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The Dreamer (Ala Notable Children's Books. Older Readers) Hardcover – April 1, 2010
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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
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
*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
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Top Customer Reviews
Let me say that I am a "biased-by-pleasure-and-admiration" fan of Pam Munoz Ryan and of Pablo Neruda, so that is the basis from which I come; I like/love much that these two people have contributed to the writing/reading world, each in her/his own way.
I find Pam Munoz Ryan to be an author of deep worth, with a special, artfully-delivered and thoughtful voice, so good for our children -- when her writings are chosen with care for age and maturity, as her subjects she tackles are not uniformly "easy".
I can imagine reading The Dreamer -- and sharing many reflective moments -- with a child of at least 11 (I would say, no younger). Also, I can conceive of a teacher of deep sensitivity and caring carving out the time to share it with her/his class, thoughtfully, over some days, with plenty of time for discussion, contemplation and, perhaps making it a part of a history-English block, as well.
No easy story, in the painful aspects of much of Neftali's/Pablo's young life, but so worthwhile; should spark further reading of Neruda (by older young people and adults), some exploration into Chile, human rights considerations...
If offered appropriately, age and maturity-wise, I think this would speak so well to the artistic, tender hearts of young people who love to read, to write and create; who perhaps are trying to find their ways in relating to Life, adults, insecurities, shyness, being understood and in treasuring and protecting -- and, finding "safe" ways to share -- their personal uniqueness and gifts.
I would offer again, however, that I'm not certain that this is a book to be shared with very tender-hearted children until parents/teachers feel they are able to handle the pages and pages of beauty "imprisoned" especially in the hardness, unkindness, fear-driven and apparently unfeeling aspects of the father. There is certainly opportunity to discuss what a "healthy" family environment might look like, how people (such as the loving stepmother, the talented older brother, the younger sister, the uncle) "make do", try to survive, or show courage and resolve in dealing with (or not) fear-inducing dysfunctional family relationships.
In The Dreamer, there is redemption; there are many opportunities for personal reflection and for hearing Neftali's/Pablo's singing heart-within-the-pain; I found there to be beauty on every page.
This beautifully written story about the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, with its charming illustrations by Peter Sis and poignant examples of Neruda’s own poetry, make this an upper middle grades book that I revisit often. “How does Munoz accomplish such mastery?” I asked myself. As a new writer, I was determined to learn from her writing.
The more I reread the first chapter, the more mesmerized I became. I had never read such musical prose. Every important word landed squarely on the beat, and each paragraph seemed to have its own time signature. When the story developed into a frenzy, it seemed as if the pace gradually accelerated until it spun off-kilter, much like the young poet’s life.
However it was that Ms. Ryan wove those words together, she captured the angst of young Pablo’s life, as well as the timid joy he derived from his budding artistry. I ached for the childhood he had, and the childhood he didn’t have. Readers will grow in their compassion, in their artistry, and also in their awareness of social injustices.
A note of caution regarding the younger reader – This story presents many opportunities for thoughtful discussion. Parents and teachers should offer guidance through some of the more difficult scenes that show a parent whose actions are often cruel. It is not a story to be quickly read and cast aside.
I recently had an opportunity to hear Ms. Ryan speak at a local college. As she introduced herself, and spoke of her experience with music during her middle school years, I thought, “Aha! She IS a musician!” But her own story revealed merely a couple of short-lived attempts in that arena: one positive experience that failed after her instrument became damaged, and another musical experience that actually led her to her love of writing.
When given an opportunity to ask a question, I asked her, “Did you intentionally write each of your paragraphs in a specific time signature?” She smiled, and simply said, “No. I just read it aloud, and read it often, until the words sounded right.”
Whatever limited musical experiences Ms. Ryan had in her own childhood, she learned the joys of both music and prose well enough to inspire us in The Dreamer.
My son tends to read mostly adventure and science fiction. I bought this book because it is on the list for Battle of the Books. It is a book I would not have picked for him myself. This was a good reminder to me to not be too narrow minded.