Among the things the sea throws up,
let us hunt for the most petrified,
violet claws of crabs,
little skulls of dead fish,
smooth syllables of wood,
small countries of mother-of-pearl;
let us look for what the sea undid
what it broke up and abandoned,
and left behind for us… (from Forget About Me)
The Dreamer, Pam Munoz Ryan’s portrayal of Pablo Neruda reads as if it were fiction. When the reader first meets Nefetali Reyes, he is a young boy in love with words and found objects. The above excerpt from Neruda’s poem reflects his childhood love for collecting things he’s found along the way.
The thing I love about Pablo Neruda is that it’s clear that he is in love with words. Not hundred dollar words, but regular everyday words. Somehow he puts them together in a way that is a sensual delight. So, when Pam Munoz Ryan has Neftali Reyes (young Pablo Neruda) filling his drawer with his favorite words I couldn’t help but believe that was true. If I went through his poetry, I’m sure I could pick out some of the words that might have been in that drawer. It seems like Neruda often drew a fine line between the commonplace and the fantastic and Ryan captures that beautifully with his collections and his constant daydreaming.
She pulls the stories from his life that best illustrate some of the common themes in his personal life and his poetry: his keen sense of observation, his caring, his love of words and his desire for social justice. As a young man he was very sensitive and full of the creative spirit (the story of the swans nearly broke my heart!). It is a testament to his character that he was able to flourish no matter how hard his father tried to squash that spirit. The relationship between Neftali and his father is almost too much to bear. As a reader, you feel his anguish, fear and anger whenever his father is present.
Ryan’s similar love for words and gifts as a storyteller make this a great introduction to such a well-loved poet. The amazing illustrations by Peter Sis, add that extra element of the magic so appropriate for a biography of Neruda. I hope they will collaborate again in the future.