Thursday, December 30, 2010

Looking for Newbery Day 5: The Dreamer

So Karen and I tossed this one back and forth, and it landed on my stack of books to review for Looking for Newbery. I know it's getting a lot of very positive attention, Fuse #8 chose it as an honor book, and is making short lists everywhere. I know the writing is "beautiful" and even has, ok, I'll say it, dream like qualities. I know it's just the type of book that wins Newbery awards. It's the type of book that I don't like. I guess I just don't get it!

The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan is a biography of Nobel winning Chilean political poet Pablo Neruda. I had to look him up to know who he was, so maybe that's part of the reason I didn't get it. The story begins with a boy by the name of Neftali, sick in his bed room, looking out the window dreaming of playing with the other kids and having friends. The dream is interrupted by the clomping of his father's boots and the fear that sound strikes in the heart of Neftali.

The book is a series of dreams being shattered by the father. Neftali's brother, Rodolfo dreams of being a great opera singer, but the father forbids him from singing anymore, even beats Rodolfo when he discovers him singing in the woods. Neftali has a love of words, developed by all of the reading he does due to his sickliness. It frustrates the father who wants his boy to be "robust" and playing futbol with the other boys. Nefatali' love of writing is an embarrassment to his father and culminates in the burning of all of Neftali's notebooks.

Thank goodness for the two characters who encourage the brothers to follow their dreams. Sadly, it's too late for Rodolfo, he succumbs to his father's wishes and becomes a businessman. But for Neftali, his step-mother and her brother, are the support every child should get. They encourage Neftali's talent and his uncle Orlando, who runs a small anti-government newspaper, even publishes some of Neftali's essays. This only serves to anger the father and leads Neftali to publish under the pseudonym of Pablo Neruda to save his father from embarrassment and to protect his own identity for safety.

Interspersed in the book are poetic questions posed by Neftali's imagination. They truly add to the dream like quality of the writing and help to bring the reader into the boy's world. Like I said, beautiful writing, dreamy and all that, but I'm not sure it's all that kid friendly. As Fuse #8 points out, that's not something the Newbery committee has to look at, but maybe they should.

Other Reviews:
The Washington Post

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