A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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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?
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