When I Was a Boy, Neruda Called Me Policarpo

WhenIWasaBoyWritten by Poli Delano, illustrated by Manuel Monroy
Groundwood Books, 2006.

Ages: 9-12+

Born in Madrid, Spain in 1936, Poli Delano lived in many countries before settling in Chile. During his years as a very young boy in Mexico, in the 40s, he lived with his diplomat parents and with Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda (Tío Pablo), and his wife at the time, Argentine painter Delia del Carril.

A nostalgic reverie recalls the author’s brief period in Mexico. Born Enrique Delano Falcón, Policarpo (or Poli, for short) was what Neruda had suggested his parents name him. While they didn’t register him as such, they continued to use the name among themselves. Later, the author adopted the name officially, when he became a writer himself. And it’s no wonder he did become one.

Young Policarpo encounters literature with all the wonder of an innocent. Being around Tío Pablo and his artist friends, and being exposed to his antics, passions and sharp intelligence was no small thing for this inquisitive boy. When he reads a poster of Neruda’s verses his parents have on the wall, he doesn’t understand the words’ meaning: but their melody and power are contagious, and so he reads them over and over and over…

Neruda’s antics are very well captured in the boy’s reminiscences. A wild-pet-lover and bug- eating nature connoisseur, in one instance, this always-ready-to-have-fun man, without thinking twice, trades a quiet week of much needed work on a poem for a ‘goat roasted on coals’ culinary adventure. He searches the Mexican country roads for a place that will serve monkey brains… These episodes illustrate the sort of worldly experiences and ‘joie de vivre’ Neruda brought to his poems and to those around him.

Manuel Monroy’s nostalgically warm illustrations in sepia tones add a wonderful touch to the intimate view the memoir allows, and will please both younger and older fans of the legendary poet. Neruda’s best poems, interspersed throughout the book, combined with biographical notes at the end, can be used as an introduction to his life and work for a whole new generation of Neruda-afficionados.