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Archive for October 27th, 2017

by Sam Juliano

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go         –Joe Darion, Man of LaMancha, 1964

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, a contemporary of Shakespeare, and a pre-eminent novelist of world literature is also considered the greatest writer in the Spanish language and one of the most influential literary figures to have ever lived.  His crowning achievement, produced in two volumes, El Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha is the most celebrated work in the entire Spanish literary canon, and comparable in stature with the greatest novels by Dostoyevsky, Hugo, Dickens and Tolstoy.  The book’s titular character has become a symbol of idealistic pursuit and spirited perseverence, the antithesis of surrendering to one’s fears, insecurities and physical constrictions.

Almost as if a direct response to the dearth of historical information relating to Cervantes’ earliest years, celebrated children’s book author-poet Margarita Engle has filled a void in the Don Quixote literature with a sparkling collection of free verse poems that capture the spirit and accelerating imagination of one whose imagination erased injustice and impoverishment, adversity and censorship, vice and intolerance.  Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote assembles fourteen sketches titled by way of feelings, emotions and events, that for young readers should prove a revelation through the cause and effect essence of the presentation.  There are surely a number of options to approach Cervantes, but Engle’s method by building story through language vignettes is precise, economical and cumulative.  Engle’s own personal passion in her subject is revealed in her afterward, where she attests to parental admiration for this heroic figure and an upbringing during social upheaval that included the civil rights struggle and feminist coming of age.  As a teenager the author traveled to the hills of La Mancha with her family to behold the windmills that fueled the most celebrated imagination in the annals of world literature and on a personal level the author’s a present day relevance of “determination, perseverance, and limitless hope” that in the end will triumph over societal adversity.  Fully attuned to how Cervantes conquered the stumbling blocks of his own upbringing Engle implores her readers to absorb his message and know that they too can aspire to and attain success through indomitable commitment.  This labor of love for the Cuban-American author represents one of her most extraordinary achievements in a career with a plethora of acclaimed works.  Though Miguel’s Brave Knight is being proffered here as a Caldecott contender, Engle’s anapestic encapsulation should be gaining the attention of the Newbery committee as well. (more…)

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