Even though I’m a big fan of both Margarita Engel and Raul Colon, I had my doubts that a biography of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra would attract young readers. Why would they care about the man credited with writing the first modern novel?
In their book Miguel’s Brave Knight, Margarita uses word snippets like “If Only,” “Disaster,” or “Hoping” to title each free verse poem that tells Miguel’s story. Her fictionalized biography of a daydreamer whose gambling father keeps the family courting financial disaster doesn’t require a knowledge of Don Quixote to be interesting. Storytellers and teachers become the quiet heroes in Miguel’s life.
The cover illustration tips off the beauty that will be found inside. Raul Colon’s paintings help tell the story and create shadows of Margarita’s titles. My favorite painting illustrates the poem titled “Comfort.” A pensive dog sits beside the daydreaming boy while his imagination pictured above shows a brave knight on his steed against a starry night – a foreshadowing of the novel Cervantes will one day write.
In words and pictures, Margarita and Raul portray a time when people feared imagination enough to burn books and a boy who already knew that imagination could be saved by a brave knight. Both writer and illustrator add information at the end giving interesting personal experiences with the work of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. There is also a short note about the historical setting and another about the life of Cervantes.
No longer a doubter, I see this book as one that a young reader will return to many times to read the words and savor the art, just like this older reader who wrote the review.