Saturday, January 28, 2012
The Dreamer, written by Pam Munoz Ryan and illustrated by Peter Sis. Scholastic, 2010. $22.99 ages 10 and up
"Neftali hesitated. His hands felt trapped inside mittens. They prevented him from picking up small treasures. He glanced up. Father could see them from where he still sat at the table. Reluctantly, Neftali held out his hands while Rodolfo shoved the wool over his fingers."
Neftali Reyes is a lover of small delights...shells, pine cones, pebbles, words. He fills his days with books and with writing poetry. His father does not approve; but, Neftali cannot help himself. No matter how angry it makes his father, he must collect words and use those words to describe the world he sees, the troubles he encounters and to try to persuade others to care.
He captures the words he loves on small pieces of paper, putting them in a drawer and using them to power his imagination. He is only 8 years old when this story begins but he already has a strong sense of the direction his life should take. His autocratic, overbearing father has other ideas. No son of his will spend his days following creative pursuits. He will build his weak body through physical activity and become a doctor. Neftali loves words and books, he loves beautiful natural things and as he grows, he is nutured by a friendly librarian, a proud but frigtened stepmother and a loving younger sister. He must keep it all a secret from his father. The fact that he chose to write under a psuedonym is a direct result of these intense feelings:
"He picked up his pen again. At the end of his poem, instead of signing Neftali Reyes, he wrote Pablo Neruda. He would use this name to save Father the humiliation of having a son who was a poet. Maybe he would use the name only until he became lost enough to find himself."
There is no need to even know Pablo Neruda's name to find this book fascinating and worthy of your attention. Pam Munoz Ryan gets right to the heart of her character, as if she spent long hours watching him grow and speaking with him about those ideas he felt important enough to share. She ensures that some of her readers will not be able to stop with this introduction...they will need to know more about this remarkable and much-honored Nobel Prize winner.
Adding a powerful author's note gives a glimpse at the way in which authors come to stories they feel compelled to tell. To experience a selected group of Neruda's poetry immediately following this elegant, powerful rendering of his early life is the perfect way to end this glorious book.
When I first read this book, it was an ARC with no finished illustrations. I loved it then. There is, however, no comparison to the power that the artist's 'small delights' bring to the finished book. I have admired Peter Sis' work since I first laid eyes on it and this only ups my admiration in spades. Each chapter is prefaced on the facing page with three small inked images. Each of those tiny treasures have a connection to the coming text. They are as beautiful and telling as Neftali's collections. Peter Sis brings such beauty to Ms. Ryan's words. There are larger drawings, too. They accompany the 'questions' asked by the author in the distinct style of Neruda's The Book of Questions. They are full of fantasy and feeling, in complete understanding of the world that is Pablo Neruda.