Parents' Guide to

The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano

By Matt Berman, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 14+

Brutal but moving bio in verse is best for teens.

The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano Poster Image

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For teens, this is a solid introduction to an all-but-forgotten literary and historical figure, and the tale of survival and defiance has moments of uplift. The Poet Slave of Cuba will inspire readers to wonder: Why did Juan persist in reading and writing when it invariably brought him beatings? How did his abilities sustain him? Teens may also be interested in finding out about his life, or those of other slave poets, such as George Moses Horton, Jupiter Hammon, and Phyllis Wheatley.

Unfortunately, readers may find that the free verse leaves some aspects of the story unclear, such as how Juan ends up with the Marquesa after being granted his freedom. Authors of similar works (see Your Own, Sylvia by Stephanie Hemphill, for example) solve that problem by the use of footnotes and/or endnotes. No such luck here -- the historical note only picks up after the story ends. Also, Manzano lived in Cuba in the early 1800s, and it's likely that most young readers will know little about that society -- it would have been useful if the note had given some context.

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