Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Book Review: The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan

Posted as part of Tween Tuesday, hosted by GreenBeanTeenQueen.
The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan
Publisher: Scholastic
Publication date: April 2010
ISBN: 9780439269704
Source: Library

The Dreamer (Ala Notable Children's Books. Older Readers) 

Neftali is definitely a dreamer.  He is always being distracted by the beautiful things he sees around him - a leaf, a beetle, a pinecone.  He loves to think about them and wonder at their beauty and even to write what they inspire in him.  But his father is not satisfied with this.  He wants his son to grow up and be successful.  It is not possible to do that with your head in the clouds.  Will Neftali be able to please his father and himself or will he have to sacrifice one of them?

Things I Liked:
This book was so whimsical and, well, dreamy!  I loved the magical feeling that Ryan infuses throughout the story.  Neftali's daydreams and beautiful collections bring interest and fun to an otherwise very painful story.  This story was so sad, but also hopeful.  It was heart-breaking to watch the interactions with his father and how Neftali seems never to please him, despite his sincere desire to be loved.  The writing very much reflects the whimsical and magical feeling, being both poetic and simple.  An interesting look at just what Pablo Neruda's childhood might have been like.  Some favorite parts:

His mind wandered: To the monster storm raging outside, which startled the roof.  To the distant rumble of the dragon volcano, Mount Llaima, which made the floors hiccup.  To the makeshift walls of his timid house, trembling and cowering from the roar of passing trains.  To the haphazard design of the room with incomplete stairs, which might have led to a castle on another floor, but had long been deserted in the middle of construction. p 15 
How could he be absentminded when his head was so crowded with thoughts? p 73
Neftali felt the river breathing beneath him, as if keeping time to the slow and sorrowful tune.  His heart filled with the beauty and the peacefulness of it all.  He felt as if he were on the brink of something magnificent.  p 148
The rhythm of his rain-soaked childhood became a sequence of words.  His memories of the understory of the great forest burst into lyrical phrases, as resinous as the sap of a pinecone, as crisp as the shell of a beetle.  Sentences grew long, then pulled up short, taking on the tempo of the waves upon the shore, or swayed gently, like the plaintive song of a lone harmonica. p 344
Things I Didn't Like:
I really think this is not going to have wide kid appeal.  I had a hard time finishing it because it was just so strange at times.  I definitely think it would have helped if I'd read some of Neruda's poetry or was more interested in him.  The story is interrupted by fanciful imaginings and philosophical questions so often that I wonder if kids will lose interest. It will definitely take a special kind of child for this one.  

Nothing comes to mind, except maybe The Magician's Elephant by Kate Dicamillo

s-factor: none

mrg-factor: none

v-factor: ->
more cruelty than true violence

Overall rating: ***

Anybody a big advocate for this title? I'd love to hear others' thoughts.

If you buy through my Amazon linkage, I will get a very small percentage


  1. I really liked it, and I think I'd have love it as a kid -- the whole dream aspect was something I think some kids may relate to. Plus, the trying to be what you want versus what your parents expect of you. I thought it would open a dialogue about poetry, get kids interested in it.

    But, I'm no longer a middle grade child. So I don't really know how it'd go over. I really liked it though.

  2. Rebecca, thank you! Your thoughts definitely helped me get a better understanding of its appeal. And I'm sure there are kids who will love the dreamy aspect.

  3. I also could not see my students reading it, at least middle school ones. Maybe elementary? Probably this will be used as a read aloud to go with a curriculum unit.

  4. Ms. Yingling, it probably is better suited to elem school. And it would make a lovely read aloud!


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