The Dreamer, Pam Munoz Ryan, Scholastic Press, 2010, 370 pp
I have a confession to make. I do not read poetry. I know that sounds odd for someone who has written song lyrics for many years, but there you have it. Somewhere along the way, I got addicted to STORY and I get that from novels more than from poems. If the Adult Reading Group at Once Upon A Time had not chosen The Dreamer for its December read, I would probably not have read it. A fictional retelling of events in the life of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda was not really my cup of tea. (Actually I don't drink tea either. I am a coffee drinker.)
Pam Munos Ryan is a wonderful writer and a poet herself. Many of her picture books feature her poetry as the text. Esperanza Rising, given to me by an eleven year old student I was tutoring in math, was one of the best books I read in 2003. Ms Ryan has so much empathy for her characters and writes with so much heart that she made me love a poet, if not the reading of poetry.
She tells the story of Neruda's life in a dreamy poetic tone, bringing the images of his surroundings into my mind with her words alone. Accompanying illustrations by Peter Sis compliment her words so perfectly that she must have communicated those images to him as well.
As a child, Neruda, whose real name was Neftali Reyes, was frail but filled with fascination about the natural world and possessed of a vivid imagination. He suffered his father's displeasure because he was not a tough energetic boy and had no aspirations to go into business or medicine as his father hoped. Here is another story about a naturally born artistic soul finding himself in a harsh materialistic world.
Around the age of 12, Neftali began to assist his uncle who owned and published a small local newspaper. Uncle Orlando also believed in supporting the rights of Chile's native Napuche population, giving Neftali a life-long passion for human rights.
Before I review books for children, I like to find out what young readers think about them. One of my most trusted sources is a a fifth grader named Laura who has read all of the Newbery winners and much more. She blogs about her reading at Laura's Life. She is a poetry lover and reader and gave The Dreamer a rave review.
My opinion is that the book would work for children who already like poetry. It is also a great story about a child who triumphed despite cruelty and misunderstanding from his father. I can imagine it as a book to be read aloud by parents or teachers or even as a good reference for introducing kids to poetry. Thanks to Ms Ryan's writing, I am considering having another go at poetry.
(The Dreamer is available in hardcover on the shelves for readers 8-12 at Once Upon a Time Bookstore.)