Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Miguel de Cervantes: Novelist, Poet, and Playwright

Miguel de Cervantes: Novelist, Poet, and Playwright

Don Nardo
Nonfiction Picture Book  Series
For ages 10 to 12
Capstone Press, 2008   ISBN: 978-0756536756

We don't know much about Miguel Cervantes' early life. We do know that Miguel's father was a surgeon, that he had a hard time earning enough money to support his family, and that he spent some time in debtor's prison. The family moved a great deal because Miguel's father kept looking for better opportunities. Their last move to Madrid in 1566 ended up being very beneficial to Miguel, who was a young man by then. Miguel attended school in Madrid and his headmaster was very impressed with Miguel's "intelligence, diligence as a student, and flair for writing." He asked Miguel to compose four elegies for Elisabeth of Valois, the wife of the King of Spain who had just died. The poems were greatly admired and it is likely that the creation of these works helped Miguel get a job with the Vatican. We cannot be sure about this because records are so sketchy, but we do know that he went to Italy and worked in Rome for a while.

When he was twenty-three Miguel's life took a different turn. He enlisted in the military and in 1571 was present at the Battle of Lepanto where a Christian fleet defeated the Turks. Miguel was gravely wounded and one of his hands was so badly injured that he was not able to use it much after that. Still, he was proud to have served his country and the Christian faith at such an important time.

A year later Miguel served in North Africa, helping with the capture of Tunis. In 1575 he and his brother Rodrigo set sail for Spain where Miguel hoped he would be promoted to the rank of captain. Unfortunately the ship he was on was captured by the Turks and the brothers ended up being imprisoned in Algiers. Because the Turks thought they could ransom Miguel and Rodrigo, they did not sell them off as slaves. Nevertheless the two young men suffered greatly at the hands of their captors. Miguel spent five long years in Algiers, though he tried to escape several times.

Back in Spain Miguel had a hard time finding work. He dearly wanted to make his living by writing and his first novel "La Galatea" was well received. However the book did not make much money for Miguel so he had to look for other gainful employment. He ended up working for the government as a supply contractor and some years later he got a job as a tax collector. Both jobs were arduous and disagreeable but Miguel persevered because he had to support a wife, his mother, and his sisters.

Then in 1605 Miguel wrote his most famous work, "Don Quixote." Many of Miguel's own life experiences, opinions, and observations about the world and people ended up being incorporated into the story. Though the book was extremely popular, Miguel made very little money from it and he continued to struggle financially until his death in 1616.

From this book readers will learn that Miguel de Cervantes had a very colorful life. His experiences provided him with plenty of material which he used in his writing. His imprisonment in Algiers and the other trials that he endured gave Miguel the ability to write about life and people with great understanding and sympathy.

In this excellent "Signature Lives" title Don Nardo writes an absorbing story about one of the world's most famous writers. In addition to the main text the author provides his readers with informative side boxes, a timeline, and more.