Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings

Book review by
Kate Pavao, Common Sense Media
Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings Book Poster Image
Poignant memoir-in-verse recalls Cuban American's childhood.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Fast-moving narrative poetry makes Enchanted Air a good choice for reluctant readers, and the author's unique perspective breathes life into a piece of history that may be unknown to many tweens and teens. There's also a time line that helps readers fill in the blanks about historical events.

Positive Messages

Margarita learns through traveling to her mother's home country of Cuba, and to Mexico and Europe, that there's both beauty and suffering; she tells readers in her note, "Travel teaches compassion."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Margarita is very smart and skips grades. She's very interested in the natural world and in words.

Violence

Margarita sees beggars suffering in Mexico, and her cousins in Cuba kill a pig for a family dinner. She finds bullets in Cuba after the revolution and later learns that one of her relatives has been sent to a forced-labor camp. As the Cuban Missile Crisis intensifies, Margarita and her American classmates prepare for bombings and "poisoned air."

Sex

Eleven-year-old Margarita is kissed by an older boy, which she doesn't like. She has friends who get pregnant and have babies. Her mother doesn't know how to talk about sex with her children and gives them old-fashioned advice about dating.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Margarita hangs out with a wild group of girls and goes to a house where everyone else drinks and smokes. Her older friends brag about using weed, meth, and heroin.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Newbery Honor author Margarita Engle's Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings is a memoir told in poetry that recalls Engle's life as a Cuban American girl whose family is devastated by the unraveling of Cuban and American relations in the 1960s. Margarita finds bullets while visiting Cuba after the revolution, and she later learns that one of her relatives has been sent to a forced-labor camp. As the Cuban Missile Crisis intensifies, Margarita and her American classmates prepare for bombings and "poisoned air." Additionally, Margarita hangs out with a wild group of girls and goes to a house where everyone else drinks and smokes. Her older friends brag about using weed, meth, and heroin; get pregnant; and have babies. Eleven-year-old Margarita is kissed by an older boy, which she doesn't like. She learns through traveling -- to her mother's home country of Cuba, and to Mexico and Europe -- that there is both beauty and suffering. She tells readers in an author's note, "Travel teaches compassion." Fast-moving narrative poetry makes Enchanted Air a good choice for reluctant readers, and the author's unique perspective breathes life into a piece of history that may be unknown to many tweens and teens. There's also a time line at the end of the book that helps readers fill in the blanks about historical events. Enchanted Air won the 2016 Pura Belpre Author Award honoring a Latino writer whose children’s book best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience.

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What's the story?

ENCHANTED AIR is Margarita Engle's life story, told in poetry. She's the daughter of a Cuban mother and an American father, whose own parents fled from Europe to escape World War II. As a small child, she traveled back and forth to the island nation, where she feels a "second self ... belongs/to this wild tropical farm/instead of a modern/city." But as Cuba experiences a revolution and increasing tension with the United States, she's no longer able to visit her grandmother and the land she loves, and her mother struggles with her own complicated immigration status. Even so, young Margarita continues to hope that "Someday, surely I'll be free/to return to the island of all my childhood/dreams."

Is it any good?

Margarita Engle's moving, lyrical memoir breathes life into a piece of history that may be unknown to many tweens and teens. Her unique perspective is especially relevant as the United States and Cuba began to normalize strained relations in 2015. Readers will find it easy to relate to Margarita's struggles, such as having parents from another culture, having relatives living in poor conditions in other countries, and facing prejudice in America because of political situations outside of her control. The author hits heavy on the theme of feeling like two people in two different worlds, but characters beyond the narrator are mostly undeveloped. Even so, her

Engle's fast-moving narrative poetry makes this a good choice for reluctant readers.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Cuba. What do your kids know about its history or about the change in relations between the U.S. and the island nation?

  • The author has written several other poetry books about Cuba. What do you think about learning history through poetry? How is it different from reading about it in a textbook?

  • What do you think the author means by "travel teaches compassion"? Was that true in her story? Is it true in yours? 

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