cover image Singing with Elephants

Singing with Elephants

Margarita Engle. Viking, $16.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-593-20669-0

In 1947, 11-year-old Oriol and her family live in Santa Barbara, having migrated from Cuba to seek treatment for her grandmother’s diabetes. After the treatment fails and Abuelita dies, Oriol tries to process her grief while feeling isolated at school and being bullied for her accent and love of animals. Now on summer vacation, she finds solace by helping the many animals at her parents’ veterinary clinic and appreciating their “humorous animal opera.” Oriol struggles to express her feelings in both Spanish and English, until she befriends a neighbor—Engle’s imagined version of poet Gabriela Mistral, the first Latin American winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature—who teaches Oriol how to express herself through poetry. And when a baby elephant is separated from its family for a rich actor’s entertainment, Oriol uses her voice to petition for their reunification. 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. Back matter includes an author’s note and resources on Gabriela Mistral. Ages 8–12. Agent: Michelle Humphrey, Martha Kaplan Agency. (May)