A quién le puedo preguntar
qué vine a hacer en este mundo?
Whom can I ask what I came
to make happen in this world?
These lines from poem XXXI in The Book of Questions stay with me. Isn't this the question we are forever in search of an answer to? Such a seemingly simple and human question, but with so many possibilities and answers.
I don't know if Neruda ever wrote any poems specifically for children, but his poetry in The Book of Questions would easily appeal to a younger audience. It combines child-like wonder with the complex questions that children often ask. Like children, it comes from a place that is both immersed in the fantastical, but also so very much grounded in the world as we know it.
There are a few children's books about Pablo Neruda including the exceptional novel by Pam Muñoz Ryan, The Dreamer, and Monica Brown's picture book Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People. Both books manage to tell the intriguing story of Neruda's life in writing styles that are are as poetic as the work of Neruda himself. Through the story of Neruda's childhood, the reader learns how the poet grew up to be a man who spoke up for the rights of the oppressed and who sought to bring beauty and justice to the world. Despite being the story of a child growing up in another time and in another country, the life of Neruda is reflective of the hope and wonder that lives in all children. Pablo Neruda's work is so rich with imagery that it seems illustrations couldn't possibly add any more to the visuals his words draw for the reader. Yet, Peter Sis (The Dreamer) and Julie Paschkis (Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People) manage to complement and add to the story of Neruda's life and work.
Like Neruda's poetry, both of these books make me think of that poem all the kids know. I bet you know it too. I would eat these both without a fork or spoon, without a plate or a napkin.
The Dreamer. Written by Pam Muñoz Ryan; Illustrated by Peter Sis; New York: Scholastic Press, 2010. Ages 9 and Up.
Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People. Written by Monica Brown; Illustrated by Julie Paschkis; New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2011. Ages 4-11.