Learn about José Martí, often referred to as the “Apostle of Cuban Independence,” in this bilingual biography written by Emma Otheguy and illustrated by Beatriz Vidal.
Written in verse, including excerpts from Martí’s own poetry, this picture book introduces children and adults to his inspiring life story and his important contributions toward winning Cuba’s freedom from Spain.
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As a young boy, José loved his home island, Cuba. He loved spending time in nature where he felt free and peaceful. As he grew older, he became deeply affected by the practice of slavery he observed by rich landowners. Martí decided to use his voice and his pen to fight this injustice – actions that resulted in being exiled from his home country at the age of 17.
Martí devoted his life to traveling the world and speaking out about his wish for freedom and democracy for Cuba. He eventually returned to his home island to join the fight for independence from Spain. José Martí died in battle before he was able to see his dream of independence come true, but his memory still lives on today.
Geography: Spain, Havana, Cuba, Nueva York, Catskills
History: Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, slavery
Civics: independence, liberty, democracy
Language: Written in both English and Spanish, it is a great book for bilingual readers and for introducing a new language to non-Spanish speakers.
Writing: José Martí was also an influential writer. His collection of poems, Versos Sencillos (Simple Verses), describes his love of nature, Cuba, and freedom.
Music: Words from one of his poems were put to music and became a popular Cuban folk song, La Guantanamera.
Character traits: courage, perseverance, compassion, dedication to a cause
Free Book Activities
Visit the author’s website
- Print story worksheets (available in English and Spanish). Activities include using facts from the story to solve a crossword puzzle; writing a letter describing something you’re passionate about; writing your own poem modeled after the first stanza of a Martí poem; and creating your own newspaper modeled after one that Martí and his friends wrote called La Patria Libre (The Free Homeland).
- Print poem cards with three bilingual samples of Martí’s poetry.
- Download a Teacher’s Guide from publisher Lee & Low Books. Sections include: Pre-reading Focus Questions, Exploring the Book, Setting a Purpose for Reading, Discussion Questions (literal comprehension and higher-level thinking), Reader’s Response questions, ELL Teaching Activities, Interdisciplinary Activities (ELA, Geography, Social Studies, Science/STEM, Arts/Performing Arts, Home-School Connections
Download our FREE timeline printable to use after reading the story.
Emma Otheguy is a children’s book author and historian of Spain and colonial Latin America. Her picture book debut, a biography of famed Cuban poet and independence leader José Martí, titled Martí’s Song for Freedom (Lee & Low Books), received five starred reviews and was named a Best Book of the Year by Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal and the New York Public Library. Otheguy lives in New York City with her husband.
Beatriz Vidal is an award-winning painter, illustrator, and teacher. Her work has appeared in well-known publications and has been featured on PBS programs and in numerous exhibitions around the world. Vidal divides her time between New York City and Buenos Aires, Argentina.
LEE & LOW BOOKS is the largest children’s book publisher specializing in diversity and multiculturalism. Their motto, “about everyone, for everyone,” is as urgent today as it was when they started in 1991. It is the company’s goal to meet the need for stories that children of color can identify with and that all children can enjoy. The right book can foster empathy, dispel stereotypes, prompt discussion about race and ethnicity, and inspire children to imagine not only a world that includes them but also a world where they are the heroes of their own stories.