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The Dreamer



Lyrical, ficionalized biography of famed poet Pablo Neruda.

What parents need to know

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

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.

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Drinking, drugs, & smoking
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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.

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.

Families can talk 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

Author:Pam Munoz Ryan
Illustrator:Peter Sis
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Scholastic Press
Publication date:April 1, 2010
Number of pages:384
Publisher's recommended age(s):9 - 12

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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 sound effects in special fonts, the illustrations of the story itself, and illustrations of Neruda questions. I also must compliment the book's successfully educational side, introducing readers to themes in Neruda poems, background in his interests, and providing a picture of a different time and life style. However, I suspect it will only appeal to kids of a certain sensibility. For kids who don't themselves feel ecstatic, mystic communion with nature, or find insight via Zen/Sufi/Neruda style questions, the story may feel primarily negative as Neruda's father is relentlessly oppressive. So while some kid readers may find this book speaks directly and powerfully to them, many other kids will likely find the story boring and baffling. Some books with semi-related themes that I consider more generally accessible would be: "The Man in the Ceiling" by Jules Feiffer (the struggles of an artist as a child with his own limitations, a father who doesn't understand, and critics -- plus it has an uncle mentor), or "Steinbeck's Ghost" by Lewis Buzbee (magical realism, the power of art/writing, and finding a mentor) -- though neither of those books incorporates nature as a healing, nurturing influence in the way of "The Dreamer". For age recommendation, for the "right" reader this could go younger (9 or 10?) -- the sole area of concern is the emotional cruelty of the father -- but in terms of appeal, 12+ may be more likely to appreciate it.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Teen, 15 years old Written byjane1414 July 26, 2010
like it
What other families should know
Great messages