Download high-resolution image Look inside
Listen to a clip from the audiobook
audio pause button
0:00
0:00

Singing with Elephants

Look inside
Listen to a clip from the audiobook
audio pause button
0:00
0:00
A powerful novel in verse from Newbery and Pura Belpré Award-winning author Margarita Engle about the friendship between a young girl and the poet Gabriela Mistral that leads to healing and hope for both of them.

Cuban-born eleven-year-old Oriol lives in Santa Barbara, California, where she struggles to belong. But most of the time that’s okay, because she enjoys helping her parents care for the many injured animals at their veterinary clinic.

Then Gabriela Mistral, the first Latin American winner of a Nobel Prize in Literature moves to town, and aspiring writer Oriol finds herself opening up. And when she discovers that someone is threatening the life of a baby elephant at her parents’ clinic, Oriol is determined to take action. As she begins to create a world of words for herself, Oriol learns it will take courage and strength to do what she thinks is right—even if it means keeping secrets from those she loves.

A beautifully written, lyrically told story about the power of friendship—between generations, between humans and animals—and the potential of poetry to inspire action, justice, and acceptance.

* "Replete with lovely, nearly magical imagery...Brilliant, joyful, and deeply moving." –Kirkus, starred review

* "Employing immersive free verse that conveys themes of compassion, friendship, justice, and vulnerability, Engle captures how inexplicable Oriol’s grief feels, encasing it in a powerful, charitable, and brave young voice." –Publishers Weekly, starred review

* "A novel written in verse that sings in your heart." –Pura Belpré Award-winning author Marjorie Agosín
Margarita Engle (she/her) is the Cuban American author of many books including the verse novels Your Heart, My Sky; With a Star in My Hand; The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor winner; and Forest World. Her verse memoirs include Soaring Earth and Enchanted Air, which received the Pura Belpré Award, a Walter Dean Myers Award Honor, and was a finalist for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, among others. Her picture books include Drum Dream Girl; Dancing Hands; and The Flying Girl. Visit her at MargaritaEngle.com.  View titles by Margarita Engle

POETRY IS A DANCE

of words on the page.

These poems are a story
about the summer
I learned
how to twirl
and leap
on paper.

It was the summer when I met a famous poet
and a family of musical elephants.

Until then, all I could do was wish
like a caged songbird
wordless
wistful
wishful . . .


SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA
~ 1947 ~


MUSICAL ELEPHANTS ARE LIKE

mountains with windy whispers,
the sea when it roars or chants a lullaby,
tree branches that clack like maracas,
and every animal that opens its mouth
to howl, bark, or chant
about the freedom
to walk, walk, walk,
rejoicing in the sheer joy
of touching
green earth
with rhythmic feet
and dancing
minds.


ONE DAY

I’m rhythmically walking, walking, walking,
with various creatures on comically tangled
leashes, when we reach the garden of a cozy-looking
house
right across from the high school, and there, kneeling
as if in prayer
is a stranger.

She’s old, but her face looks strong.
I wonder if my own dark eyebrows
are as winged as hers
ready to rise
and fly
like feathers.

Pleased to meet you, I say in English.

She glances up.

This is my giant wolfhound Flora
and my miniature goat Fauna, but the piglets
and ducklings are just temporary patients
from our veterinary clinic
where my parents are the doctors
and I’m almost a sort of eleven-year-old nurse
because I feed, clean, pet, cuddle, walk, walk, walk,
and sometimes I even help with unusual animal
sat a wildlife zoo-ranch
where adventurous movies
are often filmed.
I’m going to be a healer one day . . .

My voice
trails away
when I see her frown
and glance down at her notebook
and realize—
I have disturbed her.


I DON’T BELONG HERE


The stranger studies me.

What is she thinking?
Is she wise?
Could we be friends?

I wonder
whether
I’ve said
too much,
made
too many
mistakes
in inglés.

I wonder . . .

Would this woman care
if I told her
about the girls at school
who make fun
of me for being
small
brownish
chubby
with curly black hair barely tamed
by a long braid?

Would she care that the girls at school
call me
zoo beast
when my clean clothes
smell a bit like animals?

Would she care that the boys call me
ugly
stupid
tongue-tied
because my accent gets stronger
when I’m nervous, like when
the teacher forces me to read
out loud?

I wonder.


IF ONLY THE WRITER

could speak my true language.

She does!
Te gusta la poesía, she says,
telling me that I like poetry
Her español is rhythmic like a song,
slower than mine, and fancier,
with words that sound like they
belong in a book, which is what
she says she’s writing—
a volume of verses.

Voy a adivinar, she says—I’m going to guess.
Vienes para aprender a escribir la poesía.
You’ve come to learn how to write poetry.

Should I answer honestly?
I simply shrug, embarrassed to admit
that I came for many reasons,
to see who
she is
and what
she’s doing,
and because I’m
lonely.


PERHAPS SHE CAN SEE

inside my heart.
Because she doesn’t tell me to leave,
just says
I will teach you
like I haven’t bothered her at all,
like it’s no big deal I’m here.

I tell her my classmates say
I ask too many questions.

Ay, no, she insists—no importa,
she will teach me a bit about writing.

Poetry is like a planet, she says,
each word spins
orbits
twirls
and radiates
reflected
starlight.

If you want to write, you have to observe
movements, and absorb
stillness.

She smiles, and reaches to pat Flora’s
huge head, which only encourages my sloppy dog
to lick her hand, while Fauna just does what goats
always do, nibbles on the edges of the notebook,
and the hem of la poeta’s dress, and a button
on her blouse.

I pull all the animals away
before they can start eating her hair.


ME ENCANTAN TODAS LAS BESTIECITAS

I love all animals,
the poetry teacher says.

I smile, because animals
are my family’s whole life,
now that my grandma
is gone.

I wonder if the poetry teacher
would like to see my parents’ clinic
after my poetry lesson.

Do you write in English or in Spanish?
I ask.
I tell her I’ve been trying to
practice English for school,
but Spanish feels like home.

Una mezcla, la poeta suggests,
let us mix our languages together
like emotions that swirl and blend
in a pot of paint, azul y rojo
becoming purple, amarillo y azul
turning to green.


LANGUAGE IS A MYSTERY

After a whole year in California,
español is still the only way of speaking
that feels completely natural to me,
letters like ñ and rr
hidden inside my island-mind
where words are so much more alive
than in my incomplete
immigration-mouth.

The poet switches to inglés
just to help me—but animals
don’t recognize my effort
to make senseof letters like a y
that sounds like my ll
and an h that is not silent
and a k that does not even exist
in Spanish—sotodas las bestiecitas
begin to bark, bleat, quack, and grunt
a humorous animal opera
so ridiculous and endearing that for the first time
since Abuelita’s funeral, I actually chuckle
and laugh out loud—a genuine
carcajada, a guffaw!

How wondrous it feels
to remember that laughter
has no language, and can cross
any boundary line,
even the wavy ones
between species.

“In her tender, funny, far-reaching new novel in verse, Margarita Engle...expands our notion of who gets to do the rescuing in children’s animal stories…Via elegantly efficient narrative poetry, Engle weaves themes of longing and belonging, of communication and the sorts of attachment that are too deep ever to be communicated with words.” —New York Times

"Employing immersive free verse that conveys themes of compassion, friendship, justice, and vulnerability, Engle (Rima’s Rebellion) captures how inexplicable Oriol’s grief feels, encasing it in a powerful, charitable, and brave young voice." —Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Replete with lovely, nearly magical imagery...Brilliant, joyful, and deeply moving." Kirkus Reviews, starred review
 
“This is a book that readers won’t want to put down until the last page.” School Library Journal

About

A powerful novel in verse from Newbery and Pura Belpré Award-winning author Margarita Engle about the friendship between a young girl and the poet Gabriela Mistral that leads to healing and hope for both of them.

Cuban-born eleven-year-old Oriol lives in Santa Barbara, California, where she struggles to belong. But most of the time that’s okay, because she enjoys helping her parents care for the many injured animals at their veterinary clinic.

Then Gabriela Mistral, the first Latin American winner of a Nobel Prize in Literature moves to town, and aspiring writer Oriol finds herself opening up. And when she discovers that someone is threatening the life of a baby elephant at her parents’ clinic, Oriol is determined to take action. As she begins to create a world of words for herself, Oriol learns it will take courage and strength to do what she thinks is right—even if it means keeping secrets from those she loves.

A beautifully written, lyrically told story about the power of friendship—between generations, between humans and animals—and the potential of poetry to inspire action, justice, and acceptance.

* "Replete with lovely, nearly magical imagery...Brilliant, joyful, and deeply moving." –Kirkus, starred review

* "Employing immersive free verse that conveys themes of compassion, friendship, justice, and vulnerability, Engle captures how inexplicable Oriol’s grief feels, encasing it in a powerful, charitable, and brave young voice." –Publishers Weekly, starred review

* "A novel written in verse that sings in your heart." –Pura Belpré Award-winning author Marjorie Agosín

Author

Margarita Engle (she/her) is the Cuban American author of many books including the verse novels Your Heart, My Sky; With a Star in My Hand; The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor winner; and Forest World. Her verse memoirs include Soaring Earth and Enchanted Air, which received the Pura Belpré Award, a Walter Dean Myers Award Honor, and was a finalist for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, among others. Her picture books include Drum Dream Girl; Dancing Hands; and The Flying Girl. Visit her at MargaritaEngle.com.  View titles by Margarita Engle

Excerpt

POETRY IS A DANCE

of words on the page.

These poems are a story
about the summer
I learned
how to twirl
and leap
on paper.

It was the summer when I met a famous poet
and a family of musical elephants.

Until then, all I could do was wish
like a caged songbird
wordless
wistful
wishful . . .


SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA
~ 1947 ~


MUSICAL ELEPHANTS ARE LIKE

mountains with windy whispers,
the sea when it roars or chants a lullaby,
tree branches that clack like maracas,
and every animal that opens its mouth
to howl, bark, or chant
about the freedom
to walk, walk, walk,
rejoicing in the sheer joy
of touching
green earth
with rhythmic feet
and dancing
minds.


ONE DAY

I’m rhythmically walking, walking, walking,
with various creatures on comically tangled
leashes, when we reach the garden of a cozy-looking
house
right across from the high school, and there, kneeling
as if in prayer
is a stranger.

She’s old, but her face looks strong.
I wonder if my own dark eyebrows
are as winged as hers
ready to rise
and fly
like feathers.

Pleased to meet you, I say in English.

She glances up.

This is my giant wolfhound Flora
and my miniature goat Fauna, but the piglets
and ducklings are just temporary patients
from our veterinary clinic
where my parents are the doctors
and I’m almost a sort of eleven-year-old nurse
because I feed, clean, pet, cuddle, walk, walk, walk,
and sometimes I even help with unusual animal
sat a wildlife zoo-ranch
where adventurous movies
are often filmed.
I’m going to be a healer one day . . .

My voice
trails away
when I see her frown
and glance down at her notebook
and realize—
I have disturbed her.


I DON’T BELONG HERE


The stranger studies me.

What is she thinking?
Is she wise?
Could we be friends?

I wonder
whether
I’ve said
too much,
made
too many
mistakes
in inglés.

I wonder . . .

Would this woman care
if I told her
about the girls at school
who make fun
of me for being
small
brownish
chubby
with curly black hair barely tamed
by a long braid?

Would she care that the girls at school
call me
zoo beast
when my clean clothes
smell a bit like animals?

Would she care that the boys call me
ugly
stupid
tongue-tied
because my accent gets stronger
when I’m nervous, like when
the teacher forces me to read
out loud?

I wonder.


IF ONLY THE WRITER

could speak my true language.

She does!
Te gusta la poesía, she says,
telling me that I like poetry
Her español is rhythmic like a song,
slower than mine, and fancier,
with words that sound like they
belong in a book, which is what
she says she’s writing—
a volume of verses.

Voy a adivinar, she says—I’m going to guess.
Vienes para aprender a escribir la poesía.
You’ve come to learn how to write poetry.

Should I answer honestly?
I simply shrug, embarrassed to admit
that I came for many reasons,
to see who
she is
and what
she’s doing,
and because I’m
lonely.


PERHAPS SHE CAN SEE

inside my heart.
Because she doesn’t tell me to leave,
just says
I will teach you
like I haven’t bothered her at all,
like it’s no big deal I’m here.

I tell her my classmates say
I ask too many questions.

Ay, no, she insists—no importa,
she will teach me a bit about writing.

Poetry is like a planet, she says,
each word spins
orbits
twirls
and radiates
reflected
starlight.

If you want to write, you have to observe
movements, and absorb
stillness.

She smiles, and reaches to pat Flora’s
huge head, which only encourages my sloppy dog
to lick her hand, while Fauna just does what goats
always do, nibbles on the edges of the notebook,
and the hem of la poeta’s dress, and a button
on her blouse.

I pull all the animals away
before they can start eating her hair.


ME ENCANTAN TODAS LAS BESTIECITAS

I love all animals,
the poetry teacher says.

I smile, because animals
are my family’s whole life,
now that my grandma
is gone.

I wonder if the poetry teacher
would like to see my parents’ clinic
after my poetry lesson.

Do you write in English or in Spanish?
I ask.
I tell her I’ve been trying to
practice English for school,
but Spanish feels like home.

Una mezcla, la poeta suggests,
let us mix our languages together
like emotions that swirl and blend
in a pot of paint, azul y rojo
becoming purple, amarillo y azul
turning to green.


LANGUAGE IS A MYSTERY

After a whole year in California,
español is still the only way of speaking
that feels completely natural to me,
letters like ñ and rr
hidden inside my island-mind
where words are so much more alive
than in my incomplete
immigration-mouth.

The poet switches to inglés
just to help me—but animals
don’t recognize my effort
to make senseof letters like a y
that sounds like my ll
and an h that is not silent
and a k that does not even exist
in Spanish—sotodas las bestiecitas
begin to bark, bleat, quack, and grunt
a humorous animal opera
so ridiculous and endearing that for the first time
since Abuelita’s funeral, I actually chuckle
and laugh out loud—a genuine
carcajada, a guffaw!

How wondrous it feels
to remember that laughter
has no language, and can cross
any boundary line,
even the wavy ones
between species.

Praise

“In her tender, funny, far-reaching new novel in verse, Margarita Engle...expands our notion of who gets to do the rescuing in children’s animal stories…Via elegantly efficient narrative poetry, Engle weaves themes of longing and belonging, of communication and the sorts of attachment that are too deep ever to be communicated with words.” —New York Times

"Employing immersive free verse that conveys themes of compassion, friendship, justice, and vulnerability, Engle (Rima’s Rebellion) captures how inexplicable Oriol’s grief feels, encasing it in a powerful, charitable, and brave young voice." —Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Replete with lovely, nearly magical imagery...Brilliant, joyful, and deeply moving." Kirkus Reviews, starred review
 
“This is a book that readers won’t want to put down until the last page.” School Library Journal

Books for LGBTQIA+ Pride Month

In June we celebrate Pride Month, which honors the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan and highlights the accomplishments of those in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual + (LGBTQIA+) community, while recognizing the ongoing struggles faced by many across the world who wish to live as their most authentic selves. Here is

Read more

PRH Education High School Collections

All reading communities should contain protected time for the sake of reading. Independent reading practices emphasize the process of making meaning through reading, not an end product. The school culture (teachers, administration, etc.) should affirm this daily practice time as inherently important instructional time for all readers. (NCTE, 2019)   The Penguin Random House High

Read more

PRH Education Translanguaging Collections

Translanguaging is a communicative practice of bilinguals and multilinguals, that is, it is a practice whereby bilinguals and multilinguals use their entire linguistic repertoire to communicate and make meaning (García, 2009; García, Ibarra Johnson, & Seltzer, 2017)   It is through that lens that we have partnered with teacher educators and bilingual education experts, Drs.

Read more

PRH Education Classroom Libraries

“Books are a students’ passport to entering and actively participating in a global society with the empathy, compassion, and knowledge it takes to become the problem solvers the world needs.” –Laura Robb   Research shows that reading and literacy directly impacts students’ academic success and personal growth. To help promote the importance of daily independent

Read more