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Based on a True Story, Contemporary Realistic Fiction, Middle Grade Readers, Read-Aloud Suggestions, Teacher & Parent Recommendations, Young Adult Readers

THE DREAMER by Pam Munoz Ryan

The Dreamer is an extraordinary novel which tells a fictionalized account of the young life of poet Pablo Neruda, whose original name was Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto.  Pablo Neruda won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971 “for a poetry that with the action of an elemental force brings alive a continent’s destiny and dreams.”

Originally inspired by one particular anecdote from Neruda’s childhood about exchanging gifts with an unknown friend through a hole in the fence dividing their properties, Pam Munoz Ryan has woven an engaging and heartfelt narrative about a sickly boy growing into a sensitive, creative, compassionate man.

As a boy, Neftali is constantly hoping for his father’s love and affection.  Unfortunately, his father does not approve of Neftali’s affinity for daydreaming and reading.  Both Neftali’s fear of his father and his desperation to be loved and approved of by him drive him to hide the behaviors and feelings he feels compelled to do but knows will anger his father.

Neftali’s stepmother, brother and sister all live in fear of his father.  Everything they do is based on what his father’s reaction will be.  Rodolfo, Netali’s older brother, is an extraordinarily talented singer but their father forbids him to sing at all.  Neftali watches as Rodolfo gives up his dream in favor of the business world because he feels he has no choice.

Neftali wonders why he is not okay the way he is.  As he grows older we watch him take joyful part in the world around him.  We see his love and compassion for both his family and the living things that surround him–plants and animals.  Neftali’s collections of twigs and pinecones, stones and other “found” treasures will be familiar to many young readers.  Neftali grows into the realization that he IS okay exactly the way he is and what is more, he will embrace it!

I was entranced by Neftali’s courage and insight.  I was moved by his generous heart, his ability to see value in other human beings and his ultimate determination to contribute and make a difference in the world.  It is a beautiful story in both language and content.  It will definitely inspire readers who already feel the swelling urge to write in their own hearts.  Neftali’s story also offers readers a path to connecting with the world around us.

This is an especially good choice as a read-aloud in a classroom which loves words and language, poetry and playing with words, as well as what motivates us to write them down and to speak them.  The story is ultimately one of joy and strength.  This is a remarkable story and one I, for one, am anxious to share with as many other readers as I can.

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