Book Review: The Wild Book by Margarita Engle

My daughter chose The Wild Book by Margarita Engle because she loved the cover. I could tell the book would be too hard for her (a kindergartener) to read herself, but we always check out some library books that I will read to her. I didn’t know anything about the book when we got it. It turned out to be a beautiful treasure.

The book begins with the following inscription:

For young readers

who dread reading

and for those

who love blank books.

I loved this book already!

The Wild Book tells the story of Fefa, a young girl growing up in Cuba around 1912. Fefa is diagnosed with word-blindness, what we now call dyslexia (although I kind of wish we still called it word-blindness). Her mother gives her a blank book in which to practice and try to tame those wild words. Ultimately, Fefa’s wild book does much more than that.

Margarita Engle is a poet, and although this book tells a continuous story like a novel, the narrative unfolds in poems. These are not rhyming, sing-songy children’s poems. These are beautiful, sophisticated strings of words. I was glad to be reading The Wild Book aloud (a chore that Fefa hates) because the words flowed delightfully off my tongue.

And the images Engle creates are captivating. My daughter frequently had me flip back to the cover so she could point out things from the story. “There’s the bird.” “There’s the caiman.” She heard the words, saw them in her mind, and remembered. The words drew her in as much as the cover initially did.

The Wild Book is based on the true story of Engle’s grandmother, and for all it’s beauty, there are harsh realities in The Wild Book authentic to Cuba in the period after the Spanish-American War and the subsequent U.S. occupation. There were definitely moments I though might be too scary for my six-year-old, but she didn’t seem disturbed by it. I’ll share spoilers in the next paragraph for anyone who wants to review them before sharing this book with their children.

SPOILERS BELOW

Here are the things that I think could be scary or disturbing for some children. There are frequent references to children being kidnapped, and people threatening to kidnap children if the parents won’t pay. At one point an adult man writes a creepy poem for ten-year-old Fefa. Fefa’s brother plays with a gun and ends up shooting himself. (He survives.)

END OF SPOILERS

I highly recommend The Wild Book for children or adults. If you get it, try reading it aloud.

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