For Young Readers

Book review: 'The Dreamer,' written by Pam Munoz Ryan; illustrated by Peter Sis

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

THE DREAMER

By Pam Munoz Ryan

Illustrated by Peter Sis

Scholastic. $17.99, ages 9-14

A mysterious gift, an injured swan and a secret name loom large in this luminous novel based on the childhood of one of the 20th century's greatest poets. On his way to becoming Chilean Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda, Neftali Reyes encounters obstacles aplenty: a cruel father, a school bully and his own debilitating shyness. Despite (or perhaps because of) his harsh father, the boy develops close bonds with his kind stepmother, siblings and journalist uncle, whose strong voice for the oppressed helps shape the poet's later advocacy. As a teenager, Neftali takes his now-famous nom de plume to hide his published work from his father. Author Pam Munoz Ryan not only hits the highlights of the poet's young life but, through her careful research, exquisite writing and whimsical poems, brings readers into Neruda's curious, sound-enthralled mind. How delightful to see the future writer of odes to bicycles, socks and other ordinary things first ponder the rain's "piano of wet notes" and the "ghostly hands" of lost mittens. How intriguing to come across the occasional koanlike questions ("Where is the heaven of lost stories?"), reminiscent of Neruda's "The Book of Questions." The book is beautifully designed, too, with thick, creamy pages printed in green (Neruda's ink color of choice) and graced by Peter Sis's delicate, pointillist drawings. It's a marvelous object to touch and hold, an apt tribute to a poet enamored of things.

-- Mary Quattlebaum


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