#L4LL “Día” Blog Hop: Guest Author and Award-Winning Writer Margarita Engle, “Why I Write”

“Why I Write”

By: Margarita Engle

I write because I love to read. While I was still a small child, I listened to my Cuban mother as she read to me in English—a language that was still new to her—or Spanish, the language of her own childhood. As a recent immigrant to the U.S., she was still learning about American customs, but certain stories were universal.

Together, we cheered for ugly ducklings and pokey little puppies. Together, we enjoyed Jose Martí’s tales and rhymes. We were not limited to stories about elephants and enchanted shrimps from La Edad de Oro/The Age of Gold, because my mother also recited Martí’s poems for adults, sharing La Rosa Blanca/The White Rose, from Versos Sencillos/Simple Verses. That poem about a white rose was a rhyme that taught me about forgiveness, just as other stanzas taught:

About wonder:

Yo sé los nombres extraños de las yerbas y las flores/

I know the strange names of the herbs and the flowers

About empathy:

Con los pobres de la tierra quiero yo mi suerte echar

With the poor people of the earth I want to spend my future

And about self-expression:

Y antes de morirme quiero echar mis versos del alma

And before I die I want to pour out the verses of my soul

Author Margarita Engle participates in L4LL's Día Blog Hop

The Lighting Dreamers Courtesy: Margarita Engle

Soon, I was reading on my own, and writing was not far behind. Even my earliest crayon drawings included words. On a picture of a winged girl standing beneath a Cuban parrot, I wrote: ‘Turtle came to see me. ‘ I don’t know whether it was a title, a memory, or short fiction, but I do know that adding magical words to a page was as natural as adding wings to the shoulders of a girl.

Why limit myself?

If I could read, I could write.

If I could draw a mysterious world, why not tell about it too?

Poetry was my favorite form, and childhood visits to Cuba became my most beloved subject. I wrote about nature, people, and my own feelings. I experimented with haiku, free verse, and sonnets. There were no limits. Even after 1962, when U.S. citizens lost the right to travel back and forth between my mother’s small island and my own vast continent, I was able to move freely between the two, in memory and imagination.

On paper, there were no borders.

No Cold War.

No sense of loss.

On paper, I was free to love both countries, and both branches of my family. I did not have to choose.

Now, I still write because I love to read, and because I long to communicate with children who are the age I was when I was learning the value of books. I write because poems and stories nurture understanding between individuals, and between cultures. I write because no matter how old I’ve grown, words can still teach me, and words can still change our shared world.


Margarita Engle is the award-winning, Cuban-American author of many young adult novels in verse about the island, including The Surrender Tree, which received the first Newbery Honor ever awarded to a Latino/a. Other titles include The Poet Slave of Cuba, Hurricane Dancers, The Firefly Letters, Tropical Secrets, The Wild Book, and most recently, The Lightning Dreamer, about the great abolitionist/feminist poet, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda. Please visit her at www.margaritaengle.com.

L4LL 1st blog hop features 20 Latino authors for 20 days on 20 different Latina blogs.

L4LL 1st blog hop features 20 Latino authors over the course of 20 days on 20 different Latina blogs. Courtesy: Monica Olivera

The Giveaway

L4LL has put together a wonderful collection of Latino children’s literature to be given to a school or public library. Many of the books were donated by the authors and illustrators participating in this blog hop. You can read a complete list of titles here on the L4LL website.

To enter your school library or local library in the giveaway, simply leave a comment below.

The deadline to enter is 11:59 EST, Monday, April 29th. The winner will be chosen using Random.org and announced on the L4LL website on April 30th, Día de los Niños, Día de los Libros, and will be contacted via email – so be sure to leave a valid email address in your comment! (If we have no way to contact you, we’ll have to choose someone else!)

By entering this giveaway, you agree to the Official Sweepstakes Rules. No purchase required. Void where prohibited.

¡Buena suerte!


  1. says

    This is very exciting. This is long over due. Finally it’s done. I’m thrilled that you all have put your efforts together to create this wonderful and very much needed on going event. I will make my effort in spreading the word because this is what it takes to get more people reading; publicizing our writing community. I applaud the
    ladies of Latinas for Latino Literature and it will thrill me to see this grow giving the Latino community of writers another place to be published and recognized as they deserve. Adelante!!

    • says

      I also love to read. I love getting lost in locations, becoming friends with the characters and even sadder when you part with them at the end of the book.

      I want our children at Grand View Elementary to have the same love of books which is why I hope to win the books for our library.


  2. J. Z. says

    Oh wow – my kids’ public school dual language program could really use these books. Thanks for dong this!

  3. Liz Aldana says

    Me encanta Versos Sencillos de Jose Marti. Reading to our children is one of the best gifts we can give them…I would like to enter my kids school St Richard School for the giveaway. Good luck to all! Thanks for this chance.

  4. Jodi Monroy says

    Thanks so much for your part in this effort. I’ve never reflected on how important it is for Latino children to see themselves and their lives in the books they grow up reading. I love poestry, too!

  5. Anani Vasquez says

    I love poetry, too. I remember writing my first poem when I was 5, about a tree outside my school room. Poetry has always given me a way to express what cannot be fully expressed in prose. And once written and read by others, it always transforms into what is most meaningful to the reader. I’ve always found that amazing!

  6. says

    Engle’s essay reveals not only her emotions but her inspiration as well. The notion that words give us freedom is revealing for in freedom there is the power to be the best that we can be. As she shows, books–and the education they bring with them–unlock the doors to that freedom. A lovely essay and an excellent addition to the L4LL Blog Hop.

  7. says

    Teaching middle school English learners in DC, I am fascinated by their language development and the power of literature to help give them a voice as a reader and writer. Engle’s essay reminds me of all of the wonderful years spent rediscovering fairy tales, poems, and children’s books with my students- analyzing their simple words but profound themes. I was definitely a child raised on books, and it gives me great pleasure to unlock the joy of reading in so many of my students.

  8. Sandy Carrillo says

    Margarita, I find your books entrancing. Once I pick one up, I absolutely can not put it down. This happens to me even when re-reading my favorites, like The Firefly Letters.

  9. Elle says

    I love this blog for its support of familias raising multilingual book lovers! What a wonderful journey and thank you for sharing your story. My daughter’s trilingual Immersion school would love these books. It is so fulfilling to see her love of reading grow. Thank you!

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