The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom Book Poster Image
Cuban independence in informative but flat poetry.

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A lot or a little?

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


Ears cut off, bodies chopped up, a boy is mauled by wild dogs, none described in detail.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Cigars are mentioned.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that there are several references to cutting off slaves' ears to prove they are dead, and to a pile of ears, but nothing is described.

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What's the story?

In free-verse poems, Cuba's series of wars for independence from Spain at the end of the 19th century are depicted, primarily from the point of view of Rosa la Bayamesa. She and her husband Jose tried to take care of the sick and injured in the jungles and caves of the Cuban countryside. She also takes in an orphaned girl and teaches her about making medicines from plants. Includes Historical Note, Timeline, and Bibliography.

Is it any good?

This is one of those books that's probably more beloved by the librarians who give the major children's book awards than it is likely to be by actual children. To be sure, it introduces readers to a chapter of history with which they are probably unfamiliar, a chapter in which slavery and oppression are countered by nobility and selflessness. So it has educational and moral value, and could serve as an adjunct to a history class studying this period.

But it's not a book many kids will pick up and read for pleasure. The choice to write it in free-verse poetry, while appealing to reluctant readers, was an odd one for the subject, and the poetry itself is rather flat and prosy. Though it focuses on a few characters, one never really has a sense of knowing them as people, and there is little emotional impact. This is an adequate book on an interesting topic.

From the Book:
The slavehunter and his son
both stay away during the rains,
which last six months, from May
through October.

In November he returns with his boy,
whose scars have faded.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the historical events depicted here. Did you understand what was going on? Why do some countries try to dominate others? Why were the peasants rounded up and put in camps? How can you find more information?

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