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Middle Grade Book Review – Singing with Elephants

SINGING WITH ELEPHANTS

Written by Margarita Engle

(Viking BYR; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

 

Singing With Elephants cover

 

 

Starred reviews – KirkusPublishers Weekly

 

Struggling to belong, Cuban-born eleven-year-old Oriol discovers her voice in Singing with Elephants, a beautifully moving middle-grade novel in verse written by Newbery honoree and Pura Belpré Award-winning author, Margarita Engle.  

The story takes place in 1947 in Santa Barbara where Oriol lives with her family. She helps take care of injured animals in her parents’ veterinary clinic, located near a “wildlife zoo ranch” that has connections to Hollywood (6). Grieving the recent death of her grandmother and facing hardships at a school that is unwelcoming to immigrants, she struggles with loneliness–until she befriends “la poeta” Gabriela Mistral who has moved near Oriol’s home (12). While the meeting (and subsequent story) is fictional, the poet is a real person, the first Latin American winner of a Nobel Prize in Literature. Oriol is relieved to have found someone who speaks her native tongue, but little does she know the unexpected gift she’ll be receiving from her new friend: learning the language of poetry. 

These lessons are for all of us. “There is no better home for emotions than a poem,” la poeta advises, “which can easily be transformed into a song” (27). The book is rich with simple yet profound expressions of love, loss, heartache, and wholeness. As we learn along with Oriol, poetry is the soul’s way of singing, whether that soul is human or animal. This lesson becomes more apparent as Oriol’s connection to the animals she cares for grows stronger and stronger, in particular her relationship with a pregnant elephant named Chandra whose rhythmic sways and sounds remind her of poetry.

Through her mentor’s gentle encouragement and guidance, Oriol’s writing blossoms–from using it as a source of healing to using it as a force for change. Bit by bit, she “no longer yearn[s]” for Cuba and Abuelita “every moment of every day” (106). And when a famous movie star takes special interest in Chandra, Oriol drafts “poetry-petition[s],” eventually organizing a protest against animal abuse (188). Fighting for her beloved elephants, Oriol finds a sense of belonging. 

Singing with Elephants is the kind of book readers will want to read again and again, catching the pieces of poetry missed from the previous read. An author’s note at the end details Cuban cultural traditions as well as Gabriela Mistral’s life. A list of further readings about and by the poet is also included.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
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Feeding the Flying Fanellis by Kate Hosford

FEEDING THE FLYING FANELLIS
and Other Poems from a Circus Chef
Written by Kate Hosford 
Illustrated by Cosei Kawa
(
Carolrhoda Books; $17.99, Ages 5-8)

Today Good Reads With Ronna is delighted to welcome author
Ann Whitford Paul as our guest reviewer
for Feeding the Flying Fanellis.

FeedingtheFlyingFanellis

 

For those of you who loved Kate Hosford’s imaginative and beautiful Infinity and Me (I count myself as an admirer) her newest book, Feeding the Flying Fanellis, is equally full of pleasant surprises. This rollicking collection of poems isn’t just about circus performers and their acts. It focuses on the chef and what special meals he must cook for them. Opening as any circus does with the ringmaster, the chef must prepare a picnic (because the ringmaster never sits) that he tucks into his hat that the ringmaster tips in order to eat. Feeding the juggler is a struggle for everything must be round so he can easily toss his food in the air and catch it again. The high-strung tightrope walker must never have caffeine and obsessively watches what she eats—only 27 grains of rice! The lion thinks of food all day, driving the poor chef to distraction trying to satisfy his appetite so he won’t be Lion’s dessert. And then there’s the poor human cannonball who has to stuff himself to remain round.

 

FEEDING THE FLYING FANELLIS_pp4-5 illus. © 2015 Cosei Kawa
Interior artwork from Feeding the Flying Fanellis by Kate Hosford with illustrations by Cosei Kawa, Carolrhoda Books © 2015 Cosei Kawa

 

The circus is filled with fire-eaters, trampoline performers, a ballerina dancing on a horse, a strongman and a hoop jumping dog that require special foods. The final poem features a summer circus feast prepared by the chef and the human cannonball who grew tired of being shot out of the cannon, and became the chef’s pastry assistant instead.

 

FEEDING THE FLYING FANELLIS_pp6-7 illus. © 2015 Cosei Kawa
Interior artwork from Feeding the Flying Fanellis by Kate Hosford with illustrations by Cosei Kawa, Carolrhoda Books © 2015 Cosei Kawa

The illustrations are utterly charming, full of life and movement. You will sense the tension of tightrope walker, feel the pain of being shot from a cannon and the joy of swinging through the air with the trapeze artists.

Although writing and illustrating is always painstaking work, this must have been a fun project to work on and will be an equally fun book to read.

Click here for a helpful curriculum guide.

  • Ann Whitford Paul

Ann Whitford PaulWritingPictureBookscvrAnn Whitford Paul is the author of picture books (fiction and non-fiction, rhymed and prose), early readers and a collection of poetry. Her book for adults is WRITING PICTURE BOOKS, a Hands-on Guide from Story Creation to Publication. Check out her recent publications ‘TWAS THE LATE NIGHT OF CHRISTMAS and the board book IF ANIMALS KISSED GOOD NIGHT and visit her website at www.annwhitfordpaul.net

 

 

 

 

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