The Dreamer, written by Pam Munoz Ryan; illustrated by Peter Sis.
The Dreamer artfully weaves prose, illustration, and the poetry of Pablo Neruda to create the captivating tale of a boy living under his father’s harsh rule in Chile. Neftali is a daydreamer…a young poet in the making. He loves to observe nature and notices how everything fits together seamlessly. His tendency to muse about nature and dream of faraway lands is a form of escapism. Unfortunately for this young boy, reality is much harsher than his dreams. His father, who works on the railroad, is determined that his son will not make the same mistakes he did. He has it in his mind that his sons will be business men, doctors or lawyers-a profession that will bring them success in life.
Despite the threat of his father’s wrath, Neftali, who grows up to write under the pen name Pablo Neruda, continues to write and over time he discovers the power of his own words. This is a story of following your heart, even if you lack support from others. The book is based on letters and memoirs by Pablo Neruda and this story of his childhood is expertly written, engaging, and at times, heartbreaking. The author has infused her writing with poetic word choice and cadence. Excerpts from Neruda’s poems are interspersed throughout the book accompanied by beautiful, simple illustrations. The illustrations and the rhythm of this story would also make it a wonderful choice for a read-a-loud for younger children who may not be able to tackle it on their own.
Young readers will learn about Neruda’s history and the political turmoil during that time period as they read the book. The Dreamer is also a wonderful way to introduce poetry to kids. In addition to the verses included in the novel (which somehow connect to the storyline), the author has included a handful of Neruda’s poetry at the end of the book. I think kids will be able to relate to many of these selections, especially those from “The Book of Questions.” Neruda’s quirky questions about the nature of the world (for example: “Why doesn’t Thursday talk itself/into coming after Friday?”) are sure to spark lively discussions with inquisitive readers of all ages.
Recommendation: 5 out of 5 lupines