Singing with Elephants

by Margarita Engle (Author)

Reading Level: 4th − 5th Grade

A powerful novel in verse from Newbery and Pura Belpré Award-winning author Margarita Engle about the friendship between a young girl and the poet Gabriela Mistral that leads to healing and hope for both of them.

Cuban-born eleven-year-old Oriol lives in Santa Barbara, California, where she struggles to belong. But most of the time that's okay, because she enjoys helping her parents care for the many injured animals at their veterinary clinic.

Then Gabriela Mistral, the first Latin American winner of a Nobel Prize in Literature, moves to town, and aspiring writer Oriol finds herself opening up. As she begins to create a world of words for herself, Oriol learns it will take courage to stay true to herself and do what she thinks is right--attempting to rescue a baby elephant in need--even if it means keeping secrets from those she loves.

A beautifully written, lyrically told story about the power of friendship-- between generations, between humans and animals--and the potential of poetry to inspire action and acceptance. 

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Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review
Replete with lovely, nearly magical imagery...Brilliant, joyful, and deeply moving.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review

In 1947, 11-year-old Oriol and her family live in Santa Barbara, having migrated from Cuba to seek treatment for her grandmother's diabetes. After the treatment fails and Abuelita dies, Oriol tries to process her grief while feeling isolated at school and being bullied for her accent and love of animals. Now on summer vacation, she finds solace by helping the many animals at her parents' veterinary clinic and appreciating their "humorous animal opera." Oriol struggles to express her feelings in both Spanish and English, until she befriends a neighbor--Engle's imagined version of poet Gabriela Mistral, the first Latin American winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature--who teaches Oriol how to express herself through poetry. And when a baby elephant is separated from its family for a rich actor's entertainment, Oriol uses her voice to petition for their reunification. Employing immersive free verse that conveys themes of compassion, friendship, justice, and vulnerability, Engle (Rima's Rebellion) captures how inexplicable Oriol's grief feels, encasing it in a powerful, charitable, and brave young voice. Back matter includes an author's note and resources on Gabriela Mistral. Ages 8-12. Agent: Michelle Humphrey, Martha Kaplan Agency. (May)

Copyright 2022 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.


Review quotes

Margarita Engle
Margarita Engle (she/her) is the Cuban American author of many books, including the verse novels Your Heart, My Sky; Rima's Rebellion; Newbery Honor winner The Surrender Tree; and Forest World. Her verse memoirs include Soaring Earth and Enchanted Air, the latter of which received the Pura Belpré Award and a Walter Dean Myers Honor, and was a finalist for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, among other honors. Her picture books include Drum Dream Girl, Dancing Hands, and The Flying Girl. Visit her at
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Viking Books for Young Readers
Publication date
May 31, 2022
BISAC categories
JUV057000 - Juvenile Fiction | Stories in Verse (see also Poetry)
JUV031040 - Juvenile Fiction | Performing Arts | Music
JUV016000 - Juvenile Fiction | Historical | General
JUV030040 - Juvenile Fiction | People & Places | Caribbean & Latin America
Library of Congress categories

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