Margarita Engle

Margarita Engle is an award-winning author and poet whose novels written in free verse have brought to life fascinating and often forgotten characters from history, such as Juan Francisco Marzano, Rosa la Bayamesa, and Maria Merian. In this interview with Colorín Colorado, Margarita discusses her childhood memories of Cuba and the ways in which her quest for her own heritage led to the discovery of these unforgettable heroes and heroines.



Margarita Engle is an award-winning author of books for children, young adults, and adults. The daughter of an American father and Cuban mother, Engle spent her childhood summers in Cuba, where she developed a deep bond with her extended family and a lifelong passion for tropical nature, which led her to study agronomy and botany, along with creative writing. Engle and her family were visting Cuba in 1960 when diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba broke down, and faced a number of obstacles in returning to the U.S. From that point on, communication with her extended family was restricted and she describes the experience of suddenly losing contact with her beloved extended family and grandmother as something out of "science fiction."

Engle began to read about Cuban history, which led her to discover a number of the forgetten characters and events featured in her award-winning novels written in verse for young adults. These include The Surrender Tree, recipient of the first Newbery Honor awarded to a Latino, as well as the Pura Belpré Medal, Américas Award, and Jane Addams Award and The Poet Slave of Cuba, which received the Pura Belpré Medal, Américas Award, and an International Reading Association Award. Tropical Secrets received the Sydney Taylor Award and Paterson Prize. The Firefly Letters is a Pura Belpré Honor Book and a finalist for the Jane Addams Award and California Book Award. Engle's most recent book for young adults is Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck.

Engle's books for children include Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian, the story of a young, perceptive 17th-century artist and scientist well ahead of her time who recorded her observations about the life cycles of butterflies and insects despite the threat of being accused of witchcraft for doing so.

When discussing her writing, Engle observes, "Writing a historical novel in verse feels like time travel, a dreamlike blend of imagination and reality. It is an exploration. It is also a chance to communicate with the future, through young readers. I love to write about young people who made hopeful choices in situations that seemed hopeless. My own hope is that tales of courage and compassion will ring true for youthful readers as they make their own difficult decisions in modern times."

Engle lives in central California, where she enjoys helping her husband with his volunteer work for wilderness search and rescue dog training programs.