The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan and Peter Sis

Seven books by LatinX writers. One class set of each. None of which I’ve read before.

I started work at a new school the semester, in the same district but at a new site, which turned out to be the same site as my old school, namely, my kitchen table.

But the new school uses different novels for seventh grade so I’ve been on my toes most of the semester. We did start with S.E. Hinton’s gift to middle school readers, The Outsiders, which I basically know by heart at this point. (Yes, I still cry when Johnny dies.)

For the spring semester, there are seven books by Latin X authors, usually taught using literature circles where the students select the book they want to read and read it as a small group. I don’t see how that can work with hybrid learning and social distancing, so I’m reading all seven to come up with the one or two I’d like to use with the entire class in 2021.

So far, meh.

I did not select these books; the first time in many, many years that this is true. But, for this year, I’m not making waves so go along to get along for now. We’ll see what happens next fall.

Which leads to The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan and Peter Sis. This book, based on the childhood of poet Pablo Neruda, was surprisingly motionless. It’s a very sweet story about a boy’s struggle to connect with a father who does not understand his fascination with odd bits of nature: a heart shaped stone, a feather, a pinecone. I kept wondering why someone would choose this book for 7th grade students. It’s very nice. The focus is on an interior struggle. The location is foreign in both place and time. The main character is very young. There is little forward movement in the story. The writing struck me as aimed at fourth or fifth grade readers.

But, I was moved by the ending, I admit. There was a powerful emotional punch in the books closing sections that really took me by surprise.

Then there were the appendixes featuring poems by Pablo Neruda.


I’ll confess, previously I only knew Ode to an Artichoke. While I love that one, and enjoy reading it with my students and reading the poetry they write based on it, the poems at the back of The Dreamer moved me. They are works of beauty.

This is one of my favorites:

Slender-Billed Parakeet

The tree had so many leaves
it was toppling with treasure,
from so much green it blinked
and never closed its eyes.

That's no way to sleep.

But the fluttering foliage
went flying off green and alive,
each bud learned to fly,
and the tree was left naked,
weeping in the winter rain.

For some reason, this poem got me all chocked up, thinking the leaves had fallen off. On second reading, it’s clear the leaves were parakeets that have flown away. In either case, the ending slays me the way a great poem should.