Friday, October 14, 2011

A Review: The Dreamer

A Book Review of: 

Image from
The Dreamer by Pat Muñez Ryan
Ill. by Peter Sís

Winner of the 2011 ALA Pura Belpré Award, an award presented by the ALA to a Latino/a author/illustrator who best portray or show Latino cultural experiences.


This is the story of the boy Neftalí Reyes, the real name of the famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Neftalí grows up in Chile with his overbearing and strict father, his loving stepmother, his brother
Neruda's imaginative mind takes him places that he can only dream about, and helps him escape his mundane reality. He longs to write, but his father frowns on this and his son's other quirks-- like his collections, and his daydreaming, and discourages him in every way possible. Eventually Neftalí learns that he has to be himself, do what he's passionate about and write what he's passionate about, in order to achieve real happiness. As Neftalí goes off to college, adapting the pseudonym Pablo Neruda to write about contentious issues, he comes into his own and is finally free of the fear that what he's doing is somehow wrong, or letting someone down.
Ryan, P.M. (2010). The dreamer. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.


I thought this book was beautifully written, with a style and language that definitely echoes the way with words that Neruda himself has. It shows the sensitive and caring side of this young poet as he grows up an outcast, feeling alone, and desperately hoping that he can please his father being who he is. The lyrical writing pairs well with the illustrations, but the narrator of the audiobook also brings a lyrical quality to the story. He accentuates the onomatopoeia that one might glance over (but not fully read), so the listener is allowed to dwell more on the sounds of rain plopping on the roof of Neftalí's house, or the sounds of the ocean waves. He goes through a lot and you feel bad for this boy who is rather alone for his childhood, with little to no friends, outside of his own siblings. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but I think it may be a little on the slow side for some kids, as there is no real moving plot, or grand adventure. It's a simple story about a boy growing up, but it may appeal to kids who are interested in realistic fiction. After reading this book, I got the urge to read some more about Pablo Neruda, so it might be good to pair this with

Professional Reviews:

From Booklist:
"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."
Chipman, I. (2010, February 1). [Review of the book The Dreamer, by P. M. Ryan]. Booklist. Retrieved from 
From Kirkus' Reviews:
"Ryan’s fictional evocation of the boy who would become Pablo Neruda is rich, resonant and enchanting. Simple adventures reveal young Neftalí’s painful shyness and spirited determination, his stepmother’s love and his siblings’ affection and his longing for connection with his formidable, disapproving father. The narrative captures as well rain falling in Temuco, the Chilean town where he was raised, and his first encounters with the forest and the ocean. Childhood moments, gracefully re-created, offer a glimpse of a poet-to-be who treasures stories hidden in objects and who recognizes the delicate mutability of the visible world, while the roots of Neruda’s political beliefs are implied in the boy’s encounters with struggles for social justice around him. Lines from a poem by Ryan along with Sís’s art emphasize scenes and introduce chapters, perfectly conveying the young hero’s dreamy questioning. The illustrator’s trademark drawings deliver a feeling of boundless thought and imagination, suggesting, with whimsy and warmth, Neftalí’s continual transformation of the everyday world into something transcendent. A brief selection of Neruda’s poems (in translation), a bibliography and an author’s note enrich an inviting and already splendid, beautifully presented work."
[Review of the book The Dreamer, by P.M. Ryan]. (2010, March 15). Kirkus' Reviews. Retrieved from

Uses: This is a great way to introduce young patrons to the concept of magical realism, which is really prominent in Latin and South American literature. Use this in a children's book club at the library and discuss the various points in the story in which Neftalí engages his magical thinking-- or his tendency to exaggerate experiences to the point of magical realism. Discuss how the illustrations by Peter Sis compliment this style.

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