The Wild Book

The Wild Book
Age Range
Release Date
March 20, 2012
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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 and hopping 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.

Editor review

1 review
Getting Past Dyslexia, One Poem At A Time
Overall rating
Plot/Characters/Writing Style
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Margarita Engle continues her streak of novels in verse about life in Cuba after the wars for independence from Spain. THE WILD BOOK is a charming story that will appeal to middle grade readers who enjoy poetry and anyone who has struggled to read.

Fefa has word blindness (dyslexia), and is tormented by the fact that she cannot read well. Her many siblings tease mock her handwriting and tease her. In her words,
"I help herd cows, brush horses,
and feed chickens.
The only chore I never finish is
reading OUT LOUD
to my big sisters,
who laugh
and call me lazy.
I hate hate hate it when they assume that I do not really try."

Fefa is extremely persistent in her desire to become a stronger reader and writer, filling a blank book with her attempts at poetry. Engle frequently has the more challenging words spelled out phonetically, although this technique fades later in the book as Fefa becomes more confident. When she realizes that she is improving, Fefa says, "When I consider the happy possibility that maybe someday I will feel smart, I grow a little bit hungry for small, tasty bites of easy words." I've seen this happen in my classes, when developing readers find the right book for them and are eager to find more like it.

The novel begins slowly, meandering through Fefa's life on the farm, so initially I wasn't as bought in as I was with THE SURRENDER TREE. Once the central plot was established, I was engaged and surprised by how Fefa's slow and careful reading is the key to her family's safety. As always, Engle's details about Cuban life in the early 1900s are the best parts of the book. I learned that wives of rebel soldiers hid messages inside giant flowers during the wars and that men would have poetry duels to see who could recite the most affecting poem. While I wish there had been more details like this, I still enjoyed THE WILD BOOK and will keep it on my shelf for struggling readers as encouragement.
Good Points
A strong theme: that hard work and persistence pays off.
Details about Cuba's history.
Fefa is a charming narrator.
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