By Elizabeth Wroten
Kidlit Review: The Wild Book by Margarita Engle
On 25, Jul 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: 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.
Margartia Engle writes the most beautiful novels in verse. In The Wild Book she draws on her family history to tell the story of Fefa who is dyslexic. I think this alone makes the book worth having on the shelf for the one or two kids who struggle with dyslexia and need to see themselves and their struggles in the pages of a book. Fefa is bound and determined, but constantly discouraged by her lack of progress, and I think she could be a very relatable character. I can’t speak to how accurately the disability is presented, but Engle does appear to have drawn directly out of family stories about her so I suspect she is pretty close to accurate in depicting her great aunt.
The story beyond Fefa is interesting, but fairly quiet. Fefa is growing up in a small village with a large family. They are squabbles and mean sisters. One brother ends up injured in a pretty severe accident and becomes Fefa’s teacher. He isn’t particularly sensitive to Fefa’s difficulty reading, but he pushes her and eventually she comes to appreciate how he is helping her. There is some sense of danger in the book precipitated by historical events that might pique kids’ interest, but the tension is fairly low in the book itself. Kids who like quite books will enjoy this story.
I don’t see the kids picking these up off the shelf on their own too often (I like the cover, but I’m not sure it appeals to kids), but to me that means we need to do a better job of talking them up and drawing attention to them. I’ve said many times, novels in verse (and graphic novels) are good alternative formats that work well for reluctant readers. This one even more so because some of those reluctant readers may be struggling with a learning disability that makes reading difficult.
I think I put this on the summer reading list for fourth grade, but I can’t quite remember. I’m hoping some kids read it and it hooks them into the format and the author. We actually have two copies of the book in the library. I recommend it if you have kids who like this format and if you have reluctant readers you are looking at hooking. I also suggest it if you have students that like slice of life, realistic fiction. It’s fairly inexpensive so I think it would be well worth giving a try if for no other reason than to have more representation of learning disability on the shelves. If you hand sell it, it will get read.