I'm getting ready to teach my summer poetry workshop and to get in the zone, I picked up Pam Munoz Ryan's, The Dreamer, a middle grade novel based on the childhood of poet Pablo Neruda.
I don't know what I was expecting, but this book is so delicately and beautifully woven together, it took my breath away in parts. It chronicles Neftali's (Pablo Neruda's given name) coming of age. Specifically, his conflict with his father, who wants him to stop dreaming and make something of himself. But it's Neftali's dreaming that allows him to find beauty and wonder in everything he sees. In the raindrops, in the call of a bird, in the shape of a pine cone, or the beauty of a word.
Munoz Ryan adds a bit of magical realism to the story as Neftali's mind shifts between dream and reality. Zeroes from his homework laze about and drift off the page. The favorite words that he keeps hidden away in his drawer sometimes work their way out and arrange themselves in interesting combinations before his eyes. The reader cannot help but be caught up in the same wide-eyed wonder as Neftali himself.
The climax of the story is gripping, as Neftali is confronted with the cruelty of the world and the decision to strike out on his own path. The afterword about the author's research and the inclusion of the Neruda poems at the end are just what the book needs to bring things to a satisfying close. It's such a gift to read about specifics in Neftali's childhood and then see his daydreams come to fruition in Pablo Neruda's beautiful poems.
Of course, I can't write about this book without mentioning that the illustrations are by one of my picture book heroes: Peter Sis. Who better to portray the surreal images and daydreams of a young poet's mind?
Certainly a must-read for kids interested in writing. And I would even say a must-read for anyone who has ever been a dreamer, or worried about pleasing others, or wondered how to discover who they will become.