THE WILD BOOK
- “A beautiful tale of perseverance.” - Kirkus, starred review
- “Readers will be enchanted.” - VOYA
- “This lyrical glimpse of early twentieth-century Cuba will enrich multicultural studies.” - Booklist
- “Engle uses words sparingly and with grace . . . The idea of a wild book on which to let words sprout is one that should speak to those with reading difficulties and to aspiring poets as well.” - School Library Journal
- Kirkus Review (Starred Review), issue date: February 1, 2012
A young girl tackles a learning disability and the uncertainty of daily life in early-20th-century Cuba.
Ten years old at the tale’s opening, Josefa “Fefa” de la Caridad Uría Peña lives with her parents and 10 siblings on their farm, Goatzacoalco. Diagnosed with “word blindness” (a misnomer for dyslexia), Fefa struggles at school and in a home rich with words, including the writings of Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío. Discounting a doctor’s opinion that “Fefa will never be able / to read, or write, / or be happy / in school,” her mother gives her a blank diary: “Let the words sprout / like seedlings, / then relax and watch / as your wild diary / grows.” “Let the words sprout / like seedlings, / then relax and watch / as your wild diary / grows.” Basing her tale on the life of her maternal grandmother, Engle captures the frustrations, setbacks and triumphs of Fefa’s language development in this often lyrical free-verse novel. Her reading difficulties are heightened when bandits begin roving the countryside, kidnapping local children for ransom: “All I can think of / is learning how / to read / terrifying / ransom notes.”
The author gives readers a portrait of a tumultuous period in Cuban history and skillfully integrates island flora, fauna and mythology into Fefa’s first-person tale. This canvas heightens Fefa’s determination to rise above the expectations of her siblings, peers and society.
A beautiful tale of perseverance. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)
- VOYA, issue date: December 2011 - 5Q 4P M J
Josefa, or “Fefa,” is an eleven-year-old girl living in the Cuban countryside in 1912. We learn about her and the world that surrounds her through a blank book given to her by her mother, a poet, that Fefa fills with simple, but elegant, poetry. We learn of Fefa’s struggles with “word blindness” (dyslexia?) through her words and poems. Words are a challenge for her—but she has “word hunger” and aspires to and gains “word freedom” despite others believing she would never read. While Fefa struggles with words, she observes and writes about the struggles around her—political strife, kidnappings, and violence.
The Wild Book is a beautiful collection of poems that together tell the story of a young girl’s challenge with language, and it is much more. We learn the history and culture of Cuba, and the power and importance of family. Younger readers will connect with Fefa as she observes her surroundings and her older sisters’ romantic relationships, wondering if anyone will ever love her, ever write words of affection to her. Teachers could us this book in many ways—to teach poetry, understanding a learning disability, history, sociology, culture, and perseverance.
Whatever the motivation of the reader, after completing The Wild Book, they will be enchanted by the beautiful words, words with which Fefa struggled, but ultimately, with whom she became dearest friends. - Nancy Pierce.
- School Library Journal, issue date: March 2012
This novel in verse is about a girl growing up with dyslexia in early 20th-century Cuba. Family love and the chaos that comes with large families are mixed with historical tidbits about Cuba after its wars for independence from Spain. Engle uses words sparingly and with grace: “…I love the way poetry/turns ordinary words/into winged things/that rise up/and soar!”
In other poems, the protagonist’s voice (based on Engle’s grandmother) speaks of the struggles of learning to read and write with “word blindness,” a term used to describe learning disabilities a century ago. While Fefa’s great sadness over her inability to read is the primary focus, Engle includes rich cultural details and peeks into a time in which bandits roamed the countryside and children were often captured and held for ransom.
Throughout all the drama, poetry is an integral part of daily life, in the play of children and the entertainment of adults, solace to Fefa in her struggle, and even as a means of expression by a kidnapper-poet. The idea of a wild book on which to let her words sprout is one that should speak to those with reading difficulties and to aspiring poets as well. - Wendy Smith-D’Arezzo, Loyola College, Baltimore, MD
- Booklist, issue date: March 2012
Diagnosed as having “word blindness,” 11-year-old narrator Josefa, affectionately known as Fefa, struggles with reading and records her frustrations in this diary. Danger lurks in the 1912 Cuban countryside. Bandits rustle cattle and threaten to kidnap children. Her brother accidentally shoots himself, and the farm manager writes an “ugly” poem for Fefa that makes her feel uncomfortable. She eventually learns to read and triumphantly declares, “I am surprised to discover / that I can no longer bear / the thought of an entire day / without the natural flow / of twining / vinelike words.”
Written in free verse and inspired by family stories, the slender narrative conveys the frustrations of dyslexia and captures the lush setting. On the minus side, Fefa’s family members never emerge as distinct characters. Sprinkled with references to Cuban and Nicaraguan poetry, this lyrical glimpse of early twentieth-century Cuba will enrich multicultural studies.
- Shelf Awareness for Readers, issue date: March 23, 2012
Written in verse and inspired by stories told to her by her grandmother, this suspenseful, lyrical novel by a Newbery Honor author illuminates a time and place when "poetry was a treasured aspect of daily life."
"Word blindness/ the doctor hisses it/ like a curse/... / Fefa will never be able/ to read, or write/ or be happy/ in school." Fefa's mother refuses to accept this pronouncement, and gives her 11-year-old daughter a blank book to fill with words, like seeds in a garden. "Seeds of learning grow slowly," she assures Fefa. Despite the girl's best efforts, the words still jumble and spill. "The skin of a frog/ feels just as slippery/ and tricky as a wild/ inky word," she writes. Still she continues to practice in her "wild book," where she conveys her poetic thoughts with immediacy and emotion. Slowly she begins to savor "small tasty bites of easy words."
Engle (The Surrender Tree) sets her haunting story, peppered with Spanish, in the lush Cuban countryside of 1912. Despite its fragrant fruit and flowers, the land is overrun by bandits and kidnappers. Fefa lives in fear, and her sense of foreboding comes to pass when Fausto, the farm manager, makes overtures toward her through his own poems. When her family receives a ransom note that they could never hope to pay, Fefa's keen eye uncovers an essential clue. By tale's end, Fefa realizes she's learned a few things about facing fear. - Bette Wendell-Branco, bookseller emerita and reviewer.
Discover: A story in verse set in the Cuban countryside of 1912, recorded by Fefa in the pages of her "wild book."
- Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, issue: May 2012
This lyrically composed novel in verse, based on the life of the author’s grandmother, is set in Cuba in 1912, when eleven-year-old Fefa is first diagnosed with “word blindness,” or dyslexia. While the doctor treats the diagnosis as an irrevocable and untreatable scar, Mamá responds by giving Fefa a blank book and the instructions to use it for writing: “Throw wildflower seeds/ all over each page . . . Let the words sprout/ like seedlings,/ then relax and watch/ as your wild diary/ grows.”
It is not an easy task: Fefa is mocked by her siblings, dizzied by the glowing white pages, and frightened about the possible consequences of her inability to read. In the end, however, Fefa’s slow and observant style of reading saves the family from a dangerous situation.
The plotting, though carefully constructed, is secondary here to the remarkable, intimate depiction of Fefa’s struggle with dyslexia; Engle is masterful at using words to evoke this difficulty, and even those readers unfamiliar with the condition will understand its meaning through her rich use of imagery and detail (“The skin of a frog/feels just as slippery/and tricky as a wild/inky word”). An author’s note provides information about the real life Josefa de la Caridad Uría Peña as well as some basic information about dyslexia. HM
Because of Shoe and Other Dog Stories
- Horn Book, issue: July/August 2012
Each with his or her own style and sensibility, eight children’s authors plus Ann Martin herself contribute dog-centered stories.
The collection begins with Wendy Orr’s lighthearted mystery involving kidnapped poodles and a dachshund detective working together with his boy, and continues with Pam Muñoz Ryan’s title story about a German shepherd named Shoe, whose tale we learn from a little girl testifying before a judge on a very important day in her life. Several of the tales reflect the consolation and comfort of having a dog when life is especially difficult and the terrible fear a pet owner feels when a dog goes missing, but there are no dead dogs here.
One of the most moving entries comes from Margarita Engle, recounting in poetry the story of a boy whose mother (now in jail) kept pit bulls for fighting: “Life-or-death games are all I knew / back in my old life, when I had to take care / of dogs that could have killed me.” Some of the authors, such as Mark Teague and Jon J. Muth, illustrate their own stories, and Olga and Aleksey Ivanov illustrate the rest, catching the dogs’ inherent humor and personality.
This has an eye-catching cover, a premise that practically book-talks itself, and a great format for reading aloud in class or at home. susan dove lempke
- School Library Journal
Gr 3-6 – Wendy Orr, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Thacher Hurd, Ann M. Martin, Valerie Hobbs, Matt de la Peña, and Jon J. Muth are among the writers included in this anthology. Students looking for a hilarious story will enjoy Mark Teague’s “Science Fair” in which a nerdy science whiz is determined to take first place in this year’s fair. He’s convinced he is a genius, and he can’t understand why his solar-powered pooper-scooper hasn’t netted him top honors in the past.
In “Trail Magic,” Margarita Engle writes evocative verse about a boy whose horrific early life revolved around his mother’s cruel dogfighting business. When she is sent to prison, the boy goes to live with his forest-ranger uncle and his dog. The natural world and his inspiring relative help heal him from his nightmarish past, as does his bonding adventures with Gabe.
There’s sure to be a story here to please any dog lover, whether it’s a mystery about a poodle napper, a realistic tale about a picked-on Latino boy with a “wolfigator” mutt, or a thrilling adventure in which a lovable but chicken-killing dog has been given his last warning. Occasional black-and-white spot art by various illustrators captures the personalities of the canines and their antics. – Diane McCabe, Loyola Village Elementary School, Los Angeles