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  • Writer's pictureJosette Abruzzini

Magical Words on Every Page

The Dreamer, by Pam Munoz Ryan, is a mandate for allowing each and every child to grow into the person he or she is meant to be. Magical words on every page, and dancing digits on young Pablo’s difficult math homework, lead us inside a story that truly touched my heart.

This beautifully written story about the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, with its charming illustrations by Peter Sis and poignant examples of Neruda’s own poetry, make this an upper middle grades book that I revisit often. “How does Munoz accomplish such mastery?” I asked myself. As a new writer, I was determined to learn from her writing.

The more I reread the first chapter, the more mesmerized I became. I had never read such musical prose. Every important word landed squarely on the beat, and each paragraph seemed to have its own time signature. When the story developed into a frenzy, it seemed as if the pace gradually accelerated until it spun off-kilter, much like the young poet’s life. However Ms. Ryan had woven those words together, she captured the angst of young Pablo’s life, as well as the timid joy he derived from his budding artistry. I ached for the childhood he had, and the childhood he didn’t have. Readers will grow in their compassion, in their artistry, and also in their awareness of social injustices.

A note of caution regarding the younger reader – This story presents many opportunities for thoughtful discussion. Parents and teachers should offer guidance through some of the more difficult scenes that show a parent whose actions are often cruel. It is not a story to be quickly read and cast aside.

I recently had an opportunity to hear Ms. Ryan speak at a local college. As she introduced herself, and spoke of her experience with music during her middle school years, I thought, “Aha! She IS a musician!” But her own story revealed merely a couple of short-lived attempts in that arena: one positive experience that failed after her instrument became damaged, and another musical experience that actually led her to her love of writing.

When given an opportunity to ask a question, I asked her, “Did you intentionally write each of your paragraphs in a specific time signature?

She smiled, and simply said, “No. I just read it aloud, and read it often, until the words sounded right.

Whatever limited musical experiences Ms. Ryan had in her own childhood, she learned the joys of both music and prose well enough to inspire us in The Dreamer.

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