Award-Winning Books Features Genre It's Monday What Are You Reading Memoirs, Biographies, and Constructed Narratives Nonfiction Picture Books Reading Themes

[Monday Reading] A Sense Of Place And The Power Of Make-Believe in Margarita Engle’s Quixote and Havana with Art by Mike Curato and Raul Colon

"All The Way To Havana" by Margarita Engle and Mike Curato and "Miguel's Brave Knight: Young Cervantes And His Dream Of Don Quixote" by Margarita Engle and Raul Colon.


It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community. 

We are huge fans of Margarita Engle’s poetic imagery and lyrical writing here, and we have featured quite a number of her books previously, as well as done an interview with her. Here are her two of her most recently-published works. While one is an inspired picturebook biography of Miguel de Cervantes, the other is a picturebook narrative written in the first person, and thus both are perfect for our current reading theme.

All The Way To Havana

Written by: Margarita Engle Illustrated by: Mike Curato
Published by: Henry Holt & Co. (2017)
ISBN: 1627796428 (ISBN13: 9781627796422). Literary Award: Charlotte Zolotow Awards Highly Recommended Title from CCBC. Book was borrowed from the NIE Library. Book photos taken by me.

I have never been to Cuba, but reading this lyrical picturebook transports me there, with its vintage cars, tropical climate, trees swaying in the breeze, and warm intimacy shared among family members.

I also like how different aspects of Havana are portrayed here – from life in the country with all the horses and clothes drying in the breeze to a picture of the city with its bustling, active life, filled with cars and buildings:

I also like how the car has its own name: Cara Cara – old, clunky, prone to breaking down, but still serviceable and trustworthy. Throughout the narrative, one gets the feeling that it is part of the family. More than anything, I am amazed by the car and its people’s resilience. Instead of disposing easily of that which is old and replacing it with something new – there is rather the desire to repair, experiment, and patch things up until the car sounds as good as it needs to be.

This book reminded me of a time that seems to be fading fast. Yet Margarita reminds us that the scent of it remains in the tropical air.

Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes And His Dream Of Don Quixote

Written by: Margarita Engle Illustrated by: Raul Colon
Published by: Peachtree Publishers (2017)
ISBN: 1561458562 (ISBN13: 9781561458561). Book was borrowed from the NIE Library. Book photos taken by me.

I think I must be in my teens when I fell in love with Cervantes’ Don Quixote. I borrowed a copy from our library – it was a tome of a novel that was not easy to read, but I loved how it straddled reality and make-believe, fatal heroism and cowardice, and indulgence brought about by solicitousness and compassion.

In this biography written in short poems, Margarita has captured the spirit of Cervantes who was shown to grow up poor, with a father who gambled away their life’s savings, and who frequently had to move from place to place so that the family can escape Papa’s debtors.

Through it all, Cervantes’ salvation was daydreaming of adventures, of a world with brave knights, and a place where books are not burned into a glowing pyre.

I was also deeply moved to read Margarita’s note at the end of the story when she talked about traveling to Spain with her family when she was 13:

In 1965, when I was thirteen, we traveled to Spain to see the windmills that inspired Cervantes. In the remote hills of La Mancha, my father placed a bowl on his head, picked up a stick, and acted out the most famous scene from the book, in which Don Quixote attacks the windmills, foolishly thinking they are giants.

But there was so much more to the brave knight. There was also determination, perseverance, and above all, limitless hope, even in the face of ridicule. Don Quixote never gave up, even when discouraged. His idealism seemed relevant then, just as it does today.

I had the privilege of visiting Cervantes’ home in Madrid when I visited the place in 2016. Truly the highlight of my visit.

As I have written in my Photo Journal post in 2016, Don Quixote was a symbol of all things strange and fearless and reconfigured to suit an alternate reality – I hope I managed to approximate at least part of what he stood for with the mixture of the empiricist and closet poet within me.

#LitWorld2018GB Update: 30/ 31 of 40: Cuba and Spain

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14 comments on “[Monday Reading] A Sense Of Place And The Power Of Make-Believe in Margarita Engle’s Quixote and Havana with Art by Mike Curato and Raul Colon

  1. Two really interesting books with powerful images. Thanks for the great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. All the Way to Havana is a gorgeous book! Miguel’s Brave Knight sounds interesting. Wonderful author!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. These both look wonderful! I enjoyed the discussion of Cuba heritage in Refugee and would love to follow that up with this picture book. Both books are on my TBR list. Thanks for the wonderful reviews, Myra!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I loved both of these. And I loved seeing the photos of you at Cervantes’s home! How wonderful to be able to visit.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. lindabaie

    I loved both, can’t even choose a favorite for each tells a story that I was so interested in reading. And love seeing your photos, too, Myra. It would be lovely to visit Cervantes’ home. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Gorgeous books and illustrations! Enjoy…and thanks for sharing. Here are MY WEEKLY UPDATES

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You always manage to find books with amazing illustrations. I love these! Have a good week!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Michele

    I still need to read Miguel’s Brave Knight! I have it at home, just keep skipping over it.
    Love Havana. Mike Curato’s illustrations are AMAZING!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Sarah Sammis

    I was in my teens when I fell in love with Don Quixote. I convinced a used book shop to let me put an old, gorgeous copy on layaway and I went in every week to pay my babysitting earnings. I still have that copy. It has all four volumes of Don Quixote and about a thousand illustrations. My weekly update

    Liked by 1 person

    • oh my gosh. can you tell me who has done the illustrations?? i am considering purchasing the one illustrated by gustave dore.


  10. We absolutely loved All the Way to Havana – Can’t wait to get a copy of Miquel’s Brave Night

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Yessss to Engle. She is such a gem! I haven’t read All the Way to Havana, but I plan to now!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I love the beautiful way you bring out the heart of the picture books you review.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Love both of these books!

    Liked by 1 person

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