Engle, Margarita. 2012. THE WILD BOOK. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN 9780547581316 [Suggested Grade Levels 4-8]
Engle has created a beautiful bouquet of words in this verse novel about a young girl’s struggles with word-blindness, or dyslexia, during the early 1900s in Cuba. With words “that sprout like seedlings,” the reader quickly falls into the rhythm of Fefa’s life along with the jarring pain of her inability to read and write.
Fefa lives with the fact that words “jumble and spill off the page, leaping and hopping away like bullfrogs.” Yet her mother has faith in her, giving her a blank book in which she asks Fefa to let “words sprout like seedlings” by writing each night. Initially, Fefa is intimidated. The reader is privy to her tortuous attempts and self-doubt. Yet soon Fefa begins to make sense of words. Confidence begins to grow. Ultimately she saves her siblings from a kidnapper because she could read and recognize the handwriting of the guilty person.
One cannot begin to describe the sheer beauty of Engle’s words as she lovingly weaves together stories about her grandmother into this verse novel. Engle uses words like an artist uses paints, with all the subtle nuances and vibrancy that begs to be read aloud. With an author’s note that continues the story, Engle provides facts, details, and an image that brings Fefa to life.
This novel is an excellent introduction to the use of verse to tell a story as well as an opportunity to show the strength of analogical connections captured within expressive language. This novel is an excellent example compressing so much, within so little.
Other verse novels from the perspective of a young girl:
Hesse, Karen. ALUETIAN SPARROW. ISBN 9781416903277
Brown, Susan Taylor. HUGGING THE ROCK. ISBN 9781582462363
By Christine J. Rayl