Pablo Neruda Poet of the People
I'm a huge fan of books that introduce children to important artists they otherwise wouldn't encounter until they are older. Books like this plant the seeds of curiosity in the arts that will take root as they grow. This lovely book written by Monica Brown presents the life of Pablo Neruda, from his childhood in Chile to his activism as an adult. The illustrations by Julie Paschkis swirl and flow with hand-drawn words in Spanish and English, washing like a river of poetry through the pages. Words such as "Silvery" and "existencia" and "luminous" and "plummet" create a sensuous second course of language to accompany the simple text that touches on his life story.
My first encounter with Pablo Neruda's work was in junior high. I bought a small illustrated copy of Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, translated by W.S. Merwin and illustrated by Jan Thompson Dicks. I remember carrying it around in my backpack from class to class, to disappear into when I wanted to escape the awkward landscape of post-childhood teenage anxiety. I still have it, and my understanding shifts and deepens every few years as I come back to it.
Poet of the People tells the story of a man who loved the world and wrote about it in a way that brought beauty and hope in his reader's lives in prose that is simple for children but with a poetry of its own: "He wrote about scissors and thimbles and chairs and rings. He wrote about buttons and feathers and shoes and hats. He wrote about velvet cloth and the color of the sea."
I love the page which shows him as a child reading when other kids were playing sports. "He loved to read and discover magic between the pages of books." The illustration that accompanies this text flows with the names of other important authors, all the inspiration Neruda drew from. The words are vertically climbing up tree trunks, symbolizing ideas taking root and growing strong in his mind.
It closes with an Authors Note summary of Neruda's life. It contains the quote from poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, "... he carries his poetry to the people as simply and calmly as a loaf of bread."