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Lion Island

Cuba's Warrior of Words



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About The Book

In a haunting yet hopeful novel in verse, award-winning author Margarita Engle tells the story of Antonio Chuffat, a young man of African, Chinese, and Cuban descent who became a champion of civil rights.

Asia, Africa, Europe—Antonio Chuffat’s ancestors clashed and blended on the beautiful island of Cuba. Yet for most Cubans in the nineteenth century, life is anything but beautiful. The country is fighting for freedom from Spain. Enslaved Africans and nearly-enslaved Chinese indentured servants are forced to work long, backbreaking hours in the fields.

So Antonio feels lucky to have found a good job as a messenger, where his richly blended cultural background is an asset. Through his work he meets Wing, a young Chinese fruit seller who barely escaped the anti-Asian riots in San Francisco, and his sister Fan, a talented singer. With injustice all around them, the three friends are determined that violence will not be the only way to gain liberty.


Lion Island Running with Words

Age 12

Year of the Goat


About The Author

Photograph (c) Shevaun Williams

Margarita Engle is the Cuban American author of many books including the verse novels Rima’s RebellionYour Heart, My SkyWith a Star in My HandThe Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor winner; and The Lightning Dreamer. Her verse memoirs include Soaring Earth and Enchanted Air, which received the Pura Belpré Award, a Walter Dean Myers Award Honor, and was a finalist for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, among others. Her picture books include Drum Dream GirlDancing Hands, and The Flying Girl. Visit her at

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (August 30, 2016)
  • Length: 176 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781481461122
  • Grades: 5 and up
  • Ages: 10 - 99
  • Lexile ® 1110L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®

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Raves and Reviews

"[Lion Island] tenderly exposes the rage and hope that can exist within the same heart. A fierce portrait of a young man's discovery of power through words."

– Kirkus Reviews

* “A beautifully written, thought-provoking work from a highly regarded author and poet.”

– School Library Journal, starred review

“Once again, Engle weaves fact and fiction to create a lyrical tale. Like Antonio, readers will discover the power of words and the importance of documenting stories.”

– Horn Book

“This poetic glimpse into Cuba’s troubled past shines a light on an important human-rights activist and will pique readers’ curiosity about Cuba’s complicated history.”

– Booklist

“An engaging historical novel written in verse [that] touches upon many different themes, including privilege, equity, racism, and the power of words, and offers an intriguing view of Cuban history parallel to our own in the United States. It would be an exemplary addition to any library collection. Highly Recommended.”

– School Library Connection

“Engle's characters speak eloquently about gender inequality, racial injustice, and becoming a "warrior of words" through diplomatic and written means.”

– Publishers Weekly

Awards and Honors

  • CCBC Choices (Cooperative Children's Book Council)
  • CBC/NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Book
  • International Latino Book Award 1st Place
  • Center for the Study of Multicultural Children's Literature Best Multicultural Books List

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More books from this author: Margarita Engle