The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom El Arbol de la Rendicion: Poemas de la Lucha de Cuba por su Libertad

by Margarita Engle

Paperback, 2008



Local notes

811 Eng
Shelved in Spanish Language Section




Square Fish (2008), Edition: Reprint, 384 pages


Cuba has fought three wars for independence, and still she is not free. This history in verse creates a lyrical portrait of Cuba.

Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

384 p.; 5.49 inches

Media reviews

Kirkus Review
Tales of political dissent can prove, at times, to be challenging reads for youngsters, but this fictionalized version of the Cuban struggle for independence from Spain may act as an entry to the form. The poems offer rich character portraits through concise, heightened language, and their order
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within the cycle provides suspense. Four characters tell the bulk of the story: Rosa, a child who grows up to be a nurse who heals the wounded, sick and starving with herbal medicine; her husband, Jose, who helps her move makeshift hospitals from cave to cave; Silvia, an orphaned girl who escapes a slave camp so that she may learn from Rosa; and Lieutenant Death, a hardened boy who grows up wanting only to kill Rosa and all others like her. Stretching from 1850 to 1899, these poems convey the fierce desire of the Cuban people to be free. Young readers will come away inspired by these portraits of courageous ordinary people. (author's note, historical note, chronology, references) (Fiction/poetry. 12+)
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1 more
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up- Often, popular knowledge of Cuba begins and ends with late-20th-century textbook fare: the Cuban Revolution, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Fidel Castro. The Surrender Tree , however, transports readers to another, though no less tumultuous, era. Spanning the years 1850-1899, Engle's poems
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construct a narrative woven around the nation's Wars for Independence. The poems are told in alternating voices, though predominantly by Rosa, a "freed" slave and natural healer destined to a life on the lam in the island' s wild interior. Other narrators include Teniente Muerte , or Lieutenant Death, the son of a slave hunter turned ruthless soldier; José, Rosa's husband and partner in healing; and Silvia, an escapee from one of Cuba's reconcentration camps. The Surrender Tree is hauntingly beautiful, revealing pieces of Cuba's troubled past through the poetry of hidden moments such as the glimpse of a woman shuttling children through a cave roof for Rosa's care or the snapshot of runaway Chinese slaves catching a crocodile to eat. Though the narrative feels somewhat repetitive in its first third, one comes to realize it is merely symbolic of the unending cycle of war and the necessity for Rosa and other freed slaves to flee domesticity each time a new conflict begins. Aside from its considerable stand-alone merit, this book, when paired with Engle's The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano (Holt, 2006), delivers endless possibilities for discussion about poetry, colonialism, slavery, and American foreign policy.-Jill Heritage Maza, Greenwich High School, CT
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User reviews

LibraryThing member abbylibrarian
In beautiful, luscious verse Margarita Engle gives readers a look into the Cuban wars for independence through the eyes of a slave healer. Rosa, born a slave, learns the healing arts from her mother and uses plants in the jungle to heal rebel fighters while Cuba battles Spain for independence. I
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found it to be an accessible, interesting read well deserving of its Newbery honor. An author's note, historical note, chronology, and list of sources make me giddy with glee. Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction and novels in verse. Hand this one to fans of Karen Hesse.
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LibraryThing member andreablythe
A historical novel in poems, this book follows the Cuba's three wars for independence in the late 1800s. All peasants are rounded up into reconcentration camps to prevent them helping the anti-Spanish rebels. Meanwhile hidden in a cave in the forest, Rosa uses herbs and plants to heal those who
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come to her, whether they are former slaves, injured farmers, or Spanish soldiers. She cares not for color or station, if you come to her she will offer her healing.

This is a young adult book and the poems are simple and straight forward, so simple and straightforward that sometimes they read more like prose than poetry. But there is often beauty in these words, just as Rosa manages to look around her and still see beauty and hope in her war shredded Cuba.
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LibraryThing member Gina.Breuklander
Typically I don't appreciate poetry or nonfiction. I really enjoyed this book. I immediately fell into it and didn't put it down until I had read it all.
A strength of the book was that it was easy to read and I like the poetry format. A good way for people like me to learn about the Cuban wars.
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didn't really come up with a weakness other than it was not totally nonfiction, a character or two were "made up" using composites of accounts by various survivors of the reconcentration camps.
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LibraryThing member sriches
How can there be
a little war?
Are some deaths
smaller than others,
leaving mothers
who weep
a little less?

Cuba has fought three wars for independence, and still she is not free. Her people have been rounded up in reconcentration camps, where there is always too little food and too much illness. Rosa
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knows how to heal sickness with medicines made from wild plants. But with a price on her head for helping the rebels, Rosa dares not go out in the open. Instead, she turns hidden caves into hospitals for those who know how to find her. Black, white, Cuban, Spanish–Rosa does her best for everyone, even Lieutenant Death, who has sworn to kill her. Yet who can heal a country so torn apart by war? In this history in verse, acclaimed poet Margarita Engle has created a lyrical, powerful portrait of Cuba. (Publisher)
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LibraryThing member ccharris
This collection of poems is an accurate depiction of Cuba's struggle for independence from Spain in the late 1800s. Told in poetry format, the language is simple and easy to understand. The focus is on Rosa, a nurse who uses herbal remedies to help wounded slaves and landowners. She considers her
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skills a gift from God and therefore she helps everyone..including her enemies. Surrounded by the atrocities perpetrated against the slaves and landowners, Rosa steadfastly pursues her dream of helping others free Cuba. This collection will be most helpful before beginning a unit on the Spanish American War.
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LibraryThing member coresonk
This book is a collection of poems that tell the story of a families struggle during the Cuban Civil War. It is told in verse, through multiple points of view. I think that the story, while told in an easy to comprehend way, might be a bit rough for young childrne. I would definitely use this with
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older students, however. It would be great to use not only in a poetry lesson, but also in a children in conflict unit, or any unit about war.
*Used in my Bookstore Explore assignment.
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LibraryThing member harrietspy61
Based on the true story of the author's grandmother, this story in verse tells of the 3 wars for Cuba's independence in the late 1800s. Poetic voices include Rosa, an herbal healer; her husband, Jose, who helps protect the hidden clinics where Rosa works; Lieutenant Death, a slave hunter looking
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for rebels, and Rosa in particular; General Weyler, a Spanish leader who created the first concentration camps; and Silvia, an escapee from the camps who searches out Rosa to be her apprentice. Lovely language, and interesting time period/characters. Ordered this as a possible read-aloud for a gr 1-6 program on Cuba, but it's too dark. Would recommend to teachers working on civil rights/slavery, Spanish-American war, possibly poetry unit. Newbery Honor, Pura Belpre Award
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LibraryThing member mathqueen
This story, written in first-person prose, gives insight into the Cuban struggle for independence from Spain. The protagonist, Rosa, is a selfless heroine, healing wounded from the war, caring for orphans, and even healing Spanish soldiers left to die on battlefields. Because she uses the plants
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and roots provided in the jungle, Rosa believes she has received her healing powers from God. Because this story is told from the Cuban perspective, it allows students to experience this war in a very different way than depicted in American history books. At the end of the book, Spain secedes and the American flag waves over Cuba. This is not seen by the Cubans as a victory; even with all the years of fighting for freedom, they are still denied the right to fly a Cuban flag. They realize that very people who inspired them by winning freedom from England will now be ruling over Cuba.
Librarians will find this book a valuable addition to their collection for many reasons. It can be used as a model for free-verse story telling, encouraging older students to attempt their own free-verse stories. This book could also be used as a way to contrast the civil wars of Cuba and the United States. Students can explore warfare, reasons for fighting, and even people of impact from each war. A study of women in warfare could also be conducted, with emphasis placed on similarities of women in very different cultures. Finally, students could further research plants and their healing properties, and learn how manufacturing these plants impact economies.
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LibraryThing member katiejanelewis
Written in novel poetic form, this book tells the story of Cuba's struggle for freedom.
LibraryThing member kkcrossley
This story is about a Cuban girl, Rosa a young girl growing up as a slave and then following her life as she married in the middle and late 1800’s. The story is written in verse from alternating points of view, mostly Rosa but also her father’s- the slave hunter and his son called Lieutenant
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Death, Jose, who marries Rosa, and Sylvia and young girl who escapes the camps to come live with Rosa. Rosa has grown up learning healing with local plants and the slave hunters make her heal captured slaves. In the first war, which ends with the slave holder freeing their slaves, Rosa retreats to safety in the forest. Runaway slaves and Rebels hide in the forests, mountains and caves and they always need a nurse (Rosa). Rosa feels this is her gift.
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LibraryThing member bcpederson
4P; RC: Changing forms, perspectives, and boundaries
LibraryThing member CarmellaLee
Personal Response: This book shares the poetry of many Cubans and their struggle for freedom.

Curricular and Programming Connection: Freedom in the Cuban trials and lives.
LibraryThing member twonickels
Engle is so good at getting to the core of her historical characters – their voices really shine. And this is such a rich story, even with the very sparse actual historical detail that exists about Rosa and her husband. I am starting to think that verse novels are an ideal way to tell
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fictionalized versions of true stories from history – the form forces the author to distill the story down to its most essential parts. And Engle is the reigning champion of these historical verse novels.
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LibraryThing member amanda_c
This verse novel tells the story of the enslaved folk healer Rosa, and the slave catcher, Teniente Muerto (Lieutenant Death) in lyrical poems that follow the characters from their childhoods through Cuba’s many bloody battles for freedom, and into their old age.

Potential Use:
The Surrender
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Tree would make an excellent compliment to lessons on history or poetry, but the verse is compelling enough to make it an excellent read-alone book.

Child Appeal:
The idea of a novel in verse may make some children reluctant to try The Surrender Tree, but once that hurdle has been surpassed, the intriguing story, evocative language, and engaging characters will keep them reading.
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LibraryThing member korjon1905
Book composed of poems about Cuba's struggle for freedom during 1850-1899. Makes for a great read aloud and discussion of slavery. This book takes time to read and digest, with reflection and discussion a plus.
Follow Rosa, a nurse who has hidden herself in caves turned hospitals, helping those she
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can, without regard to herself.
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LibraryThing member sharmon05
Approaching history in this manner is very interesting and can make more of an emotional impact. Readers will become attached to the characters and more easily understand what it would be like to live back then. However, this book can be such a quick read, the emotion and meaning can get lost.
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Moving through this book slowly with lots of time for reflection would be the best case scenario.
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LibraryThing member DanielleHuslinger91
This book is a book of poems written by cuba poets. This book would be good for 4th to 6th grade. I could use this book for a poetry lesson. We could read some of the poems, and then they could create some of there own.
LibraryThing member Melanie_MacDonald
The Surrender Tree is a book full of poems telling of three wars of independence in Cuba from 1850 to 1899. The poems are told through different narratives, with the primary focus on a woman named Rosa, who was a slave that had the gift of healing. The Spanish that occupied Cuba considered her to
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be a witch, but used her talents to heal the slaves that ran away from the plantations where they were forced to work, only to be sent right back when they were healed. After the first war of independence, Rosa and many others were “freed” from slavery, but had nowhere to go, no place to call home. Rosa continued to use her talents to heal and set up hospitals where she healed Cubans and Spanish soldiers, who often, after receiving such honest kindness from Rosa, switched sides and fought along with Cuba. Rosa married a man named Jose, who worked alongside his wife in healing the wounded. As time passed, however, the wars of independence got worse. The Spanish soldiers killed any Cuban who refused to surrender and go into a reconcentration camp, and Rosa became a target by Spanish slave-hunter Lieutenant Death, who wanted the glory of taking down the woman who made it possible for Cuba to continue the fight for freedom.

The Surrender Tree is an amazing set of poems that highlights the grim and haunting history of Cuba’s struggle for freedom. The characters and events in the poems are based on actual people and events of Cuba’s history, which in a way, makes the poems more real and heart wrenching. The style of writing is more like prose rather than typical poetry, and therefore flows beautifully and lyrically, enrapturing the reader from the beginning. The author uses descriptive language, allowing the reader to easily imagine being there alongside Rosa as she heals the wounds of war and the ever present obstacles standing in her way. This book of poems is recommended for students in grades six through twelve, but I would recommend it to anyone.

The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle has won many awards including: ALA Notable Children’s Books for Older Readers 2009, Amelia Bloomer Lists Young Adult Fiction 2009, Booklist Editor’s Choice Books for Youth 2008, Claudia Lewis award, Newbery Honor Book 2009, Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards, Pura Belpre Award, and YALSA Best Books for Young Adults 2009.
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LibraryThing member The_Hibernator
The Surrender Tree is a fictional set of narrative poems by actual historical figures in Cuba’s war for independence from Spain. The storyline was interesting and educational, and I was pleased that I’d taken the time to read this little book.
LibraryThing member CChristophersen
Great insight into the Cuban wars for independence from Spain. Written in the voice of rebels who were hiding in the jungle and caves. They made field hospitals and nursed and tended to the rebels. The story is based on real characters and stories the author heard growing up from her great
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grandparents, who were refugees during this time. The reconcentration camps created to control the peasants where inspiration for concentration camps used by others in history. Great historical story!
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LibraryThing member CircusTrain
5Q - the poetry and language are crystal pure and beautiful. The story/history is heartbreaking.
4P - may not feel accessible to younger readers
LibraryThing member SJKessel
Engle, M. (2009). The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's struggle for freedom. New York: Henry Holt and Company.


160 pages

Appetizer: This novel in verse spans 30 years in the late 1800s to share about the several wars Cuba endured to try to gain its freedom from Spain. The narration switches
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point of view from poem to poem and focuses most closely on Rosa who would, in my words, become Cuba's SUPER-DOCTOR!!!!!!!

The story also shares the perspective of Jose (her husband), Lieutenant Death (a slave hunter who--fictionally--became obsessed with trying to kill her) and Silvia (a young girl who escapes a reconcentration camp in the hope of learning from Rosa).

At first this book was VERY difficult for me to read. I blame my lack of schooling on the history of Cuba. Around page 30, I skipped ahead to the historical note and timeline to try to figure out the history more clearly, but it didn't help too much. Eventually though, the characters' perspectives did win me over and I still managed to get into the story, but even after finishing the book, I still feel like I need a eighth grade social studies teacher to sit me down and explain the historical context of the book to me.

The reason the characters won me over was because Engle does a very interesting job of showing how the different characters perceive one another. As a child, Rosa, already a talented healer, doctors the son of a slavehunter, Lieutenant Death. She mentions that LD and his father tell lies to "seem like heroes," then in the next poem, LD shares his perspective and describes how he chooses to call "wild dogs" wolves to seem "truly brave" (pp. 8-9). This continues more as characters meet throughout the book.

Also interesting, by page 25, Rosa is an adult. Soon after she's married. For the next 50 pages, the poems follow an adult. This surprised me, since writers usually don't try to have readers engage too closely with adult characters. I think the fact that this is poetry helps, since readers can also focus on the imagery. I still felt thankful when Silvia, who is described as being eleven and twelve-years-old in the poems, was introduced. I felt that helped to make the book more child-focused once more. Plus, there's a poem narrated in Rosa's voice that begins "Today the children saved us" (p. 136).

Despite my above critiques, The Surrender Tree gives voice to an important aspect of history. It uses a lot of beautiful metaphors and (in a few cases startling) images to show the horrors of war. I really love the thought that lots of middle grade kids and young adults have the opportunity to explore this time period and conflict (that opens up to comparisons to other wars and times when concentration camps were used). I wish this story had been around when I was a kid. And that I had a teacher who would explain it to me.

Dinner Conversation:

"Some people call me a child-witch,
but I'm just a girl who likes to watch
the hands of the women
as they gather wild herbs and flowers
to heal the sick" (p. 3).

"Should I fight with weapons,
or flowers and leaves?

Each choice leads to another--
I stand at a crossroads in my mind,
deciding to serve as a nurse,
armed with fragrant herbs,
fighting a wilderness battle, my own private war
against death" (p. 27).

"Who could have guessed that after all these years,
the boy I called Lieutenant Death
when we were both children
would still be out here, in the forest,
chasing me, now,
hunting me, haunting me...." (p. 39).

"The angel-man brings me
tiny bits of smuggled food,
but there is never enough,
and my brothers are turning
into shadows" (p. 99).

Tasty Rating: !!!
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LibraryThing member twonickels
Engle is so good at getting to the core of her historical characters – their voices really shine. And this is such a rich story, even with the very sparse actual historical detail that exists about Rosa and her husband. I am starting to think that verse novels are an ideal way to tell
Show More
fictionalized versions of true stories from history – the form forces the author to distill the story down to its most essential parts. And Engle is the reigning champion of these historical verse novels.
Show Less
LibraryThing member KilmerMSLibrary
Follow Rosa, a healer, who nurses runaway slaves and Cuban deserters in caves and other secret hideaways. As her fame grows, Rosa's enemies relentlessly hunt her down, attempting to break the Cuban spirit of resistance.
LibraryThing member GR8inD8N
favorite quote "I picture myself lugging a suitcase loaded with heavy diseases..." This book delivers history in a delectable way. so many bits of wisdom. I've made it a plan to read most of her books.




½ (101 ratings; 4)
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