This Newbery Honor and Pura Belpre Award winning author’s latest offering is a historical novel in free verse set in 1947 California. A young girl called Oriol is finding life in Santa Barbara challenging. Her veterinarian parents, her abuelita, and her older sister came to the United States from Cuba. After the death of her beloved grandmother, Oriol has found it harder to cope with her classmates who call her a smelly “zoo beast” and mock her accent and appearance. One day she meets her neighbor Gabriela Mistral, the celebrated Latin poet (la poeta) and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Gabriela becomes a mentor to Oriol and encourages her to deal with her feelings by writing poetry. The young girl learns about a pregnant elephant under her parents’ care at a movie star’s ranch. Her encounters with the elephant inspire her writing, and the family is thrilled when the elephant delivers twins, Song and Dance. When one of the baby elephants goes missing, suspicion falls on the actor, who believes he can teach the animal to do tricks and even talk. Oriol is determined to reunite Dance with her mother and brother and needs to enlist the help of the community to save her and other animals from abuse. In helping the animals, Oriol comes to realize her own strength. This uplifting lyrical text is peppered throughout with Spanish words. The author’s note discusses the life of Gabriela Mistral, who was also a peace activist and teacher. One of her poems is included.
THOUGHTS: A gem of a book, which will surely delight readers. Highly recommended for elementary collections.
Historical Fiction Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member
Novel in Verse