the verses from South America are trilingual, such as “A Poem to My Llama” by Odilón Ramos Boza, in Quechua, Spanish, and English. Other poems that young readers will enjoy include “Eagle Song” by Joy Harjo (Muscogee); “Prints” by Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki); “First Language” by Linda Hogan (Chickasaw); “The Loss of Our Language” by Juanita Pahdopony (Comanche); and an excerpt of “Spiral Lands” by Simon Ortíz (Acoma Pueblo). One of my favorite poems from this stunning anthology is “Stories Are Alive Beings” by Tiffany Midge (Lakota): “Someone beautiful told me / Stories are alive beings, / little animals who drink from the creek / of my spirit.”

Margarita's October Pick

Book Pick

A Time to Dance
By Padma Venkatraman
Speak/Penguin, 2015

Book Cover of A Time to Dance

I can’t imagine a more inspiring young adult verse novel for Disability Employment Awareness Month. In this book, Padma Venkatraman writes,

No body perfect.
No two children the same size or shape.
But every dancing child a manifestation
of Shiva in human form.

Venkatraman uses rhythmic free verse to show a spiritual struggle as well as a physical one. After an accident, a girl who loves to dance suffers an amputation, and she gradually recovers her motivation to adapt to a prosthetic leg and to continue studying Bharatanatyam dance. The book’s sophisticated style glows from the page, as do the sights and sounds of India. In a starred review, VOYA magazine summarized the book’s power: “Told in verse, this story is magnificently strong as Veda’s determination dances off the page and into the reader’s heart.” Interwoven with a love story, this is one of my favorite YA verse novels, with language so beautiful that hope becomes a tangible aspect of anguish.

Margarita's September Pick

Book Pick

Somos como las nubes/We Are Like the Clouds
By Jorge Argueta
Groundwood Books, 2016

Book Cover of Somos como las nubes/We Are Like the Clouds

Hispanic/Latino Heritage Month deserves powerful bilingual books, especially in 2017, when Latinos have become the target of renewed racism and xenophobia. Argueta is a Pipil Nahua Indian from El Salvador, who came to the US as a refugee. He understands the plight of unaccompanied children fleeing danger. Beginning with the shapes of drifting clouds, readers see daily life in Central American villages, with dangerous gangs portrayed through metaphors about painted people and snakes, followed by the long, desperate journey, softened by singing to scare away exhaustion and turn fear into a song. “Aquí en el desierto / somos una gran familia de estrellas. Here in the desert / we are a huge family of stars.” Facing the border patrol is frightening, but thoughts of traffickers and minutemen are even worse. “Somos como las nubes. / Somos como el viento. We are like the clouds. We are like the wind.”

Margarita's August Pick

Book Pick

Poems to Dream Together / Poemas para soñar juntos
By Francisco X. Alarcón
Lee & Low Books (2005)

This bilingual picture book carries a message of peace, and it can be read on various levels: either as sweet, fun poems about dreams and daydreams when reading out loud to a very young child, or as gems of wisdom for an older child, teenager, or adult. Some of the poems are brief flashes of wonder: “soñar despierto/otra forma/ de pensar (daydreaming/another way/of brainstorming).” Others are social commentaries, such as the poem about pesadillas/nightmares that exclude others, and one about diversity, called “Iguales/The Same.” The poem “Para soñar el future/Dreaming Up the Future” invites young readers to imagine themselves in 20 years, as scientists, artists, poets, parents. My favorite verse in this perceptive collection is “Soñando juntos/Dreaming Together”:

Un sueño
lo soñamos

la realidad
la soñamos
A dream
we dream

we dream
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 bit, 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...

    • 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...