Multicultural Novel in Verse for Middle School Girls
Call Me Maria: A novel in letters, poems and prose by Judith Ortiz Cofer
is a song. As in, I just Met a Girl Named Maria
and What Do You Do With A Problem Like Maria.
And she’s a poet. A young girl.
Relocated from her home in San Juan, Puerto Rico
and separated from her mami.
She has become a barrio hija (daughter)
so that her papi can return to his homeland.
English is elusive but Maria resolves to
steal it. Parabra by parabra (word by word)
English. Spanish. Spanglish.
Inspired by her English teacher and Pablo Neruda,
she becomes a poet:
I had to steal English,
because what I had
was never enough.
The sly taking
started as a word here,
a word there.
It was easy.
I slipped words
into my pockets,
my crime unnoticed
as the precision palabras
of unguarded mouths,
and when they were left behind
like empty glasses and china
after a banquet,
or like familiar jewelry,
the everyday gold
tossed anywhere at bedtime.”
This novel is a thing of beauty; three parts: poetry, prose, and letters to mami who remains in Puerto Rico. Short chapters, each a vignette or snippet of poetic prose or actual poetry. Told from Maria’s perspective, we, the reader, watch Maria blossom in her barrio neighborhood of New York City to become a poet. I suspect this is Judith Ortiz Cofer’s own story as she, too, immigrated from San Juan and is now a creative writing professor.
If your child liked Sharon Creech’s novel’s Love That Dog or Hate That Cat, this is a Latina version. I am surprised that this book didn’t win more awards. It must have been a tough year for Newbery Awards that year because this novel is of that caliber. [chapter book, ages 9-12]