|Silver people : voices from the Panama Canal|
Author: Engle, Margarita
Fourteen-year-old Mateo and other Caribbean islanders face discrimination, segregation, and harsh working conditions when American recruiters lure them to the Panamanian rain forest in 1906 to build the great canal.
Download a Teacher's Guide
|Accelerated Reader Information:|
Interest Level: MG+
Reading Level: 6.80
Points: 2.0 Quiz: 165231
|Reading Counts Information:|
Interest Level: 6-8
Reading Level: 7.50
Points: 14.0 Quiz: 63163
Kirkus Reviews (01/15/14)
School Library Journal (03/01/14)
Booklist (+) (03/15/14)
The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (02/14)
The Hornbook (00/03/14)
Full Text Reviews:
Bulletin for the Center... - 02/01/2014 If they think about it at all, contemporary students are likely to take the Panama Canal for granted, not realizing the amazing, horrifically dangerous engineering feat that it was at the beginning of the twentieth century. This verse novel offers multiple perspectives on the enormity of the project, highlighting the material difficulties as well as the racially based system of inequality that governed the types of labor and the pay scale: white American and European workers had safer jobs, better housing and food, and were paid in gold, while islanders from Cuba, Jamaica, Barbados, and Haiti were housed in boxcars, worked in constant danger of mudslides that resulted in mass casualties, ate substandard food while standing up, and were paid in silver. Engle gives voice to Mateo, a war orphan from Cuba; Anita, an herb girl from the forests of Panama; Henry, a laborer from Jamaica; and Augusto, an engineer from the States, who cultivates Mateo’s artistic talent to record the indigenous flora and fauna. To fill in gaps in her story, she provides occasional poems from real historical personages, such as a ruthlessly expansionist Theodore Roosevelt and the agents he dispatched to manage the project. She also devotes poems to the forest dwellers: the howler monkeys, various types of ants and birds, giant hissing cockroaches, the trees, and other native animals displaced and unsettled by the building of the canal. As always, Engle’s poetry captures with sympathetic wonder and delicate beauty the plight of these disenfranchised voices; here in particular she highlights the natural beauty and love that Mateo, Anita, and Henry find and cling to in the midst of their back- and heart-breaking labor. A prose epilogue in character from Augusto and a historical note from the author provide context for the Engle’s project of giving voice to the “silver people.” KC - Copyright 2014 The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois.
School Library Journal - 03/01/2014 Gr 6–9—It is 1906, and the race to build the Panama Canal is wide reaching. There is nothing 14-year-old Mateo desires more than to escape his Cuban home and his abusive, war-ravaged father. Armed only with his courage and lies that provide him passage, he heads to Panama in hopes of finding a future building the canal. What he discovers, however, is perilous work and harsh inequality. This masterfully written novel in verse brings to life every bit of Panama, from the horrible working conditions of the islanders, forced to dig the canal for next-to-nothing wages, to the lush forest and wildlife. Mateo's relationships with Henry, a Jamaican laborer; Anita, a Panamanian herb collector; and Augusto, a Puerto Rican geologist, are elegantly developed and assist in highlighting the extreme segregation and prejudice faced by those building the canal. Each poem is short but powerful, and the characters, landscapes, and quality of life are masterfully portrayed. While turmoil abounds, Mateo, Henry, Anita, and Augusto are all able to find their peace and a future in Panama. This richly developed novel is an excellent addition to any collection. In this compelling story, Engle paints a picture of an often-looked era and highlights the struggles of the people and the arrogance of the Americans.—Ellen Norton, White Oak Library District, Crest Hill, IL - Copyright 2014 Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and/or School Library Journal used with permission.
Booklist - 03/15/2014 *Starred Review* In 1906, 14-year-old Mateo, who is desperate to leave his Cuban home, lies about his age to secure a job digging the Panama Canal. After arriving in Panama, he soon discovers that the “land of many butterflies” is also the land of rain, mud, and rock. Instead of becoming a digger—the job of his new friend, a Jamaican named Henry—Mateo finds work as a train-track mover. Both jobs are dangerous (more than 5,600 lives were lost in creating the canal), backbreaking, and hellish. Mateo’s life becomes better when, first, he meets a local girl, Anita, with whom he falls in love, and, second, when he becomes a part-time assistant to mapmaker and artist Augusto, who teaches him how to sketch. Engle tells her stirring story in multiple voices, including President Theodore Roosevelt and even the fauna and flora of the jungle. And she vividly presents her Panamanian setting and the often cruel context of the canal’s construction and its system of segregation that separated dark-skinned islanders and olive-skinned southern Europeans from Americans and northern Europeans. The former were paid in silver (hence the title), and the latter, in gold. Engle’s extraordinary book is a tour de force of verisimilitude and beautifully realized verse that brings to empathetic life the silver people, especially her wonderful characters Mateo, Anita, Henry, and Augusto. A superb book for both independent reading and classroom use. - Copyright 2014 Booklist.