Home isn’t here.
English is so hard to learn.
Animals always understand her.
Doctors in California after World War II couldn’t cure her grandmother diabetes, but now Oriol’s family is established here, her parents’ veterinary practice thriving, her big sister flirting with elephant handler Surey at the wildlife ranch they serve.
Summer is a release from kids who bully the 11 year old for not speaking English well, for the scents of animal companions that cling to her clothes. Oriol still longs for Cuba, where she and Abuelita cared for whistling birds.
Into their neighborhood comes an older lady whose words ring out with messages of nature and peace and hope. This poet from Chile begins teaching Oriol how to observe the world and bring poetry from her soul onto the page – in Spanish, in English, in both languages at once.
Oriol finally gets to meet wise-eyed Chandra at the ranch and Surey who cares for the pregnant elephant. The wonderful sounds that Chandra makes bring her so much joy, inspiring words and more words!
Can Oriol someday be a poet and a veterinarian, someone who translates animal speech to humans?
The noisy movie star who brought Chandra and Surey from Nepal can’t wait for the baby to be born – is he really the right person to own an elephant?
Big surprise when Chandra gives birth! Then terrible shock – what can Oriol do to help?
This novel-in-verse was inspired by the late 1940s California stay of Gabriela Mistral and her companion Doris Dana, as the educator, writer, and only woman Latin American winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature continued her work as a peace activist.
Another lyrical Cuban-centered story by the author of Rima’s Rebellion (I recommended here), Your Heart My Sky (more here), Lion Island (here) and more.
What words does nature inspire you to write?
Book info: Singing With Elephants / Margarita Engle. Viking Books /PRH, 2022. [author site] [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.