The Composition

( 1 )

Overview

In a village in Chile, Pedro and Daniel are two typical nine-year-old boys. Up until Daniel's father gets arrested, their biggest worry had been how to improve their soccer skills. Now, they are thrust into a situation where they must grapple with the incomprehensible: dictatorship and its inherent abuses. This sensitively realized story touches a nerve and brings home the uncomfortable fact that some children do encounter issues of this magnitude. Here, deft realism is brought to the page by Antonia Skarmeta's ...
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Overview

In a village in Chile, Pedro and Daniel are two typical nine-year-old boys. Up until Daniel's father gets arrested, their biggest worry had been how to improve their soccer skills. Now, they are thrust into a situation where they must grapple with the incomprehensible: dictatorship and its inherent abuses. This sensitively realized story touches a nerve and brings home the uncomfortable fact that some children do encounter issues of this magnitude. Here, deft realism is brought to the page by Antonia Skarmeta's story and the edgy drawings of Alfonso Ruano, portraying a child's view of a repressive society. The Composition is a winner of the Americas Award for Children's Literature and the Jane Addams Children's Book Award.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Gr 3-5-This book offers a poignant story set in an unnamed time and place. In it, a young boy is faced with the realities of living under a military dictatorship when a friendly officer visits his classroom and announces an essay competition about "What My Family Does at Night." Even though his parents have gone to great lengths to avoid exposing him to their political opinions, Pedro understands the danger of the situation. In the course of the child's everyday existence, he witnesses soldiers taking away his friend's father and, as he speaks with other classmates, realizes that this has become a common occurrence. The story ends as he shares his essay with his parents, and it becomes clear that Pedro knows more than he has been told and is aware of the need for secrecy. A powerful story supported by gorgeous illustrations. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
Pedro is a nine-year-old boy whose main interest is playing soccer after school. Every night when he comes home, his parents listen to the radio. To Pedro the words do not make much sense, but he does learn one word—dictatorship. One day, his soccer match is interrupted, and his friend's father is arrested. What follows is a visit to his school by a captain who asks the children in his class to write a composition entitled, "What my family does at night." Suddenly, Pedro is forced to understand what is happening around him and to answer for himself the important question, "Can a child be against the dictatorship?" This powerful picture book presents a situation all too familiar to children around the world. This intense story about freedom, moral choices and personal responsibility is told humorously and thoughtfully. The last page describes dictators and dictatorship. Although well-written for children, the topic is adult and mature. If the topic is suitable for a young reader, an adult may prefer to read the book with the child. 2000, Groundwood Books. Ages 9 to 13. Reviewer: Dia L. Michels
School Library Journal
Gr 2-6-Children living under an unspecified dictatorship watch as one of their fathers is taken away by soldiers. The next day, a military officer visits their classroom and tells them they must each enter a composition-writing contest about "What My Family Does at Night." Although the adults have tried to shield the youngsters from the dangers of their political situation, several of them know that their parents are opposed to the government and that their sentiments, associations, and conversations are perilous to divulge. What can they safely say? Sk rmeta leaves readers in suspense while he writes of the mundane occurrences of a week: an old tree falls down, the price of ice cream goes up, etc. Finally, the Captain returns to the classroom with the compositions, each of which has been read and commented upon. It is only on the last page that readers learn what the protagonist has written. Pedro's innocuous and blatantly false assertions that his parents play chess every night shows how clearly he has put together the pieces of his parents' resistance and the necessity for secrecy. Sk rmeta's concise and pointed description of Pedro's acquisition of political consciousness and discretion is brilliant. As a provocative incentive to discussion of different forms of government or the importance of freedom of assembly and discretion, this story is unique. Ruano's emotionally charged paintings depict a multicultural society in which people hold themselves rigidly in control in public situations.-Miriam Lang Budin, Chappaqua Public Library, NY Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Well-meaning if heavy-handed, this picture book views a Latin American dictatorship through the eyes of a nine year old. Pedro doesn't understand why his parents listen so carefully to the radio broadcast every night. He knows that the streets are now full of soldiers, but until a friend's father is arrested, Pedro has really never thought about the turmoil that is going on in his country. Pedro finally asks if his father and mother are against the dictatorship; his father tells him that yes, he and Pedro's mother oppose the new regime. When Pedro asks if that means that he (Pedro) is also against the government, his mother answers, "Children aren't against anything. Children are just children." But despite this, Pedro has gotten the implicit message that he, too, is against the dictatorship. So when an army officer comes into Pedro's classroom and announces that the child who writes the best composition on the topic of what his or her parents do at home in the evening will win a prize, Pedro understands that he has to protect his parents. While he doesn't win the officer's prize, he does win the admiration and respect of his parents by ingeniously saying that his parents play chess every evening, all evening long. Although the story ends well for its heroes, the reader comes away with the distinct impression that Pedro hasn't been very well prepared by his parents. They tell their son the truth about their own political leanings, yet leave it up to Pedro to figure out that he's supposed to lie for them. The illustrations are unsophisticated, even a little amateurish (the depictions of Pedro aren't consistent from image to image), andonlycontribute to the book's heavily didactic tone. Useful, perhaps, for social-studies teachers trying to explain what life is like under a totalitarian regime, but not a particularly engaging work. (afterword) (Picture book. 7-10)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780888995506
  • Publisher: Groundwood Books
  • Publication date: 2/5/2003
  • Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 112,431
  • Age range: 8 years
  • Product dimensions: 9.06 (w) x 8.06 (h) x 0.11 (d)

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2006

    Amazingly powerful

    This book is very powerful in it simplicity. A great way to teach children the hardships their peers face in other parts of the world. A must read for all children.

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