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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Swimming Upstream: Middle School Poems, by Kristine O’Connell George

Swimming Upstream: Middle School Poems. By Kristine O’Connell George.  Illustrated by Debbie Tilley.  Clarion Books, 2002.  80 pages. $14.00

Content: Poems in this book tell a story of a young girl’s first year of middle school, beginning with the angst-filled first day of 6th grade to the happy last day of school. Familiar topics for tweens abound: first crush, where to sit in the lunchroom, how to change for gym class without being seen, passing notes, science class, etc.  The poems take difference forms, some long and some short, haiku and some with a rhythm like a song.  Light and witty, real and expressive, these middle school poems will ring true for many.

Review: A cute selection of poems and black and white cartoon-like illustrations are a fun read for middle schoolers and their parents (who will remember many of the sentiments expressed).  Illustrations portray a multi-cultural student body; though there are no direct references to race or ethnicity in the poetry.  Sprinkled throughout the book are periodic short poems that speak to the protagonist’s attempts at flute playing out of which she is ultimately able to make a sound.  A progression of events, both happy and anxiety-filled, throughout the year make this book an enjoyable and honest read.

Genre(s): Poetry

Reading/Interest Level: 8-12 years

Available in: Hardcover

ISBN: 978-0618152506

Similar Books: Poetry for Young People: Maya Angelou, Poetry for Young People: Robert Frost, Wachale!: Poetry and Prose about Growing Up Latino, Ego-Tripping and Other Poems for Young People, Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes


Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes, edited by David Roessel & Arnold Rampersad.

Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes. Edited By David Roessel & Arnold Rampersad.  Illustrated by Benny Andrews.  Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 2006.  48 pages. $14.95

Content: The book is comprised of a selection of Langston Hughes’ poetry, richly illustrated, with notations about each poem by the editors.  One of America’s most beloved poets, Hughes wrote about his experiences as an African American man throughout his lifetime, 1902-1967, as well as about African Americans’ various experiences in the US.  This book’s poems cover many topics including the history of slavery, African American musical traditions, political uprisings, African American culture, and the fight for equal rights as well as more personal reflections.  The tempo brings the reader in and the honest language and stories reflect a variety of emotions.

Review: Hughes poems are beautiful and beautifully rendered.  I was hard to pin down an age group for this book because the content of many of the poems is sophisticated, but younger people could enjoy listening to the rhythm of the poems, and lovely language without necessarily understanding the full meanings.  And the book looks like a picture book, which makes it a great choice for read alouds, though the content is best suited to middle schoolers and up.  Andrews’ full-color illustrations are vibrant and exuberant, adding feeling to the book as a whole.  The editors’ additional explanations, notes and quotes from Hughes himself add another level of depth and meaning to the poignant and moving poetry included in this fine volume.

Genre(s): Poetry

Reading/Interest Level: 11+ years

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback

ISBN: 978-1402718458

Similar Books: Poetry for Young People: Maya Angelou, Poetry for Young People: Robert Frost, Wachale!: Poetry and Prose about Growing Up Latino, Ego-Tripping and Other Poems for Young People

Selected Awards: 2007 Coretta Scott King Award


Ego Tripping and Other Poems for Young People, by Nikki Giovanni

Ego Tripping and Other Poems for Young People. By Nikki Giovanni.  Illustrated by George Ford.  Lawrence Hill Books, 1993 (1973).  76 pages. $14.95

Content: Highly acclaimed poet, writer, and scholar Nikki Giovanni, wrote this collection of 32 poems specifically for young people.  Giovanni writes about African American lives and experiences; Ego Tripping and the other poems in this book cover a wide breadth of topics from love on a snowy day and musical rhythms to Black Power, discrimination, and the funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr.  The feelings and expression in the writing will take readers on a journey through the history, beauty, struggles, pride, and successes of African American experiences.  George Ford’s sepia tone illustrations are rich and powerful.

Review: Melodic, rhythmic, and rich, Giovanni’s poetry is emotional, expressive, and deep.  Great for reading aloud, these poems move and inform their readers.  The original Ego Tripping and Other Poems for Young People was written in 1973, this version, published 20 years later, contains ten more poems than the original.  Though some references may be dated, and there is definitely a 70’s vibe to many of the poems, the feelings evoked and sentiments stated are every bit as relevant today as they were when the poems were written.  In fact, the poems themselves often pay homage to historical figures and events, so reading these poems today feels consistent with honoring history.  Giovanni deftly manages to express deep beauty and warmth while not ignoring the pain and struggle that often occur at the same time.

Genre(s): Poetry

Reading/Interest Level: 10+ years

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback

ISBN: 978-0613249928

Similar Books: Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes, Poetry for Young People: Maya Angelou, Poetry for Young People: Robert Frost, Wachale!: Poetry and Prose about Growing Up Latino