The Wild Book

( 3 )

Overview

Fefa struggles with words. She has word blindness, or dyslexia, and the doctor says she will never read or write. Every time she tries, the letters jumble and spill off the page, leaping away like bullfrogs. How will she ever understand them?

But her mother has an idea. She gives Fefa a blank book filled with clean white pages. "Think of it as a garden," she says. Soon Fefa starts to sprinkle words across the pages of her wild book. She lets her words sprout like seedlings, ...

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The Wild Book

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Overview

Fefa struggles with words. She has word blindness, or dyslexia, and the doctor says she will never read or write. Every time she tries, the letters jumble and spill off the page, leaping away like bullfrogs. How will she ever understand them?

But her mother has an idea. She gives Fefa a blank book filled with clean white pages. "Think of it as a garden," she says. Soon Fefa starts to sprinkle words across the pages of her wild book. She lets her words sprout like seedlings, shaky at first, then growing stronger and surer with each new day. And when her family is threatened, it is what Fefa has learned from her wild book that saves them. 

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Based on the life of the author’s grandmother, Engle’s (Hurricane Dancers) novel-in-verse is told in the voice of Josefa, an 11-year-old living in the Cuban countryside in the early 20th century, following the war for independence from Spain and U.S. occupation of the island. It’s a turbulent time, with roaming bandits kidnapping children for ransom, but Fefa (as she’s called) is preoccupied with her “word blindness,” what is now called dyslexia. To help Fefa overcome her struggle to read and write, her poetry-loving mother gives her the wild book of the title, a blank book in which Fefa can practice “taming” the letters and words that seem to wriggle away as she tries to read them. “Throw wildflower seeds/ all over each page,” her mother suggests. “Let the words sprout/ like seedlings,/ then relax and watch/ as your wild diary/ grows.” Fefa persists until her disability is under control, but the denouement, in which a poem written by an unwelcome suitor saves Fefa’s family from harm, feels contrived. Engle’s writing is customarily lovely, but the plot is too thin to leave much of an impression. Ages 10–14. (Mar.)
Children's Literature - Uma Krishnaswami
This fictional account of a formative period of her grandmother's life, by Cuban-American poet Margarita Engle (see The Surrender Tree and Hurricane Dancers) is written in simple rhythmic unrhymed verse, using the device of a diary, the titular "wild book." In the backdrop of young Fefa's life is the grand wildness of the island itself. A history of war and re-concentration camps spells itself out in brief, slender stanzas. Also threaded through are ever-present dangers that range from wild caimans, roaming bandits who threaten to kidnap children for ransom, and what seems like an amorphous threat posed by an admiring poem in "honor" of Fefa, from Fausto the old farm manager. Against this mingling of the lush and the sinister, Fefa begins to fill the empty book her mother has given her. Fragile at first, her words get stronger by the day. It's a deceptively simple tale with a single twist that feels both inevitable and triumphant. The richness of Engle's art lies in her ability to place on the page her young protagonist's struggle with dyslexia, known at the time as "word blindness." It takes craft and heart to make such a complex, elusive disability come to life, using as tools the very words that defy those with the condition. A delicate, heartfelt story, rendered with the author's customary loving care. Reviewer: Uma Krishnaswami
VOYA - Nancy Pierce
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. Reviewer: Nancy Pierce
Kirkus Reviews
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)
From the Publisher
A Kirkus Best Children's Book of 2012

A Bank Street College of Education Best Book

* "A beautiful tale of perseverance."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"Readers will be enchanted."—VOYA

"[A] lyrical glimpse of early twentieth-century Cuba."—Booklist

"Engle’s writing is customarily lovely."—Publishers Weekly

"[A] 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."—Bulletin

"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."—School Library Journal

School Library Journal
Gr 5–9—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
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547581316
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 3/20/2012
  • Pages: 144
  • Sales rank: 1,021,920
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Margarita Engle is a Cuban-American poet and novelist whose work has been published in many countries. Her books include The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor book and winner of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, the Pura Belpré Award, the Américas Award, and the Claudia Lewis Poetry Award; The Poet Slave of Cuba, winner of the Pura Belpré Award and the Américas Award; The Wild Book, Silver People, and The Lightning Dreamer . She lives with her husband in Northern California. Visit her website at www.margaritaengle.com .

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Read an Excerpt

Word-Blindness

Word-blindness.
The doctor hisses it like a curse.
Word-blindness,
he repeats—some children can see everything except words.
They are only blind on paper.
Fefa will never be able to read, or write,
or be happy in school.

Word-blindness.
It sounds like an evil wizard’s prophecy, dangerous and dreadful,
but Mamá does not listen to the serpent voice of the hissing doctor.
She climbs in the wagon,
clucks to the horse,
and carries us home to our beautiful green farm,
where she tells me to follow the good example of Santa Mónica,
patron saint of patience.

Word-blindness,
Mamá murmurs with a suffering sigh—who ever heard of such an impossible burden?

She refuses to accept the hissing doctor’s verdict.
Seeds of learning grow slowly,
she assures me.
Then she lights a tall,
slender candle,
and gives me a book.

I grow anxious.
I pretend that my eyes hurt.
I pretend that my head hurts,
and pretty soon it is true.

I know that the words want to trick me.
The letters will jumble and spill off the page,
leaping and hopping,
jumping far away,
like slimy bullfrogs.

Think of this little book as a garden,
Mamá suggests.
She says it so calmly that I promise I will try.

Throw wildflower seeds all over each page, she advises.
Let the words sprout like seedlings,
then relax and watch as your wild diary grows.

I open the book.
Word-blindness.
The pages are white!
Is this really a blank diary,
or just an ordinary schoolbook filled with frog-slippery tricky letters that know how to leap and escape?

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2013

    Larelh

    Larelh thought a mipnute, then smiled. "Thank you, Gorgon." He purred, dipping his head in the deepest respect.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2013

    Gorgon

    Your welcome.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2012

    Ashlee nields Ashlee nilsen

    Best book ever im gonna read it again

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