Words and pictures tell story of The Dreamer

September 2, 2010 at 6:31 pm Leave a comment

The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan; illustrated by Peter Sis; published by Scholastic, New York; 2010.

Neftali Reyes was a sickly child.  Maybe that’s why he was a dreamer.  His overbearingly strict father worked hard to break his habit of collecting what appeared to be garbage and wasting time listening to the muse in his head rather than playing outside.  He watched his father change older brother Rodolfo from a happy boy with a future as a professional singer to a beaten businessman.  But Neftali was not like Rodolfo.  Nothing his father did broke his spirit.  In fact, he found a mentor in his Uncle Orlando.  With Uncle Orlando’s help, Neftali developed his writer’s voice and went away to college.  He also wrapped himself in an alter ego, becoming the real-life poet Pablo Neruda.

Ryan was inspired by a single story from the poet’s childhood.  The simple transaction of trading a treasured pine cone for a lamb pull-toy teased at her imagination.  What was it like for the poet growing up?  After much research, a story formed about Neruda.  Ryan’s combination of poetry, lyrical prose, and muse-like questions creates a vivid image of Pablo Neruda’s challenging childhood and dreamlike world within it.

With Sis’ incomparable way of illustrating the intangible, the book becomes complete.  Each chapter starts with a triptych illustrating important points in the coming chapter (all of which have single word names).  Then paired with questions posed by the muse or a snippet of a poem is a surreal image perfectly representing the unrepresentable.  My favorite is the fountain pen, flying on wings of Neruda’s childhood wanderings.  The cover is intriguing as well.  The inner world of the boy’s silhouette contrasts with the forest he’s standing in.  Sis has perfectly captured the dream world that Neruda inhabited as a child in Chile a hundred years ago.

The use of green ink ties the whole book together.  Fans of Pablo Neruda will understand the reference (he preferred to write in green ink, as it represented esperanza, or hope, to him).  And, like the cherry on top of a sundae, rich resources for further reading are included.  Ryan describes her research, provides a brief biography of the man, and a bibliography.  Some of the poems that most inspired this book are also included.

While I understand that this book is intended for upper elementary and middle school children, I think the historical and creative aspects of Neruda’s life would make for a great cross-curricular project.  I also think that parents and educators may want to read a chapter aloud to their children and then use the muse’s questions as a writing exercise.


Entry filed under: Starred Review Book (Horn Book, Booklist. School Library Journal, Kirkus or PW). Tags: , , , .

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