Martí's Song for Freedom/Martí y sus versos por la libertad

By Shelf Awareness

Emma Otheguy's picture book debut tells (in side-by-side Spanish and English) the life story of José Martí (1853-1895), the Cuban political writer and poet who fought fiercely for Cuban independence from Spain. With excerpts from Martí's Versos sencillos (Simple Verses) sprinkled throughout, Otheguy's text follows the revolutionary from his childhood in his homeland to his last days, fighting a war for Cuba's freedom.

"When José was a young boy,/ his father took him to the countryside.../ José fell in love with his home island, Cuba." At a young age, José saw and understood the injustice of slavery and knew that, to help end the institution, he would have to help Cubans gain their independence from the Spanish. He became a political activist and was "taken away to jail." At 17, Martí was allowed his freedom if he agreed to leave the country. He spent many years traveling, eventually settling in New York where "he wrote verses/ about his love for the beauty of the Catskills/ and his longing for home." But after many years watching from afar as the Cubans sought freedom, Martí returned to Cuba to fight in a new war for independence; he died during the Battle of Two Rivers.

"I know the secret names/ Of the wild grasses and flowers,/ And yet I know too well,/ Deadly lies, and deepest pain." "Yo sé los nombres extraños,/ De las yerbas y las flores,/ Y de mortales engaños,/ Y de sublimes Dolores."

Otheguy's text (paired with the Spanish translations by author, editor and literary agent Adriana Domínguez) is clean and concise, direct and approachable. Beatriz Vidal's gouache illustrations burst with color and life, each illustration giving a strong sense of place and truly bringing Martí's Song for Freedom to life. 

Discover: A direct and approachable introduction to the life and works of Cuban poet and freedom fighter José Martí.