From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 4–9—Readers enter the creative, sensitive mind of Pablo Neruda, the Nobel Prize-winning poet, in this beautifully written fictional biography. Ryan artfully meshes factual details with an absorbing story of a shy Chilean boy whose spirit develops and thrives despite his father's relentless negativity. Neruda, who was born Neftali Reyes, sees, hears, and feels poetry all around him from an early age. Luckily he finds understanding and encouragement from his stepmother and his uncle, whose humanitarian and liberal attitudes toward nature and the rights of the indigenous Mapuche people greatly influence his developing opinions. In early adulthood, Reyes starts using the pseudonym by which he becomes known, taking his last name from that of a famous Czechoslovakian poet. Ryan suggests that this was how he hid his activities from his father. Her poetic prose style totally dovetails with the subject. Interspersed with the text are poems that mimic Neruda's style and push readers to think imaginatively and visually. Sís's whimsical pen-and-ink pointillist illustrations enliven the presentation. Each chapter is preceded by three small drawings that hint at something to come. The perfect marriage of text and art offers an excellent introduction to one of the world's most famous poets. An appended author's note gives further insight into Neruda's beliefs and accomplishments. In addition there are excerpts from several of his poems and odes. This unusual selection would be a fine companion to Deborah Kogan Ray's To Go Singing Through the World
(Farrar, 2006).—Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ
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*Starred Review* Respinning the childhood of the widely beloved poet Pablo Neruda, Ryan and Sís collaborate to create a stirring, fictionalized portrait of a timid boy’s flowering artistry. Young Neftalí Reyes (Neruda’s real name) spends most of his time either dreamily pondering the world or cowering from his domineering father, who will brook no such idleness from his son. In early scenes, when the boy wanders rapt in a forest or spends a formative summer by the seashore, Ryan loads the narrative with vivid sensory details. And although it isn’t quite poetry, it eloquently evokes the sensation of experiencing the world as someone who savors the rhythms of words and gets lost in the intricate surprises of nature. The neat squares of Sís’ meticulously stippled illustrations, richly symbolic in their own right, complement and deepen the lyrical quality of the book. As Neftalí grows into a teen, he becomes increasingly aware of the plight of the indigenous Mapuche in his Chilean homeland, and Ryan does a remarkable job of integrating these themes of social injustice, neither overwhelming nor becoming secondary to Neftalí’s story. This book has all the feel of a classic, elegant and measured, but deeply rewarding and eminently readable. Ryan includes a small collection of Neruda’s poetry and a thoughtful endnote that delves into how she found the seeds for the story and sketches Neruda’s subsequent life and legacy. Grades 4-8. --Ian Chipman