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Sunday, December 23, 2012

I love this book, but I am not sure I can recommend it (or even review it).

I read Pam Munoz Ryan's book, The Dreamer (2010, Scholastic).  And frankly, I am not sure what I can tell you about it.
     It starts out slow, and even seems aimless in parts.  The main character, Naftali Reyes seems like a good-hearted kid who is unlucky enough to have a really emotionally abusive father.  So Naftali keeps getting in trouble for not paying attention and not focusing and being too frail.  And I feel bad for him, I really do, but he is not the kind of kid who you get to love immediately.The book didn't really start to take off until over a hundred pages in, when Naftali's father takes the family on a vacation.  Each morning the father insists that Naftali and his younger sister go swimming in the ocean -- even though they nearly drown more than once.  When that swim is done, the children have the rest of the day to do with as they want.  Naftali finishes all of his books and wanders into town looking for the library.  Instead he has a brief encounter witht he town librarian -- an old man who seems to be the best of the breed.  That scene made me want to keep reading.  From there on things get more interesting and Naftali starts to take hold of his life.  He finds a job.  He finds purpose.  He finds a girl he loves.  He finds his voice.  And then... And then...

     And then... But I can't tell you.  If I did it would ruin the surprise.  And it is a grand surprise if you are fairly well read, especially in 20th century poets.  But see, here is the other problem with the book.  Once it finally gets going and builds to this amazing surprise, it is unlikely to catch any of your students because they will not have read the one poet you need to have read for the surprise to make any sense. 
    Peter Sis's drawings are wonderful.  I really liked the book after I got the the surprise.  But I don't think it is going to work for your students.
     So read it already.  Maybe even recommend it to the kind of kid willing to do some research to figure out why the surprise is such a big deal.  But don't figure on this book being the next big hit in your classroom.  Sigh. 

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