The Dreamer, by Pam Muñoz Ryan

The Dreamer.  By Pam Muñoz Ryan. Illustrated by Peter Sis.  Scholastic Press, 2010. 372 pages. $17.99

Plot: A fictionalized biography of celebrated poet Pablo Neruda’s childhood, The Dreamer is magical and beautiful with pointillist pen and ink drawings that combine with the t4ext to create a poetic and graceful novel.  Pablo Neruda was born Neftalí Reyes in Temuco, Chile.  Neftalí is a dreamer.  He has an active and creative imagination and often has his head in the clouds.  He finds beauty in everyday things and appreciates the magnificence of the natural world around him.  But Neftalí’s father doesn’t approve of Neftalí’s dreaming.  His father is strict and overbearing, demanding and cruel, and Neftalí does his best to stay out of his father’s way.  His father wants him to excel in school and eventually become a doctor, but school is not Neftalí’s favorite place.  Neftalí is soft spoken, gentle, and slight in stature.  He is sensitive and becomes involved in fighting for social justice for the indigenous Mapuche people.  With his heart in writing poetry and his father’s disapproval for what he considers idleness, what is Neftalí to do?  How does he become Pablo Neruda?

Review: The Dreamer is fictional story about a poet, which itself contains poetry similar to the poet’s and the illustrations depict the poet’s imagination as well as create a visual poetry themselves.  This book is unique.  The illustrations tell part of the story.  The prose, written in third person but basically from Neftalí’s perspective, flows smoothly and draws the reader in.  There is something about the act of reading the book that makes the reader part day dreamer as well.  The book includes a note from the author about her inspiration for the story as well as few selected poems by Pablo Neruda.

Genre(s): Magical Realism, Fictionalized Biography, Poetry

Reading/Interest Level: 9-14 years

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback, Audiobook

ISBN: 978-0439269704

Subjects: Chile, poets, poetry, growing up, social justice, hopes, dreams, family, activism

Selected Awards: 2011 Pura Belpré Author Award, 2010 ALA Notable Children’s Book for Older Readers, 2010 Kirkus Best Children’s Books

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On Your Mark, Get Set, Grow! A “What’s Happening to My Body?” Book for Younger Boys, by Lynda Madaras

On Your Mark, Get Set, Grow! A “What’s Happening to My Body?” Book for Younger Boys. By Lynda Madaras.  Illustrated by Paul Gilligan.  Newmarket Press, 2008.  104 pages. $9.95

Content: On Your Mark, Get Set, Grow! Introduces preteens to the changes that are happening or will happen throughout puberty.  Chapters cover the growth of sex organs, body and facial hair, height spurts, weight and muscles, body odor and pimples, erection and ejaculation and “Becoming Your Own Self.”  With straightforward, understandable information as well as some humor, Madaras takes boys through the various changes they will experience, all the while reassuring them that these changes are entirely normal and natural and that variation in responses to puberty is also completely normal.  The text includes cartoon-like illustrations that further demonstrate points and/or are detailed diagrams of body parts.  Illustrations represent boys from a variety of racial backgrounds.  This book covers puberty from A to Z, and, in fact includes an index for quick reference to particular topics.  The content is comprised of the author’s text, the illustrations, sidebars with “tips,” quotes from other boys or men about their puberty experiences, and each chapter ends with a “Questions and Answers” section.  The Q&A sections addresses what one would imagine to be commonly asked questions from pre-pubescent and pubescent boys with practical, reassuring answers to each.  Though this book does address erections, masturbation, ejaculation and orgasm, it does not address issues of sexual attraction or sexual activity with another person.

Review: One of the things that makes this book so appealing is the author’s obvious comfort with the subject matter.  Madaras’ calm manner and matter-of-fact text puts the reader at ease, even though some of the topics could make young readers squirm in discomfort.  With practical and useful facts, and a non-judgmental approach, On Your Mark, Get Set, Grow! provides tween and young teens boys the information they need to navigate the confusing, potentially scary, and hopefully exciting time in their lives called puberty.

Genre(s): Non-Fiction

Reading/Interest Level: 9 -14 years

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook

ISBN: 978-1557047816

Similar Books: The “What’s Happening to My Body?” Book for Boys, AMA Boy’s Guide to becoming a Teen: Getting Used to Life in Your Changing Body, The Boy’s Body Book: Everything You Need to Know for Growing Up YOU

Subjects: puberty, boys’ bodies, human bodies, growing up, hygiene, health, nutrition


A Smart Girl’s Guide to Friendship Troubles: Dealing with Fights, Being Left Out & the Whole Popularity Thing, by Patti Kelley Criswell

A Smart Girl’s Guide to Friendship Troubles: Dealing with Fights, Being Left Out & the Whole Popularity Thing. By Patti Kelley Criswell.  Illustrated by Angela Martini.  American Girl Publishing, Inc., 2003.  87 pages. $9.95

Content:  Sometimes friends can be mean.  Sometimes friends can be supportive and kind.  What kind of friend are you?  What kind of friends do you have?  Do your friends make you feel good about yourself?  Bad about yourself?  Friendships are complicated and sometimes challenging, but some friendships are worth it.  Some probably are not.  The Smart Girl’s Guide to Friendship Troubles gives readers insight into identifying friendship problems and tools for resolving those problems.  From toxic and fading friendships to bullying and arguing, this book provides information about how to think about these difficult situations and how to determine what course of action feels most appropriate.  Sprinkled throughout are stories from girls who have been there; quizzes for readers, like do you speak up? and could you be a bully?; as well as tips and advice.  A great read for tween and young teen girls and those who love them.

Review: This is an important book.  With the internet providing even more avenues for people to express unfriendly feelings, A Smart Girl’s Guide, from 2003, is even more relevant today.  This books strives to be inclusive of girls who are both victims and victimizers and everyone in between.  The book includes illustrations of multicultural girls in varying states of friendship.  There are also places in the book where readers are invited to write their own thoughts about a particular topic.  With concrete tips, encouragement, and validation of many of the emotions that might arise, a girl could use this book to come up with her own resolution to a difficult friendship situation.  This book, or one like it, would be a great required reading and discussion topic for all 5th or 6th grade girls.

Genre(s): Non-Fiction

Reading/Interest Level: 9 -14 years

Available in: Paperback

ISBN: 978-1584857112

Similar Books: Stand Up for Yourself and your Friends: Dealing with Bullies and Bossiness and Finding a Better Way, A Smart Girl’s Guide to the Internet: How to Connect with friends, find what you need, and stay safe online, A Smart Girl’s Guide to Starting Middle School

Subjects: friendship, bullying, problem solving, conflict, social interactions

Series Information: There are other Smart Girl’s Guides, all by American Girl Publishing, Inc.  In addition to those mentioned in the “Similar Books” above, there is a book about each of the following: manners, sticky situations, money, boys, staying home alone, parents’ divorce, parties, style, and knowing what to say


Kira-Kira, by Cynthia Kadohata

Kira-Kira. By Cynthia Kadohata.  Atheneum, 2006.  272 pages. $16.95

Plot: Kira-kira — Japanese for glittering, shining, the way the world feels to Katie when her sister Lynn is with her.  It is the 1950’s and Katie is just 5 when her family moves from Iowa to Georgia, where there are fewer than 50 Japanese people in a town of over 4,000.  Lynn teaches Katie about the ways of the world, the beauty of the sky and how to do her darn math homework.  You see, Lynn is a genius, and, not only that, she loves Katie more than anything else in the whole world, and Katie feel the same about Lynn.  Life is challenging in Georgia; Katie’s parents work so hard she misses seeing them, and she and Lynn do a lot of the caretaking of their beloved little brother, Sammy.  But things are going along all right, her parents are even saving up to buy their very own house, until Lynn get sick.  Then there’s a shift, and Katie’s world gets turned around.  Will they be able to buy the house?  Will Lynn get better?  What will happen to Katie’s family?

Review: The love demonstrated and portrayed in the novel is exquisite.  Katie’s family members love and care for each other deeply.  This is part of what makes this story so compelling, and so very beautiful.  The writing is exact and purposeful and the author weaves in bits of Japanese culture in a decidedly American setting, contributing to the richness and authenticity of the novel.  A moving, inspiring story of good times, hard times, hope, and inner strength.

Genre(s): Realistic Fiction, Historical Fiction

Reading/Interest Level: 9-14 years

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook

ISBN: 978-0689856402

Similar Books: The Higher Power of Lucky; Maniac McGee; Bud, Not Buddy; Bat 6

Subjects: family, love, illness, discrimination, racism, union organizing, poverty

Selected Awards: 2005 Newberry Medal, 2005 ALA Notable Children’s Books

Character Names:

Katie: main character, the book is told from her perspective, younger sister of Lynn, older sister to Sammy, loving, not a great student, thoughtful, kind, a bit mischievous, loved

Lynn: Older sister to both Katie and Sammy, loving caregiver to her siblings, has a special bond with Katie and teachers things and take an almost parental role in Katie’s upbringing

Sammy: youngest child of the family, much loved by all, sweet and easy going