A wish for Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People, by Monica Brown, is a picture book of obvious merit. The book (illustrated by Julie Paschkis, Henry Holt and Company, ISBN 978-0805091984) won a 2012 Américas Award, which is given to works that “authentically and engagingly portray Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the United States”.

Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People is beautifully written and illustrated, yet I feel that it’s missing something. Paschkis’s illustrations incorporate English and Spanish words into the scenery surrounding Neruda’s figure as Brown’s text describes how he grew up to become a world-renowned poet.

Unfortunately, by the end of the book, Paschkis’s technique seems to tease as much as celebrate. For despite Ms. Brown’s evocative account of Neruda’s personal and professional life, which details what Neruda wrote about, the text includes no examples of Neruda’s poetry.

(An afterword directs readers to several resources, where those who are motivated can track down and read his poems on their own. This would be welcome supplemental information. It’s no substitute for examples of the poetry that the text so lavishly praises, however.)

This is a missed opportunity and a drawback to an otherwise excellent book for young children. For example, when Brown describes Neruda’s mastery of language and sensual observation:

Pablo wrote poems about the things he loved–things made by his artist friends, things found at the marketplace, and things he saw in nature.

Including the final lines of a poem such as “Ode To The Artichoke” would’ve enriched her point:

With her basket
She chooses
An artichoke,
She’s not afraid of it.
She examines it, she observes it
Up against the light like it was an egg,
She buys it,
She mixes it up
In her handbag
With a pair of shoes
With a cabbage head and a
Of vinegar
She enters the kitchen
And submerges it in a pot.

Thus ends
In peace
This career
Of the armed vegetable
Which is called an artichoke,
Scale by scale,
We strip off
The delicacy
And eat
The peaceful mush
Of its green heart.

Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People certainly presents to children who are beginning to explore poetry a wonderful portrait of a lyrical genius. I just wish that the book had made it easier to appreciate his genius in action.