Pablo Neruda, considered to be one of the greatest poets of the 20th Century, was born Ricardo Eliecer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto in Chile in 1904. Because his father didn’t approve of his poetry, he came up with a pen name, Pablo Neruda. His poems are widely loved, and he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. Gabriel García Márquez, a writer from Colombia and a fellow Nobel laureate, has called Neruda “the most important poet of the 20th century – in any language.”
[Neruda died in Chile in 1973, less than two weeks after a U.S.-backed military coup replaced his close friend, the elected socialist Salvador Allende, with the brutal dictator Augusto Pinochet. In 2011 a Chilean judge ordered that an investigation be launched pursuant to suggestions that Neruda may have been poisoned by the Pinochet regime. On April 8, 2013, his remains were finally exhumed. While initial tests confirm he had advanced cancer, toxicology studies are still in progress in both the U.S. and in Spain to determine if he had been poisoned to death.]
This book for young children is just stunning. The way in which the words (both in Spanish and in English) weave around the page in bright vivid colors (illustrated in a folk-art style by Julie Paschkis), demonstrate how Neruda could make words flow from his pen in magical patterns evoking colors and seasons and animals and most of all, emotions.
Neruda did not only write about pretty things. The conditions of the workers in Chile made him angry, and he fought on their behalf through his words. He had to leave Chile for a while to escape arrest, but returned after his Nobel Prize acceptance speech.
Although rhyming words fill the swirling designs on the pages, none of Neruda’s actual poems are included in this book. [It’s an interesting problem: how to present a great poet and political activist without actually including examples of what he wrote. I, for example, have a book of his love poems, and of “Body of a Woman” I will only quote the first two lines, because the rest soon goes beyond the PG rating!]
Body of a woman, white hills, white thighs,
you look like a world, lying in surrender.”
Not all of his poems are like that, of course (Actually some are worse, adding violence to the mix, such as “Fable of the Mermaid and the Drunks”), but even the ones covering more innocuous subjects are a bit complex, which may be why there are none included. Brown’s words are much more child-friendly. An author’s Note at the back of the book gives some additional biographical information and a list of further resources.
Evaluation: This book provides a nice introduction to a great Chilean patriot and poet in a visually stunning format. Readers will also appreciate how the words chosen to be a part of the illustrations reflect the episodes being discussed of Pablo’s life. (For example, when Pablo had to go into exile, the swirling words include “appear” “disappear” “peligro” “hidden” “patria” “peril” and so on.)
Published by Henry Holt and Company, 2011