Poetry is Margarita Engle’s specialty. She enchants readers with her picture books in verse and her novels-in-verse for middle grade and young adult readers.
Point of View
Margarita Engle presents two of her books about artists in first person point of view.
Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian and Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist are told from the point of view of the artists themselves, allowing the artist to come to life and help the reader see what the artist saw.
Summer Birds is presented as a straight first-person narrative, while Sky Painter is told in a series of first-person poems.
In Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, some of her lines are only one word long. These short lines cause us to pause and pick up the rhythm that Engle is trying to create with her words. All the Way to Havana also makes use of short lines—sometimes only 2-3 words long. This helps evoke mood in the book and makes it easy for the reader to catch onto the rhythm.
Engle uses a varying refrain in The Flying Girl: How Aida de Acosta Learned to Soar.
The onomatopoeia in All the Way to Havana gives the reader a sensory experience from “cara cara, cluck, cluck, cluck” to “pìo, pìo, pìo, pìo, pfffft.”
In Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, she also uses powerful verbs such as rippled, rapped, pounded, which give an onomatopoeic effect. The verbs peep, croak, shriek do the same in Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist.
Orangutanka: A Story in Poems is a narrative is told through a series of linked tanka poems. A short form like tanka doesn’t leave room for anything but exacting word choice. In this case, Engle uses a superb lineup of verbs throughout such as: leaps, clings, swings, flips, dips, swoops, twirls, shake, clamber, smacks and more!
Her language is so rich, it performs double duty—providing musicality, supporting the work with strong verbs, and even using verbs that are onomatopoeic.
Even adjectives take on a unique quality in Engle’s work. In The Flying Girl: How Aida de Acosta Learned to Soar, she uses the description, “whale-shaped moon.” Such specificity helps the reader form images with just a few short words.
In Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, she uses descriptions like “wind-wavy palm trees” and “flower-bright park.” These are all descriptions that feel fresh instead of overused.
Every Word Counts
Making every word count is the hallmark of picture books. Engle’s picture books are no exception. Poetry also distills everything down to its essence.
Her word selection is so precise that we can see that every single word is carefully selected for its meaning but also for its placement on the page as poetry.
Marcie Flinchum Atkins is an elementary school librarian by day who writes for children in the wee hours of the morning. She also muses about mentor texts at her website. You can follow her on Twitter @MarcieFAtkins and read about her #writerlife on Instagram at @marciefatkins.
Thank you Marcie for an in-depth look at books by Margarita Engle.