I love a sweet first-love story. Here’s one set in Mexico in summer that is bound to charm a middle grader near you.
The Wild Book by Juan Villoro, translated by Lawrence Schimel, features a thirteen-year-old boy named Juan whose summer begins in the worst possible way: with news of his parents’ divorce. He learns that he will spend his vacation not in the company of his best pal, but with his Uncle Tito, a recluse devoted to his large private library.
In this library, books become even more magical than usual, not only inspiring dreams, musings and fantastical recipes, but also—Juan begins to suspect—moving and changing. One book may be dangerous; another promises the read of a lifetime, if it can be found. Tito informs Juan that he is a Lector Princeps, qualified to undertake a daring mission among the books, should he choose to accept it.
Around the same time, Juan discovers that simply walking into a store becomes a quest—when that store belongs to Catalina, daughter of the pharmacists across the street.
I discovered that a flask of medicine could be picked up in a lovely way.
My head was spinning.
I couldn’t speak. I had fallen in love. I had fallen in love at “sir.”
“Are you mute?” my beloved asked, with calm interest.
For Juan, Catalina is perfection. She can knock him senseless with a mere phrase or look. The experience of talking, reading and questing with her forever alters him, ultimately preparing him to face his family life head-on.
The Wild Book has been described as “comfort food for book lovers,” and I would add that it is balm for the soul of anyone learning (or recalling) how love can turn running an errand into the adventure of a lifetime.
Magic magical realism, just right for a hot July.
The Wild Book
By Juan Villoro
Translated from the Spanish by Lawrence Schimel
2017, Restless Books/Yonder
- Reviews of The Wild Book at Latino Book Review, Playing By the Book, BookTrust (five stars)
- Interview with translator Lawrence Schimel at Cynsations
- Excerpt from The Wild Book at GLLI
Avery Fischer Udagawa’s translations from Japanese to English include J-Boys: Kazuo’s World, Tokyo, 1965 by Shogo Oketani, “House of Trust” by Sachiko Kashiwaba in Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction—An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories, and “Festival Time” by Mogami Ippei in The Best Asian Short Stories 2018. She is the International and Japan Translator Coordinator for SCBWI.