Educator’s Guide: The Dreamer

Educator’s Guide: The Dreamer

The Dreamer by Pam Ryan Muñoz and Peter Sís is the selection for the LAII’s Vamos a Leer book group meeting scheduled for October 1, 2012.

The following information comprises a standards-based educator’s guide that the LAII has produced to support using The Dreamer (Muñoz and Sís, Scholastic, 2010) in the classroom. The standards are not included here, but are included with each section of the lesson plans in the PDF.  The complete guide is available for download at no cost: Vamos a Leer Educator’s Guide: The Dreamer. You can also find a Spanish version of this same guide here.

To read our thoughts on the novel, see our book review.


From the time he is a young boy, Neftalí hears the call of a mysterious voice. Even when the neighborhood children taunt him, and when his harsh, authoritarian father ridicules him, and when he doubts himself, Neftalí knows he cannot ignore the call. Under the canopy of the lush rain forest, into the fearsome sea, and through the persistent Chilean rain, he listens and he follows. . . Combining elements of magical realism with biography, poetry, literary fiction, and sensorial, transporting illustrations, Pam Muñoz Ryan and Peter Sís take readers on a rare journey of the heart and imagination (Amazon).


  • The Pura Belpré Award
  • The Américas Award
  • NCTE Notable Book in the Language Arts
  • Kirkus Best Children Books of 2010
  • Smithsonian Notable Book
  • Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor
  • The PEN USA Award
  • Booklist Editor’s Choice 2010


A little bit about Pam Muñoz Ryan in her own words:

I was born and raised in Bakersfield, California. Until the end of fourth grade at McKinley Elementary, I walked to my grandmother’s house after school, where my parents picked me up after work. . .One of my earliest memories about books is that my grandmother had a set of encyclopedias. I would tip each of these volumes out of its space and look at the top of the book to see if there were any sections printed in color. If I saw the definitive stripes, I’d take it off the shelf and go to those spots in the book. I studied the illustrated anatomy pages with the plastic overlays. I poured over the botanical plates. My favorite volume was G, because it contained an illustrated section of Greek myths. How I loved those encyclopedias! Once, I even tried to copy an entire page, but did not succeed.

The summer before fifth grade, my family moved across town to Irene Street, near the original Green Frog Market. I was the new kid on the block and the new kid in fifth grade at Longfellow Elementary. I spent much of my free time riding my bike to the East Bakersfield Library to borrow books. It was through books that I coped and fit in. I became, what most people would consider, an obsessive reader.

My first job after college graduation, immediately following the Viet Nam War, was as the Red Cross Coordinator for all of the Vietnamese playschools at the relocation camps at the U.S. Navy Base at Camp Pendleton. Shortly after, I married and moved to North San Diego County. I taught for three years as a bilingual Head Start teacher in Escondido. After my children were born (two girls and twin boys), I stayed home with them for almost twelve years. . .

By this time, my children were all in elementary school. I went back to school one night a week to get my Master’s degree in Post-secondary Education, with the intention of someday teaching children’s literature. A few weeks before I finished my master’s, one of my professors asked me to stay after class. She wanted to know if I’d ever considered professional writing as a career or a vocation. When I told her no, she encouraged me. Coincidentally, a few weeks later, a colleague in education asked me if I would help her write a book for adults. She thought of me because several years prior, I’d written her as a thank you poem that she loved and had saved. I could not stop thinking about the possibility that I could be a professional writer. The seed had been planted and wouldn’t stop growing.

I began to write stories for children. I submitted manuscripts to many children’s publishers but with no luck. I wish I knew how many, but I didn’t keep track and there were so many rejections that, at the time, it would have been painful to count. . . After a number of picture books, my editor at Scholastic, Tracy Mack, encouraged me to try a novel and I did. More novels followed. One book led to another. And I became something I’d never been before.

Today, I cannot imagine not writing. But I have a very practical approach to it. It is my job. One that I love. I want to deliver, for my publisher, for my reader, and for myself. People frequently ask me, “What is your motivation to write?” The answer is simple. I want the reader to turn the page. (Pam Muñoz Ryan).

For more on Ryan check out the links below:


In addition to the lesson plans and activities included here, check out  the other resources below:

The following lesson plans are divided into three main sections

  • Guided Reading Questions organized by the section of the story they accompany.  These questions address content comprehension as well as elements of literary and descriptive language; foreshadowing; character development and vocabulary development.
  • Reflective writing questions that can be used in multiple ways, including as individual closing assessments.
  • Research projects involving important background information about Pablo Neruda and Chile included in both the Pre-Reading Activities and the History and Social Studies sections


The Dreamer is a fictionalized biography of the famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.  Pablo Neruda was not always his name, he didn’t change it until he was older.  As a child, his name was Neftalí Reyes.  Before you begin reading the story with students, it would be helpful to provide a general introduction to Pablo Neruda—general facts about his life, what he is famous for, and photos of him. The following are books, links or other resources that may help you.  Depending upon the age level of your students you could also have them do brief research projects on Pablo Neruda, creating essays or posters to present to the class.  Some book and website resources are listed below.


The geography lesson below could also be used as a pre-reading activity, or an on-going activity as you read through the book.

The Dreamer takes place in Temuco, Chile where the poet Pablo Neruda grew up.  Present a world map to your students and point out Chile.  Compare the location of Chile to the location of your school.  You could even mark Chile and your state to give students a visual connection to where the story takes place. Once students know where Chile is in global terms, present a map of Chile that includes as many of the locations mentioned in the story as possible—especially Temuco where Pablo Neruda was raised.  As you read through the novel, point out or mark different locations such as: The Andes Mountains, the Pacific Ocean, or any other locations mentioned in the book. If time allows, have students research significant information about Chile and specifically Temuco.  Have them compare and contrast Temuco with their own city.

Below are links to different maps of Chile.

Literary Interpretation: Guided Reading Questions, Activities, and Writing Prompts

Rain Pages 1-24

  1. On the first page, Neftalí describes Chile as an arm of a tall guitarrista. What is a guitarrista?  Look back at your map of Chile—do you agree? Do you think it looks like the arm of a guitarist?
  2. Re-read the section where Neftalí describes what the numbers are doing as he tries to complete his math homework.  Draw a picture of what the numbers are doing.
  3. When Neftalí describes the footsteps he hears outside his room, on the page the word “clump” gets bigger and bigger—what does this communicate to the reader? (p. 4)
  4. Look at the picture on page 11.  What do you think this picture communicates about how Neftalí feels about his father? Why?
  5. What do you think it feels like to be Neftalí? How would you describe him at the end of the first chapter?
  6. When Neftalí speaks, the writer always repeats the first letters of some of the words.  Then, on page 21, Neftalí says, “In his mind, it did not get stuck.  He heard the word as if he had said it out loud – perfectly.” What does this tell the reader about how Neftalí talks?

Wind Pages 25-40

  1. What does Father think of Rodolfo’s singing? Why does he want Rodolfo to focus on business or medicine instead of music? (p. 27-30)
  2. Why does Neftalí struggle to get to school on time? What does he do the way there? (p. 31-36)
  3. What does Neftalí imagine that his mittens are doing? (p. 38)

Mud Pages 41-78

  1. Create a chart to compare and contrast the adults in the book—how would you describe Father, Mamadre, and Uncle Orlando? (p. 52)
  2. At dinner the topic of the Mapuche Indians comes up.  What do you think about this conversation? Do you agree with what is said? (p. 66-68)
  3. Father is always telling Neftalí that he is absent-minded, that he spends too much time in idle thought and not enough time in the real world.  But, think about Neftalí’s collections—what do they represent? Are they objects of someone who doesn’t think about the real world? (p. 72-73)

Forest Pages 79-106

  1. What do you think happened to Rudolfo during his trip to the forest with Father? Why do you think this? Did the author give you any clues?
  2. Did Neftalí really ride on the beetle? What do you think really happened here? (p. 101)
  3. Father always tells everyone what Neftalí will be when he grows up—but do you think Father really knows what Neftalí will be?
  4. Do you think Neftalí would be happy as a doctor or a dentist?

Tree Pages 107-120

  1. What does the pinecone that Neftalí finds look like? How did he describe it? (p. 108)
  2. Who does Neftalí hope to meet so that he will get to share about the eagle and the pinecone? Do you think he’ll get to? (p. 110)
  3. What is the significance of the chucao bird that Neftalí hears in the forest? (p. 111-112) Click here to see a picture of this bird:
  4. What does Neftalí wish for? Would you wish for those things? (p. 112-113)
  5. Why do the men laugh at Neftalí when he returns to the train? (p. 114-115)

Pinecone Pages 121-138

  1. What begins to happen to Neftalí in terms of his relationship to his father after his visit to the forest? (p. 122)
  2. Who do you think the mystery giver is? Why? (p. 129-130)
  3. Why do you think the sheep comes to be Neftalí’s devoted companion or his best friend? (p. 134)
  4. Do you think Neftalí is right to doubt his Father’s intentions for the beach? What do you think is going to happen when the family goes to the beach for the summer? (p. 135)
  5. What does the metaphor “pried a tiny splinter of doubt from his mind mean”? (p. 135)

River Pages 139-178

  1. Have you ever seen the ocean? How would you describe it? Do you think Neftalí’s descriptions are good? Note: if any of your students have never been to the ocean, find a clip from the internet or a video so that they have a frame of reference.  (p. 144)
  2. What change inside of Neftalí continues to happen after his first day at the beach with his father? Hint: think about how he is interacting with his Father. (p. 175)
  3. Why do you think that Mamadre never tells Father to stop the swim lessons?

Lagoon Pages 179-240

  1. Who do you think Neftalí identifies with more—his uncle or his father? Why? Think about his experience on the boat en route to the beach (p. 151) and what he says about Buffalo Bill to the librarian (p. 183-184).
  2. What does conscientious mean? Think about the context that it is used in (p. 184).
  3. What is un escondite? How do you know? (p.188)
  4. Why doesn’t Neftalí let Laurita come with him to the cottage? He obviously cares about her—he takes care of her in the ocean and he feels guilty about hurting her feelings, but he still won’t take her with him.  What is he afraid she’ll do? (p. 196-198)
  5. Who does Neftalí talk to at the cottage? Why do you think he does this? (p. 198-199). Have you ever had a pet that you were close to?
  6. What does Neftalí find when he returns to the cottage? What has happened to the swans? (p. 205-206)
  7. What happens to Neftalí’s swan? Why do you think Neftalí is so upset? What did the swan represent to Neftalí? (p. 228)
  8. Why does Neftalí love and hate the ocean? (p. 230)
  9. What does Neftalí decide during his last swim of the summer? (p. 233)

Love Pages 241-268

  1. What does Guillermo want from Neftalí? Do you think Neftalí should do it? Why is Neftalí so upset about writing a letter to Blanca for Guillermo? (p. 243-246)
  2. What does Neftalí’s father say about the letter he writes for Mamadre? How do you think this makes Neftalí feel? (p. 251)
  3. How does Blanca know that Guillermo didn’t write the letter? (p. 256)
  4. Does Neftalí have the courage to give Blanca the heart stone himself when she leaves Tumeco? (p. 264)

Passion Pages 269-314

  1. How many years have passed since the first trip to the ocean now? How do we know? (p. 270)
  2. What advice does Augusto give Neftalí? Do you agree? (p. 273)
  3. What does Neftalí want to do as a career? Do you think this would be a good job for him? Why? (p. 275)
  4. Why do you think Rudolfo sticks up for Neftalí at the dinner? Think about what Rudolfo always wanted to do—did he get to do it? (p. 286-289)
  5. What is the difference between the people who come to Neftalí’s house and the ones who come to Uncle Orlando’s protest meeting? (p. 296)
  6. What word “eats” all of the other words that describe Neftalí’s feelings about the Mapuche and the protest? What do you think this means? (p. 300)
  7. What happens to the newspaper office? Why do you think Father doesn’t try to help?  (301-304)
  8. What does Uncle Orlando mean “many whispers can make a loud noise”? (p. 307)
  9. Think about what Neftalí sees in his uncle at the end of the chapter.  How does this relate to the chapter title “Passion”? (p. 308)

Fire Pages 315-353

  1. Does Neftalí manage to stay out of trouble for a few months? What happens?
  2. How does Neftalí Reyes become Pablo Neruda? Why does he change his name?
  3. Knowing how the story ends, do you think Neftalí was influenced more by his Uncle Orlando or his Father? Why?

Reflective Writing Questions:

  1.  Have you ever had someone else tell you what you should be—like Father does with Neftalí and Rudolfo? What did they say you should be? How did it make you feel? Was it something that you wanted to do?
  2. Why do you think it was so important for Muñoz Ryan to write with such imagery throughout the novel? Think about who Pablo Neruda was and what we learn through the novel about his childhood.
  3. On page 118, Neftalí imagines the stories creatures would tell about his treasures.  Pick your favorite treasure and write its story.
  4. Neftalí has a perfect day in the woods exploring and finding treasures.  What would your perfect day be? Would you collect the same treasures? What would you collect?
  5. Think of all the things that Neftalí’s father calls him—idiot, scatterbrain, fanatic.  Do you think these are appropriate descriptions of Neftalí? How do you think it made Neftalí feel when his father said these things? Have you ever been called a name like that? How did it make you feel? Have you ever called someone else one of those names? Why? How did it make you feel?
  6. Throughout the novel, Muñoz Ryan inserts illustrations with thought provoking questions or pieces of poetry (See pages 9, 16-17, 39, 75, 76-77, 92-93, 102-103, 119, 150-151 for examples).  Which is your favorite? Why? How would you answer it? Note: I’ve scanned in a few of my favorites and placed them at the end of this guide.  You may need to project these (digitally or by overhead copies) and analyze one as a class.

Writing Activities:

  1. Write a letter to someone that you love, following the same process that Neftalí does.  Neftalí starts with his mother.  He writes all of the words that remind him of her, and then uses that to write a beautiful letter to her about how much he loves her.  Think of someone that you love, then write all the words that remind you of that person.  Use all those words to write a letter like Neftalí’s.
  2. Muñoz Ryan uses a great deal of onomatopoeia in The Dreamer.  Look at examples on pages 6-7, 41, 111, 163, and 291-292. Then, watch the following video from youtube. Based on what you’ve seen how would you define the word onomatopoeia? Now, look up the word and see how close your definition was. Create an illustrated page of your own onomatopoeia words. Share with the class

The Mapuche

The Mapuche play an important role in the story, and in how Neftalí ultimately stands up to his father.  Using appropriate online and print resources, research the history of the Mapuche. Answer the following questions: Who are the Mapuche? Where do they live? When and where was the Mapuche’s first encounter with Europeans? What are they known for or famous for? Describe and explain interesting and important facts about their culture.


Written by staff at the UNM Latin American & Iberian Institute (LAII), Vamos a Leer Educator’s Guides provide an excellent way to teach about Latin America through literacy.  Each guide is based upon a book featured in the Vamos a Leer book group.  For more materials that support teaching about Latin America in the classroom, visit the LAII website. This guide was prepared in 2012 by Katrina Dillon, LAII Project Assistant.


8 thoughts on “Educator’s Guide: The Dreamer

    • You’re welcome! I love being able to create materials like this and then work with teachers like you as my job! I consider myself very lucky!! If you get a chance to use The Dreamer in your classroom I’d love to hear how it goes. We’ve got you entered in our drawing for The Circuit now too–it’s another great read.

  1. I have made my way through the Spanish version to the point where Neftalí rides in the vaporetto next to a Mapuche boy and they interact without a common language. This scene is written with such a light hand and great sensitivity and humanity that I was sure I actually took the same boat with these two young boys. Chicken skin! Hope I can make the book chat on Monday. I recommend this book for it’s ability to let you take a time warp vacation to Southern Chile inside a magical mind.

    • What a beautiful description of the book Marilyn! You have a way with words! I’m glad you’d recommend it too. I hope to see you on Monday so we can chat more about it. I always look forward to seeing you all at our book group.

    • Hi Megan! So glad that your class loved Antes de ser libres. I really enjoyed that book as well. We are always happy to hear that our resources are helpful to classroom teachers. If there’s ever anything else we can do to support your teaching please let us know!

  2. Pingback: En la Clase: Teaching about Love | Vamos a Leer

  3. Pingback: Celebrating Pura Belpré Award Winners: The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan | Latinxs in Kid Lit

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