The Surrender Tree sucked me in. I know, you’re wondering how a tree can suck anything. Well, I ask you, haven’t you ever put a dry plant into a pot of water and watched the water just disappear? Plants are like that. And so are great books.
One minute, I was opening to the first page and thinking Oh no, more poetry! and the next minute — or really about two hours later — I was putting the book down. I had finished it all in one sitting. Last night I picked it up to refresh my memory for this review, and if it hadn’t been for my husband saying “Uh, you know it’s a work day tomorrow, right?” I probably would have read the whole thing in one sitting again.
The poems are short, and they cover a long span of Cuban history, that, I have to admit, I knew virtually nothing about. You would think, living in Florida as I do, that we’d get a little bit of Cuban history here and there. Apparently, we don’t.
For instance, I had no idea that the first concentration camps (long before Hitler came up with his horrendous plans) were actually created in Cuba in 1896. I didn’t know that the Spanish-American War, which barely registers at all in most Americans’ historical knowledge, is called Le Disastre in Spain. I didn’t know that some Cuban property owners freed their slaves voluntarily in 1868, and that this act of humanity (and rebellion), began a civil war that lasted for decades. I didn’t know that a peasant woman named Rosa Castellanos (known in Cuba as Rosa la Bayamesa) became famous for the folk hospitals she established in the countryside during all this strife.
The Surrender Tree made me glad I took on the project to read all the Newberys because I know it’s just the type of book I would never have thought to read otherwise…but it would have been a shame to miss it. Yes, this book may be outside your comfort zone . The plot sort of wanders along, and the whole book is written in verse. You should try it anyway. You may learn something too.
The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom, by Margarita Engle
Newbery Honor: 2009
A.R. Book Level: 6.1; Middle Grades
- Newbery Honor
- Pura Belpré Award
- Américas Award
- Jane Addams Award
- Claudia Lewis Poetry Award
- Lee Bennett Hopkins Honor
- ALA Best Books for Young Adults
- ALA Notable Book
- NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Book
- Amelia Bloomer Book
- Booklist Editor’s Choice
- Kansas State Reading Circle
- Michigan Great Lakes Great Books Award Master List
- Junior Library Guild Selection
- Finalist – Once Upon a Word Children’s Book Award, Museum of Tolerance, Simon Wiesenthal Library
- Bank Street College of Education Selection List of Reading Aloud With Children Twelve and Older