Reviews for Dreamer

Booklist Reviews 2010 February #1
*Starred Review* 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. Copyright 2010 Booklist Reviews.

BookPage Reviews 2010 April
Chilean poet’s childhood inspires a magical re-imagining of his life

Most people are satisfied to come back from a vacation with a few souvenirs, perhaps a tan and some fond memories. Award-winning author Pam Muñoz Ryan, on the other hand, returned from a recent trip to Chile with the idea for her next book. “Inspiration for books arrives in different ways,” she says in an interview from her home in Southern California. “In this case, it was like a confluence of rivers.”

In preparation for her trip, Ryan had brushed up on the biography and writings of several Chilean authors, including Pablo Neruda, the beloved poet whose work she had read as early as high school. While in Neruda’s native country, she visited two of his childhood homes and became fascinated by tales of his early life. Then, shortly after her return home, she met author and illustrator Jon Muth, who told her a story about Neruda that became, in many ways, the centerpiece of her beautiful new novel The Dreamer, which centers on the childhood of the budding poet.

In the story, the painfully shy young Neruda (known as Neftalí) finds the courage to exchange small gifts with another young child, a stranger, through a hole in the fence that separates their properties. Neftalí receives a beloved toy sheep, and offers up a remarkable pine cone that had already sparked his own imagination. The encounter, and the human connection and imaginative power it conveys, highlight the themes of Neruda’s early life as well as his later writings.

Stories like these inspired Ryan’s own imagination and sent her to the library, where she read biographies about Neruda and also became reacquainted with his writings. “Living with the poetry day in and day out,” Ryan says, “I became particularly fascinated with the Book of Questions and I became intrigued with the idea of integrating questions into my own book.”

Ryan’s novel does incorporate many questions—“Is fire born of words? Or are words born of fire?”—that will rouse young readers’ own inquisitive natures. She hopes that these questions will “allow readers’ imaginations to extend the text beyond the page.” As she wrote the novel, she imagined a reader, a daydreamer or “closet poet,” who might be inspired to jot down his or her own verses and images in the margins of her book.

As is fitting for a novel that relies so heavily on visual details and concrete images, The Dreamer is generously, almost magically illustrated by award-winning artist Peter Sís, whose delicate, pointillist drawings help enhance Ryan’s dreamlike, magical realist world. For Ryan, working with Sís was a true collaboration, a dream come true in many ways: “I’ve been a huge fan of his work for many, many years,” she says. “I remember many years ago going to a museum in Chicago and never even imagining that he would illustrate something of mine one day.”

Ryan, who has published numerous picture books, points out that writing an illustrated novel is a fundamentally different process than writing a picture book for younger readers. “A picture book is a marriage of art and words,” she observes. “When you write a picture book, you write with a more limited palette. In the case of the novel, the words were written first and his illustrations just added a whole new dimension.” Each chapter of Ryan’s novel opens with a Sís triptych that illustrates images, objects and moods that will play key roles in the chapter to follow. Larger-scale drawings also vividly illuminate the fanciful wanderings of young Neftalí’s wholly original imagination, accompanied by lyrical passages of text: “I am poetry, lurking in dappled shadow. I am the confusion of root and gnarled branch. I am the symmetry of insect, leaf, and a bird’s outstretched wings,” Ryan writes.

Young readers—and, in many cases, their parents and teachers—who come to Neruda’s work through Ryan’s fictional portrayal may wants to read more of Neruda’s original poetry. Ryan recommends that young readers start with his Odes, especially his “Ode to a Bicycle” and “Ode to a Lizard,” and, of course, with the Book of Questions. Several of Neruda’s own poems, as well as information about collections of his poetry, are gathered at the back of Ryan’s novel.

Poetry, too often, can be seen by middle-grade readers as opaque, abstract, difficult. In The Dreamer, Ryan expertly utilizes Neruda’s own excitement about nature, his enthusiasm for language and his unbounded imagination to inspire young readers’ inner poets. By giving them her own “book of questions,” Ryan prompts children to consider their own answers, and by doing so, perhaps write the world, as Neruda does, through their own unique perspectives.

Norah Piehl is a writer and editor who lives near Boston.

Copyright 2010 BookPage Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2010 Fall
Perfect is the union that resulted in this novel: the subject, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (1904 73); author Ryan who re-creates Neruda's spirit and sensibility; and the Czech-born illustrator Sms whose escape from oppression so hauntingly resembles Neruda's struggle for creative freedom. Sms's introspective, emotion-charged drawings spring naturally from this lyrical account of a difficult childhood. An author's note and several Neruda poems are appended. Copyright 2010 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2010 #2
As Neftali Reyes enters university, his wrathful father forbids wasting time on his useless "hobby": writing. So he fashions a pseudonym: "Pablo" from Paolo, in an Italian poem; "Neruda" after a Czech writer. The name fits like a suit: "The lapels were the width that he liked. The color was soft enough not to offend, but bright enough to be remembered. The name was not only a perfect solution, it was a perfect fit." Perfect indeed, like the union that resulted in this novel: the subject, poet Pablo Neruda (1904-73), the Chilean Nobel Prize winner; Ryan, the author who re-creates Neruda's spirit and sensibility; and Sis, the Czech-born illustrator whose escape from oppression (see The Wall, rev. 9/07) so hauntingly resembles Neruda's struggle for creative freedom. Copyright 2010 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2010 March #2
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. (Historical fiction. 9-13) Copyright Kirkus 2010 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Media Connection Reviews 2010 March/April
This intriguing and moving book is based on the childhood of poet Pablo Neruda. Neftali is everything his father doesn't want him to be: a reader, a dreamer, and physically weak. His father is a very tough figure who puts him down and expects Neftali and his siblings to work hard and have a good life; he has already decided that Neftali will be a doctor, despite Neftali's young age and lack of interest in the field. Neftali finds escape in his books. As he grows up, Neftali's writing helps him find solace from his father and express himself. Neftali eventually changes his name to Pablo Neruda to spare his father the shame of his son becoming a poet. Well written and engaging, this book would be best suited for sophisticated readers who can empathize with Neftali's relationship with his father and his comfort in writing. Pencil drawn artwork throughout the book is a beautiful, yet simple, complement to the text. Recommended. Allison L. Bernstein, Educational Materials Reviewer, Ridgew od, New Jersey ¬ 2010 Linworth Publishing, Inc.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2010 March #3

Ryan's (Paint the Wind) wandering and imaginative prose and Ss's (The Wall) quietly haunting art fuse in this fictionalized account of Pablo Neruda's upbringing in the small town of Temuco, Chile. Precocious, terribly shy, and insightful, Neruda (known then by his birth name, Neftal Reyes) is curious about all facets of life, particularly the wonders of nature. "He stood, captivated, feeling small and insignificant, and at the same time as if he belonged to something much grander," writes Ryan when Neftal first sees the ocean. His role model is his uncle Orlando, who owns the local newspaper, but his domineering father has no patience for the boy's daydreaming and love of reading and writing, which ultimately provokes Neftal's passion for finding his own voice. Printed in green ink (as is the text), Ss's stippled illustrations provide surreal visual teasers for each chapter. Larger images pair with poetic questions ("Is fire born of words? Or are words born of fire?") that echo Neruda's The Book of Questions. Stressing "the importance of following dreams and staying determined," the book is an immaculately crafted and inspiring piece of magical realism. Ages 9-14. (Apr.)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2010 April

Gr 4-9--Readers enter the creative, sensitive mind of Pablo Neruda, the Nobel Prize-winning poet, in this beautifully written fictional biography. Ryan artfully meshes factual details with an absorbing story of a shy Chilean boy whose spirit develops and thrives despite his father's relentless negativity. Neruda, who was born Neftali Reyes, sees, hears, and feels poetry all around him from an early age. Luckily he finds understanding and encouragement from his stepmother and his uncle, whose humanitarian and liberal attitudes toward nature and the rights of the indigenous Mapuche people greatly influence his developing opinions. In early adulthood, Reyes starts using the pseudonym by which he becomes known, taking his last name from that of a famous Czechoslovakian poet. Ryan suggests that this was how he hid his activities from his father. Her poetic prose style totally dovetails with the subject. Interspersed with the text are poems that mimic Neruda's style and push readers to think imaginatively and visually. Ss's whimsical pen-and-ink pointillist illustrations enliven the presentation. Each chapter is preceded by three small drawings that hint at something to come. The perfect marriage of text and art offers an excellent introduction to one of the world's most famous poets. An appended author's note gives further insight into Neruda's beliefs and accomplishments. In addition there are excerpts from several of his poems and odes. This unusual selection would be a fine companion to Deborah Kogan Ray's To Go Singing Through the World (Farrar, 2006).--Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ

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VOYA Reviews 2010 June
Neftali Reyes is indeed a dreamer, a young boy easily distracted by an old discarded boot, a wayward umbrella, an oddly shaped stone, or even a pinecone. Items like these he proudly displays, while other treasures containing words he has written on small scraps of paper remain hidden away--words that even a stuttering boy finds beautiful and manageable, especially when applied to stories or poetry. Neftali's father has no tolerance for such idle thought and considers his writing a meaningless distraction. He demands his son knuckle down and become something sensible, like a businessman, doctor, or dentist. Over time, Neftali matures from a somewhat frail boy into a thin but confident young man and begins to question and resent the limited nature of his father's belief system. Ultimately, and in an effort to remain true to his own convictions, Neftali develops a few ideas of his own Fictionally based on the childhood of Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), this book artfully weaves known facts into a tale that depicts the early years of this internationally renowned poet. Infused and alive with nature, drama, mysticism, and grace, this story easily captures the imagination that transports the reader in a way many books aspire to but few attain. Each notable in their own right, the award-winning dream-team collaboration of Munoz-Ryan and Sis has resulted in a marvelous montage of story telling, poetry, and illustration. The Dreamer should readily appeal to both genders, as well as young and old alike.--Judith Brink-Drescher 5Q 4P M J Copyright 2010 Voya Reviews.