Tag Archive: dyslexia

wild book

The Wild Book by Margarita Engle

Told in poems, this is the story of Engle’s maternal grandmother and her struggle with dyslexia.  Known as Fefa, her grandmother was diagnosed with “word blindness” and told she would never read or write.  Luckily, Fefa’s mother has an idea.  She gives her daughter a blank book to fill with words, as if she is scattering wildflower seeds on the ground.  At first Fefa’s words are hesitant and stilted, like seedlings.  But steadily her writing and reading improve as she learns to take her time and gains confidence.  And that reading is what saves her and her siblings from being kidnapped in the chaos following Cuba’s fight for independence.

Engle writes a gripping series of poems that range from celebrating the written word to the difficulties of dyslexia to the triumph of overcoming.  Over the entire book the threat of violence and kidnappings hangs low and dark.  It is clear that this is not a modern story from the very beginning and Engle cleverly reveals the extent of the chaos the family is living in the midst of through Fefa herself and her own growing knowledge.

As always, Engle’s verse is exceptional.  Often her individual poems could be read one their own.  Yet it is as one complete story that they really show their beauty.  There are many exceptional stanzas to share, but one of my favorites comes early in the novel:

Frog Fear


My little brothers love

to frighten me

by hiding lizards,

bugs, and spiders

in my bloomers.


Today it’s a frog,

but they tell me it’s a snake,

so I scream and tremble

until I can clearly see

that the little creature

jumps around

like jittery letters

on a blinding



The skin of a frog

feels just as slippery

and tricky as a wild

inky word.

Engle traces the love of words and poetry Fefa’s own mother, who shares poems with her family.  It’s a beautiful celebration of that history and those words.

This novel in verse is a powerful look at Cuba’s history and also at dyslexia and overcoming challenges.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

art of miss chew

The Art of Miss Chew by Patricia Polacco

Polacco continues to explore her childhood in picture book form in this tribute to a teacher.  In school, young Patricia struggled with her grades, specifically when taking tests.  Luckily, she had a teacher, Mr. Donovan, who was willing to give her extra time to finish.  That little change allowed Patricia to get better grades.  Mr. Donovan was also the first teacher to recognize her artistic talent.  He connected her with an art program run by Miss Chew.  Miss Chew talked about learning to see, working with line and pressure, and taking their sketchbooks with them everywhere.  Patricia soaked all of this up like a sponge.  But then Mr. Donovan’s father died, and the substitute teacher would not give her more time to finish her tests.  She even threatened to pull Patricia out of her special art class.  Happily, Miss Chew was there to come to the rescue!

Polacco has continued to write about her challenges with school and about how a single amazing teacher changed her life again and again.  Her books are a testament to the power of teachers to make a difference in a child’s world, but in turn they are also a look at the emergence of a gifted artist who works hard and makes her own special place too.  In my eyes, it is the combination of Polacco and her teachers that is magical.

The art is done in Polacco’s signature style that is artistic, evocative and realistic too.  As she speaks about art, she demonstrates it in her art in the book.  Readers will notice how she captures shadow and light and plays with perspective too.  It is a very engaging way to create a quick art lesson in the middle of a story.

Art teachers will love this as a gift, but they will also enjoy sharing it in their classrooms.  Bravo for Miss Chew and all of the other great teachers out there who do this work every day.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from G. P. Putnam’s Sons.


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