The Wild Book

By Margarita Engle
Houghton Mifflin • 2012 • 133 pages
ISBN: 978-0-547-58131-6
Hardcover ($16.99)
Ages 10-14

A good number of us have had some experience with the topic of this book, so I will share mine: One of my cousins struggled all the way through school.  She was in remedial classes, and the whole family celebrated when she graduated from high school.  She went on to work for a bank, married, raised a daughter, and then decided to go to college.  From the perspective of a 40 year-old, who had watched her own child sail through school and witnessed her much-younger classmates cruise through their reading, my cousin’s own struggles with the printed word seemed strange.  “It shouldn’t be this hard,” she decided; and so she went to a reading diagnostic lab on campus and received a diagnosis:  dyslexia, of a type corrected by placing a clear, tinted sheet over the page she was reading.  Suddenly, the printed words stood still.

Read Related: Dreaming in Spanish

Engle’s grandmother, born in Cuba at the turn of the last century, received her diagnosis of “word blindness” much earlier.  But in her case, there was no magic sheet, no techniques to be applied.  The doctor stated that she would never read nor write with ease. This affecting prose poem, told in short chapters/vignettes, describes in shimmering, evocative language Fefa de la Caridad Uria Pena’s struggles to read and write, as well as the experience of growing up on a Cuban ranch during the violent years following Cuba’s wars for independence from Spain and the U. S. occupation of the island.  Delights and fears are filtered through Fefa’s constant attempts to master the printed word with the help of her mother and brother.  Engle notes in an afterword that her grandmother wrote letters all her long life, slowly and carefully, and with beautiful penmanship. This slim, literary volume could be of help to older children who struggle with dyslexia, especially if read within a family context.  And for those with Cuban roots, the tribute to the island is truly extraordinary.

—Reviewed by Ann Welton, Library Media Specialist, Helen B. Stafford Elementary, Tacoma, WA