Friday, April 20, 2012

For All the Dreamers

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. 

Confession: I am not a poetry person. While years can pass before I pick up a poetry book to read in its entirety, there are a few poets who I enjoy. Pablo Neruda is one of them. Years ago, I read Pablo Neruda's The Book of Questions / El libro de las preguntas, and it felt so familiar. All those strange, beautiful questions with no answers and many answers resonated with me. It gave me the same feeling I often experience when I suddenly look at something that is so much a part of my everyday world in a new light that reveals its extraordinary nature. So often we miss out on how beautiful and amazing the world around us is because we are looking for these qualities in something bigger, something inaccessible, something out of the ordinary that we've never encountered. Pablo Neruda saw the world as poetry. He found the beauty and the uniqueness of daily life, of all the little things that often go ignored. His words stir curiosity, imagination, and a sense of yearning and of hope.

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.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Skeletons Crossing Borders

Here are the slides from my presentation at the National Latino Children's Literature Conference. Obviously, they don't tell the complete story so if you're curious about anything feel free to contact me.