The Dreamer

Book review by
Debra Bogart, Common Sense Media
The Dreamer Book Poster Image
Lyrical, ficionalized biography of famed poet Pablo Neruda.

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Includes biographical information about the childhood of Pablo Neruda, born Neftali Reyes, and life in Chile in the early 20th century.

Positive Messages

Although Neftali is actively repressed and criticized by his father for any artistic endeavors, he persists with his writing and eventually finds the strength to stand up to his father. Nurtured by his stepmother, encouraged by his uncle and older brother, Neftali grows up to champion the helpless, the indigenous people of Chile, and the beauty of nature. This book illustrates the enormous power one small person can have.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Neftali's uncle, a journalist who champions the cause of the Mapuche people of Chile, played an enormous role in enabling Neftali to continue writing against his father's will, to learn the art of journalism, and to establish the conviction and morality necessary to stand up to his father, and later his government. Neftali himself risks punishment to write, to care for injured animals, to support his uncle, and, by the age of 18 to write in support of social justice and dedicate his life to his art.


Neftali's father is verbally and emotionally abusive, and at least once beats his older son for singing; he forces Neftali and his little sister to swim in ocean; and Neftali is forced by a bully to write love poems for him. A newspaper office is burned down to send a message.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Dreamer is a  fable-like biography of Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda by Pam Munoz Ryan  (Esperanza Rising). It tenderly reveals the soul of an artist, a soul that may not have survived without nurturing from a stepmother and an uncle who were both brave and self-sacrificing. While the actions of his abusive father may frighten sensitive young readers, they will be heartened by Neftali's ultimate ability to stand up to his father and pursue his dreams, and the knowledge that he went on to become one of the world's greatest poets. The Dreamer vividly demonstrates the power of resilience that some children are lucky enough to embody, and may inspire others in need of it. Young readers will relate to the episode of being bullied by a schoolmate, and will relish the fact that the recipient of the love poems knows exactly who wrote them.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 9 and 11-year-old Written bypeony June 23, 2010

Lovely for a few; limited appeal for most

Very well written and presented, with exceptionally appropriate and evocative illustrations for the story. The story flows very well between regular text, some... Continue reading
Kid, 10 years old May 4, 2019

Really good.

The book tells people that they should be kind to themselves.
Teen, 15 years old Written byjane1414 July 26, 2010
like it

What's the story?

In the early 1900s a gifted young boy named Neftali Reyes grows up with an emotionally abusive father and struggles to maintain his individuality. In Neftali's world, birds become words and words become flowers, and such dreaminess is highly discouraged by neighborhood bullies and ambitious fathers. He is known as a gifted young writer, but endures constant cruelty from his father. Surrounded by the beauty of Chile, Neftali is compelled to write to survive and his talent is recognized by teachers and peers, yet he spends a lonely boyhood enduring his father's efforts to stomp out any artistic talent. A supportive uncle teaches him journalism, and becomes a role model who champions social justice. That sustains Neftali until, at 18, he's old enough to create a new identity, that of Pablo Neruda. Contains an author's note; some of Neruda's poems, and a source list.

Is it any good?

Based on anecdotes from the life of Neftale Reyes (Pablo Neruda), Ryan has created a series of scenes that form an enchanting and vivid life story. inspiring and satisfying, THE DREAMER reads almost like a fairy tale, with its elements of cruelty and beauty that had an equal power over the childhood of one enormously gifted and sensitive soul. The incorporation of quotations in the form of questions that make up each illustration (by the very gifted Peter Sis) allows the story to flow  effortlessly, and lifts it with the redemptive quality that seemed so strong in Neruda's character.

Beautifully done, this story could be a starting place for many discussions about the value of art and the role of an artist in society. Lyrical quotes and illustrations by Peter Sis combine to carry the story in a dream-like flow that reveals the nature of Pablo Neruda the way a flower unfolds into an incomparable object of beauty.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Neftali daydreams, and life around him becomes magical. Does Neftali consider the beauty around him to be magic? Where does the term magical realism come from?

  • The illustrations throughout ask questions that are inspired by a book Pablo Neruda wrote as an adult called The Book of Questions. What was your favorite question?

  • Neftali's father told him he was very weak. Did you think Neftali was weak? What were some of the things he did that took strength? Where did he find that strength?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love biographies and Latino stories

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