My pick for today is not the tale of a refugee nor does it cast a spotlight on a place experiencing conflict. It does, however, shed light on the Spanish-language author equivalent to Shakespeare, and offer hope and insights to those experiencing personal and/or societal conflict or pain. I hope you agree that it’s a Perfect Picture Book:
Title: Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote
Poems Written By: Margarita Engle
Illustrated By: Raúl Colón
Publisher/date: Peachtree Publishers/October 2017
Suitable for Ages: 8-12
Themes/Topics: imagination; poetry; historical fiction; hope; resilience
When I close my eyes,
I ride up high
on a horse the color of moonrise!
But then I open my eyes,
and all I see is Papá, selling
the last of the horses from his stable—
Brief Synopsis: Through free-verse poetry, the life and dreams of young Miguel Cervantes are explored, offering a clue into what inspired the writing of Don Quixote, the first modern novel.
Links to Resources:
- Check out the Teacher’s Guide, including a Vocabulary Puzzle Game, Windmill drawing activity, and poetry prompt;
- An Author’s Note, Illustrator’s Note, Historical Note, Biographical Note, and “Don Quixote, a Cultural Icon” provide context;
- Create your own windmill;
- Young Cervantes was a dreamer. What do you imagine when you dream? Who are you and what do you do? Write a poem setting out these ideas (“When I dream…,” or “Sometimes I imagine…”, or, the prompt suggested in the Teacher’s Guide, “In my daydreams, I…”).
Why I Like this Book:
Miguel’s Brave Knight is a beautiful book – both the free verse poems exploring young Cervantes’ fears and dreams and the gorgeous water-colored pen and ink illustrations that accompany the text. While many children may not know firsthand the story of Don Quixote, I think they will be keen to learn more about this seminal book after reading Miguel’s Brave Knight.
In addition, by juxtaposing young Miguel’s family circumstances with his dreams and writing, I think Engle’s poems will speak to children who themselves are experiencing family or societal hardships firsthand. In “Hunger,” Engle writes, They even took our beds and plates./ Where will we sleep?/ How will we eat? Reading these words, I can’t help but picture children living in impoverished households with one or more caregiver incarcerated, those whose parents face deportation, and refugees. Thankfully, Engle also posits in “Comfort,” the spark of a story…/A tale about a brave knight/ who will ride out on/ a strong horse/ and right/ all the wrongs/ of this confusing/ world.
A Note about Craft:
Engle, the Young People’s Poet Laureate, wrote Miguel’s Brave Knight as a series of free verse poems, told from a first-person Point of View. I think this works well for a fictionalized biography (fiction, because Engle shares Cervantes’ thoughts and feelings), especially of an author.
In an Author’s Note, Engle shares that she visited the windmills of Spain as a teen with her family, grew up surrounded by the images of Don Quixote, and “wrote Miguel’s Brave Knight to show how the power of imagination can be a great source of comfort and hope in times of struggle and suffering.” What draws you to write or illustrate a story and what further themes can you pull from that story?
In Reading Picture Books with Children (Charlesbridge, 2015), Megan Dowd Lambert champions the whole book approach, and counsels that everything about a picture book can help tell the story. In Miguel’s Brave Knight, the endpapers are particularly relevant, and readers are treated to an imaginative surprise when they peek under the jacket cover.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!