Growing up with a Wild Book

courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Coy

Fefa is dyslexic. Reading makes her feel dizzy. She has never been a great fan of words, the letters get mixed up and make her feel anxious. The doctor has diagnosed ‘word blindness’.

    “Some children can see everything except words.

    They are only blind on paper” he says.

Fefa’s mother refuses to accept his verdict.

    “Seeds of learning grow slowly” she assures me.

She presents her daughter with a book and encourages her:

    “Think of this little book as a garden, throw wild flower seeds all over each page, let the words sprout like seedlings and then relax and watch as your wild diary grows.”

Fefa opens the book hesitantly, finds the pages blank within but wide open to her imagination, a place where she can write unobserved, in any way she wishes.

Soon Fefa is nurturing the slow transforming pages of her wild book as she would a precious flower garden, turning those awkward spiky, complex letters into words of beauty and importance.

Margarita Engle’s delightful ‘The Wild Book’ is a tribute in verse inspired by stories told to her by her maternal grandmother, a young girl growing up in rural Cuba, struggling with dyslexia. It will be enjoyed by readers of all ages, both those who struggle with and those who adore words and of course, lovers of the blank page journal everywhere.  It is a book to read and reread, silently and out loud.

“No one in my family ever throws anything away, not even an old story that can be told and retold late at night, to make the deep darkness feel a little less lonely.”

It is a magical story of a little girl coping with school, homework, older brothers, being left behind as the others go off to boarding school, of facing family threats and danger; all part of daily life on the farm and in the village, aided by a loving mother and uncle who love to recite poetry.

    “After my mother

    finishes her seascape,

    my uncle recites

    a long poem about the sky,

    where sun spirits

        ride glowing chariots,

    and there is someone

    who knows how to fly

    towards the truth

    of dreams…

        I don’t understand

    the whole thrilling verse but I love the way poetry

    turns ordinary words into winged things

    that rise up

    and soar!”

Now couldn’t we all do with a wild book…

Note: This book was an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC), provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

39 thoughts on “Growing up with a Wild Book

  1. This book looks really interesting! I became more interested in finding out more about dyslexia and laguage learning when a heard a conference at TESOL France in Paris. A woman who teaches learners in Austria with dyslexia. Amazing the ideas she come up with to teach them. So inspiring!!!!


    • This is an inspiring little story and this little girl it is written abouts seems to have been one of the fortunate who had a mother with strong instincts and a love of poetry and opened another world to her, rather than make her feel less than equal, which is what so many have suffered.


  2. I really love this and the inspiration behind the book. One of my closest friends has a sister who struggles with dyslexia and I’m going to recommend this book to her. I love finding ways to sort through feelings through literature.


      • Maybe I’ll also get it for my nephew. I always find the happiest books from you. They give me a good break from my normal gloom and doom reading. Plus, my grandmother’s have both past so I’m always pleased to see people inspired by their grandparents or loving their grandparents. My grandmother on my mother’s side has been my muse for far too long – so much so my poetry portfolio in college was almost 100% about her.


  3. This is beautiful, Everything about this book just screams amazing to me. I love what it stands for and feel that I would love nothing more than to have a ‘wild book’. Lovely post Claire. 🙂


  4. Hi Claire, thank you so much for visiting our posts on Margarita Engle. It is great to find a kindred in you. I have just finished reading The Wild Book and will post my review sometime during the first week of April. Like you, I enjoyed the book immensely. I am looking forward to seeing Margarita here in Singapore this May as we have invited her to the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (an international children’s lit conference) that we host annually. She has generously given me a copy of this book as well as Hurricane Dancers and Poet Slave of Cuba. 🙂 It is with great anticipation that I await my finally meeting her in person in a few months’ time.


    • Thank you so much for visiting here in return, I loved all your reviews of Margarita’s books and I am looking forward to reading more of them, not just beautiful prose, but very interesting subjects and what a special one have begun with – a story inspired by her own grandmother, the entire family sound intriguing and interesting.

      What a wonderful event you have to look forward to, I hope that it is a great success and that more people will be introduced to both her work and the stimulating subjects she writes about. Bonne Continuation.


  5. Wow, this looks like a beautiful book. Will have to find a child to read it to. (Btw, I see that you’re reading “Sadness of Lemon Cake.” I liked that one very much – she’s a quirky one, is Ms. Bender.


    • Good for adults too Beverly, you could read it first 🙂 Yes, I must get back to ‘The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake’ I started it and seem to have been sidetracked, should be interesting particularly after reading about the hallucinagenic effects of the fragrant blend in ‘The Book of Lost Fragrances’.


  6. Only blind on paper, the garden of imagination, and words taking wing … sounds really beautiful. I’ll place this book on my to-read list. Thanks for sharing the wild book, Claire!


    • Thank you Claudine, I am sure you will enjoy it and I have just seen it has been nominated by Kirkus Reviews in their Top 20 New & Notable Books for Children for March 2012.


  7. Love the cover and your review made me go look the book up on Amazon. I wondered if was illustrated – other than the cover. I have some young nieces who might like this and I think I would probably like it myself. I want to find out what the girl does with the book!


    • Isn’t it a gorgeous cover Carol, I have discovered the cover was illustrated by Yuyi Morales but there is no mention of interior illustrations, the book is 144 pages and I read it on the kindle and there were no illustrations in that version apart from the spacing of the words, but I will definitely be getting a hardback version for myself as this is one to reread and to share, definitely. Perhaps the interior of the Wildbook is best left to the imagination. I believe some of her other books are illustrated and they look equally interesting, I’m so happy to have stumbled across her work. Thanks for for comment, much appreciated.


  8. Pingback: The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly | Word by Word

  9. Pingback: The Poet Slave of Cuba, a biography of Juan Francisco Manzano by Margarita Engle | Word by Word

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