An amazing piece of historical fiction in verse form, Silver People portrays the construction of the Panama Canal from the viewpoints of workers, geologists, project leaders, and residents of Panama (humans, animals, and even trees). The text is a heartbreaking tale of mistreatment, loss of habitat, and sickness - but also shows friendship, kindness, and first love. I'm amazed at the way each character's voice rings true, from the howler monkeys to the native girl who sells herbs, each is distinctive and recognizable. Here is a brief description of the forest from one of the workers as he arrives:
Some of the rain-shiny leaves
are shaped like green hands,
others like hearts, livers, or kidneys,
making the whole forest seem
like one enormous,
with an endless body
and a fiery mind.
The author includes historically accurate details such as the anarchists who were part of the work crew (but planned to blow up the canal), or the practice of paying white Americans in gold, while the darker skinned workers only received silver for their wages. This would be excellent to use with units on America as a world power, segregation and discrimination, threats to tropical habitats, and other themes that weave through the poems. Language arts teachers can take advantage of the multiple points of view and teach lessons on perspective. The whole book is a job well done, whether you like poetry or historical fiction.
I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. It was published on March 25, 2014.