Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Miguel's Brave Knight - a review

Quick! Think of a book that fits the following:
  • long and difficult to read
  • not originally published in English
  • has an adjective specifically to describe it
  • has a popular idiom inspired by it
  • inspired a hit Broadway play
  • a bestseller in countries around the world
  • popular for centuries
  • inspired artwork by a master
(see Note below)
Correct me if I'm wrong, but only two books come to mind—The Bible and Don Quixote.
I mention this only to illustrate the magnitude of influence that Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra's seminal book, El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha, has had on Western culture and society.  Not many people have the patience to read a book of its magnitude any more.  I consider myself a good reader, and it took me months to get through an English translation of Don Quixote. I consider them months well-spent!  Like The Bible, whether or not one has read Don Quixote, it is a frequent touchstone in our culture and remains influential and worthy of contemplation and understanding.

That is my long-winded introduction to a wonderful new picture book biography written by our country's current Young People's Poet Laureate, Margarita Engle and illustrated by award-winning artist, Raúl Colón

Miguel's Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote
Poems by Margarita Engle
Illustrated by Raúl Colón
Peachtree, 2017

In a series of poems, Margarita Engle gives the reader a sense of Miguel Cervantes' life in the 16th century.  Though his father's gambling causes much grief in the family, young Miguel is nevertheless a hopeful child who uses his imagination to right the wrongs he sees in his world. He conjures a story of a brave knight who will fight against book burnings, poverty, plague, and other evils of the time. Teachers in Sevilla and Madrid nurture his abilities, and his imaginary knight begins to take shape on the written page.

Each of the fifteen titled poems ("Happiness," "Disaster," "Learning to Write") are presented on a white background in a simple font.  A lightly colored cursive title adds to the backdrop, reminding the reader that poems were written by hand.  The white background blends in to the double-spread, pen and ink watercolor illustrations that feature the young Cervantes as a participant in day-to-day activities, or a witness to important events of his early lifetime.

In "If Only," Colón paints a drably-clothed family leaving the city with their meager belongings,

Papá works, cuts hair, trims beards,
pulls teeth, and treats injuries.

If only he did not gamble so much,
losing our money again and again
on card games, jousting,
and horse races.

If only we did not have to move so often.

If only we could live in my world
of brave
Don't mistake this for a sorrowful story, however. It is a story of resilience and soaring imagination.  The story of young Miguel Cervantes proves that an optimistic belief in chivalrous righteousness is not a quixotic quest, but with hope and persistence, an achievable goal.

Included in the book are an Author's Note, Illustrator's Note, Historical Note, Biographical Note, and Don Quixote, A Cultural Icon

I cannot recommend this generously-sized, beautiful book enough. 

Don Quixote contains over 400,00 words and was originally published in Spanish in the years 1605 and 1615.  The word quixotic first appeared in the 1700s. Tilting at windmills is an idiom associated with the book. The original  "Man of LaMancha" ran on Broadway in 1965 for over 2,000 performances, and won five Tony Awards including best musical.  In 1955, Pablo Picasso sketched the now-famous work "Don Quixote."

My copy of Miguel's Brave Knight was provided by the publisher at my request.

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