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Thought-provoking and Highly Discussable: April 2016 High School Title

March 24th, 2016 | Posted by etownsend in 2015-2016 | High School | April

silver peopleSilver People: Voices from the Panama Canal by Icon_HighSchoolMargarita Engle. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.

At what price progress? Margarita Engle follows four individuals involved in the building of the Panama Canal in the early twentieth century. Mateo is a fourteen-year-old Cubano whose dangerous work digging the canal helps him escape a cruel father. Henry is a Black Jamaican wanting to earn money for his family. His job is blasting through rock. Augusto is a Puerto Rican mapmaker who can’t ignore issues of race and class that mean he is treated better than laborers like Mateo and Henry, but worse than the white engineers who oversee the project. Anita is a local Panamanian girl, adopted daughter of the village healer, who knows all the flora and fauna in jeopardy because of the canal. These “silver people” (dark-skinned workers paid in silver rather than gold) are living and laboring under Colonialism, and their voices illuminate the impact of its arrogance. Engle also, strikingly, gives voice to elements of nature—trees, birds, insects, and the ever-present screaming monkeys—whose world is being brutally destroyed as work on the canal progresses, offering another critical perspective on “progress” in a stirring work that invites thought and discussion. (MS)  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Find resources for Silver People at TeachingBooks.net.

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. Silver People is an historical novel in verse. How would this story be told differently if it were a [prose] novel? A textbook?
  2. The story is told from the perspective of different people. How do the different voices add to the readers understanding of the story? Whose voice resonated with you and why?
  3. Hollywood called and they are doing a casting call for Silver People. Who would you recommend for the main characters and why? What elements of this story would lend itself to the big screen?

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