The Dreamer was written by Pam Munaz Ryan and illustrated by Peter Sis. It was published in 2010 by Scholastic Press.
.The Dreamer won the Pure Belpre award in 2011. The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth. (www.ala.org) If you would like to learn more about the Pre Belpre, please click here.
The Dreamer is a story about a young boy, Neftali, who was a thin and frail, and enjoyed reading, writing and daydreaming more than being outside and becoming a strong man, as his father wanted him to. I hadn't realized until the end, that this is a fictional tale based on the childhood of a real poet, Pablo Neruda. It doesn't specifically state when this book takes place, but I believe it began in Chile in the 1910s, as that was when Pablo Nerudo was a young boy.
I chose this book because, as I looked up Pure Belpre winners, I thought that this one looked interesting. Originally, I had thought it was a picture book. You could imagine my surprise when I went to the library to get it and it was 372 pages long. After reading the front jacket -- "From the time he is a young boy, Neftali hears the call of a mysterious voice. Even when the neighborhood children taunt him, and when his harsh, authoritarian father ridicules him, and when he doubts himself, Neftali knows he cannot ignore the call. Under the canopy of the lush rain forest, into the vast and fearsome sea, and through the persistent Chilean rain, he listens and he follows...." -- I thought that The Dreamer was going to be about constant daydreams of Nefalti. I thought that he was going to be in a constant state of imagination and that the book was going to be more of a fantasy of his. Although there are spots within the book that he is definitely daydreaming (I got better at identifying his daydreams as the book goes on) I feel as though, in the end, this book was about a young boy who dreams to be himself. In a world that his father and the other school children are against him, he blossoms into the person he has always dreamt to be.
The Dreamer begins with Neftali in his room, with his sister describing the outside world to him, as he is not supposed to get up until he is well. On page 4, we are introduced to his father for the first time. "He had been away, working on the railroad for a week, and was due home today. Neftali's heart pounded and his round brown eyes grew large with panic. The footsteps came closer. Clump. Clump. Clump. Clump. Neftali reached up and smoothed his thick, black hair. Was it out of place? He held up his hands and looked at his thin fingers. Were they clean enough?" This introduction sets the stage for how his father treats him throughout the book and Neftali's worries about never being good enough for his father. As we go through the book, we learn that there are many things about Neftali that his father doesn't care for -- his size, his stuttering, his good heart and his love for reading and writing. Neftali dreams about someday receiving the approval of his father, although sadly, he never does.
Although the father never approves of him, Neftali continues to love words. One day, when father is gone, his Mamadre opens up a trunk that Neftali finds old letters in. Although he is not allowed to read them, he wonders what is in them. "He peered over the edge. At the bottom, he saw a bundle of letters and postcards, tied with a satin ribbon. How many words had been saved inside?" I love that quote. "How many words had been saved inside?" This quote shows his deep affection for words and made me want to believe that someday, he will be able to be the writer he wants to be.
As the book progresses, Neftali is growing up. As he gets older, he starts to wonder about his father. They had gone to the beach, which Neftali thought would be a fun vacation. As it turns out, father wanted him to swim in the ocean to build up his strength, so every day, he and his sister would wade out alone and swim for as long as they could. It angered Neftali that his father would make him do this. "With each step, his thoughts screamed louder. Wasn't he fine just the way he was? How would the daily terror in the ocean make him stronger? What made father so cruel? And why did Mamadre do nothing to stop him?" I believe this was the first time that Neftali truly saw father for who he was and stopped trying to be the perfect boy.
As he grows older, he gets closer to his Uncle Orlando, who believes in Neftali's talents and encourages him to speak out. He ends up being able to work for Uncle Orlando at his newspaper, until it was burned down by the government, who didn't like the articles that spoke out against them.
A couple of years later, he went to the university and became a poet. His love for his father didn't completely dissolve, as when he went to the university, he knew that he would be writing against the government, so he changed his name to Pablo Nerudo so that the articles didn't embarrass his father.
In the end, he does reach his dreams. He becomes a poet whose writings are beloved by many. The book was very encouraging and would be a great story for children who may not be supported in their dreams. It shows that hard work, a good heart and determination will take you a long way.
If this book sounds interesting to you, I recommend that you look here to see if it is in a library near you.
Not sure yet? Check out other reviews here.
If you choose to read it, I would love to hear your thoughts!