Monday, October 15, 2012

The Wild Book

Engle, Margarita. (2012). The Wild Book. New York: Houghlin Milcourt. ISBN 978-0-547-58131-6
A novel in verse about a young girl growing up in turn of the century Cuba who struggles to overcome her dyslexia or word blindness.
Margarita Engle paints a picture of turn of the century Cuba and her granmothers life as a girl in this dangerous time in beautiful verse.  Fefa who struggles with dyslexia uses a blank book given to her by her mother and time and patience to slowly overcome her learning disability.  Scattered throughout the story of Fefa's frustrations with words is a history of violence and fear suffered by the people of Cuba.  Engle enbodies the love of verse from this time period with poems such as "Fly to 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 (lines 11-17)

"A beautiful tale of perseverance."—Kirkus, starred review
"Readers will be enchanted."—VOYA
"[A] lyrical glimpse of early twentieth-century Cuba."--Booklist

"Engle’s writing is customarily lovely."--Publishers Weekly

"The idea of a wild book on which to let her words sprout is one that should speak to those with reading difficulties and to aspiring poets as well."--School Library Journal

"[A] remarkable, intimate depiction of Fefa's struggle with dyslexia; Engle is masterful at using words to evoke this difficulty, and even those readers unfamiliar with the condition will understand its meaning through her rich use of imagery and detail."--Bulletin


Children can investigate the work Margarita Engle at her website:
Read other wonderful books by M. Engle including The Poet Slave of Cuba and The Surrender Tree.
Listen to the author read a sample of the book at

History connection:
Explore Cuban history, especially Race War of 1912 at

English connection:
Students can write a story in verse

Geography connection:
Make a map of Cuba.  Have students label elements from the book.


Mora, Pat. (2007). Yum! MmMm! Que'Rico! New York: Lee & Low Books. Ills. by Rafael Lopez. ISBN 978-1-58430-271-1
A collection of 14 haiku on native foods of the Americas.
Pat Mora manages to combine many elements in this book of 14 haiku.  Each two page layout is comprised of one haiku about a specific food native to the Americas as well as a brief history of the food.  Further, she combines Spanish and English within the 17 syllables of several of the poems in a way that brings the native origin to the forefront.

Adding to the whimsical feel of each poem is a brilliantly colored two page spread created by Rafael Lopez which perfectly accompanies both the selected food item.  The bright colors and pictures created in the style of traditional Mexican murals enchant readers of all ages.

"This inventive stew of food haiku celebrates the indigenous foods of the Americas." --Booklist

"Mora's descriptive poetry features wonderful word choices and gets it right to the essence of each food...Perfect for sharing as part of the curriculum or just for fun." --Book Links

"Teachers will find this a welcome addition to their social-studies units, but it should also win a broad general audience for its inventive, fun-filled approach to an ever-popular topic: food." --School Library Journal

"In this cross-curricular treat, imaginative...acrylic illustrations...are paired with playful haiku's and a paragraph of information to introduce 14 foods indigenous to the Americas..." --SLJ Curriculum Connections

Amérias Award for Children’s Literature, 2008, Consortium of Latin American Programs

Texas Bluebonnet Award (TBA) Master List, 2008-2009

ALA Notable, 2008

Chicago Public Library's Best of the Best Books, 2008

Bank Street Best Children's Books of the Year, 2008

Lasting Connections, Book Links, 2007

Great Lakes Great Books Award master list, 2008/2009


Children can investigate the work of Pat Mora and Rafael Lopez at their websites:

Health Connections:
Serve foods created from the native foods highlighted within the poetry of the book.

Math Connections:
Schedule a trip to the grocery store.  How much would it cost to buy one of each of the 14 foods in the book?

Art Connection:
Have students create a collage of their favorite foods.

English Connection:
Have students write their own haiku.

The Afterlife

Soto, Gary. (2005). The afterlife. Orlando, Fl: Harcourt. ISBN 978-0-15-205220-1

Is death the end of everything?  After taking a knife in the ribs Chuy's life or rather afterlife begins to get interesting and complicated.

Gary Soto 's novel The Afterlife is the story of the life, or rather the death, of Chuy.  Chuy was an ordinary young man who was stabbed to death in the bathroom of a club while combing his hair.  Soto manages to make Chuy' death appear to be the horrible crime that it is as well as allowing it to be a strong catalyst for a novel which tells the tale of a young Hispanic man who was just coming into his life when it was cut short.  Soto's tale if further enriched by the introduction of Crystal, a beautiful young woman who seemingly had it all but chose to end her own life.  Chuy's tale of his afterlife and the slow disintegration of his spirit take the reader on a journey through life's possibilities even through death. 

The interweaving of Spanish throughout the text gives Chuy's voice a cultural authenticity as it reflects the speech patterns seen of many Hispanic youth. "At my parents house, there would be others to lament my death at such a young age.  Angel, mi carnal, would be there, with cement bags of guilt on his shoulders." (p. 14) Further enhancing the cultural authenticity of the novel is the different experiences of Chuy and Crystal during their lives.  This contrast of life and death help to place each within their cultural boundaries while allowing the reader to experience both in a way that is satisfying.


Read an interview with the author about The Afterlife

Geography connection:
Have students create a map of Chuy's travels

English connection:
Have students create their own obituary.

Social Studies connection:
Different cultures view death differently.  Have students research how death is viewed in different parts of the world.

Art connection:
Have students create a Dia de los muertos display that represents Chuy or Crystal.