Sunday, July 25, 2010

Biographies Can Be Cool

I am always looking for biographies that my children will enjoy reading. Other than the "Little House on the Prairie" series and "The Diary of Anne Frank," biographies too often have no style or pizzaz and children can't sink their teeth into them. So few children ever hear the amazing stories and get inspired by real people. Recently I found a book that I am recommending to everyone. If I had a vote on the Newberry Medal this year it would be for "The Dreamer."

“The Dreamer”
By Pam Munoz Ryan
Illustrated by Peter Sis
For ages 8 - 12
This is a tale of the power of the human spirit and how it thrives in words and senses and raises one young boy out of an abusive family and into one of the most influential poets of the 20th century. It is engaging, intriguing and beautifully written. Ryan's fictionalized childhood biography of Pablo Neruda may be the best book I have read this year.
Rated: 5
The Good: Thought provoking and well-structured story married with eloquent sensory details and vivid prose.
The Bad: The first few chapters are quite depressing and slowly paced.

"The Dreamer" is the fictionalized biography of Pablo Neruda's childhood. For those unfamiliar with this name, Neruda is the Nobel Prize-winning, and one of the most widely read, of the 20th century. Born in Chile as Neftali Reyes, Ryan meshes factual information with with an engaging story.

Neftali is a shy boy, often sickly, who from a very young ages sees poetry in the world around. Words and sounds seem to dance in his thoughts and carry him to other worlds. Neftali's spirit grows and thrives despite his fathers abusive negativity and totalitarian rule on the family. His only respite comes when his father is out in the jungle on business. The injustice Neftali feels at home opens his eyes to the injustice he sees happening to the indigenous Mapuche people who are being forced form their homeland, often beaten and even murdered. As Neftali grows he savors every word he reads and finds his talent for telling a story.

Ryan is eloquent in the telling of Neruda's childhood and savors the sensations and experiences of the world around him. Whether telling the tale of a swan shot by a hunter, or standing in the crashing surf as waves batter Neftali under the watchful eyes of his father the story is always poetic and rhythmic in the telling. Ryan intersperses poetry between the chapters that mimic Neruda's style as well.

This is an intriguing and elegant tale that begs to be read. The plot lines of social injustice, the power of words and abusive family situations never take over the story, but server admirably to keep the focus on the strength of the human spirit. This is a beautiful book and a must read.

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