Review of Niños: Poems for the Lost Children of Chile

Niños: Poems for the Lost Children of Chile
by María José Ferrada; illus. by María Elena Valdez; trans. from Spanish by Lawrence Schimel
Intermediate, Middle School    Eerdmans    80 pp.    g
3/21    978-0-8028-5567-1    $18.99

During General Pinochet’s dictatorship, thousands of Chilean citizens were “disappeared,” including thirty-four children. Ferrada’s (Mexique: A Refugee Story from the Spanish Civil War, rev. 1/21) thirty-four poems are titled with each of the children’s names and are musings on how they might have seen the world. “Macarena,” for example, named for a girl killed at age six, reads: “Three birthday wishes: / to make it summer all year long / to find the star that sleeps in the middle of apples / and to discover a secret anthill.” The poems are rich with the sensory details of ordinary life, describing ants collecting crumbs, the faint sound of bubbles popping, the reflection of the moon in a glass of water. Watercolor, graphite, pastel, charcoal, and colored-pencil illustrations accompany the poems, and the visual images are as tender and imaginative as the verse. Concentric circles — puddles of soft blues, golds, and greens — fill a double-page spread to accompany the poem about Soledad, a child who loves the sound rain makes on the roof. In another illustration, a bear, adorned with a stunning coat of spring flowers and birds, represents spring. Without the title and accompanying author’s notes, the vignettes would have little specificity to the horrors in Chile. They are, instead, reminders of the value of every child and leave the reader with a sense of loss for what might have been, had each of these children, and all children killed in political violence, survived. The book closes with a complete list of the young people’s names and ages when they were disappeared — following which a final poem, “Pablo,” honors a boy who in 2013 was found alive.

From the May/June 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Maeve Visser Knoth

Maeve Visser Knoth is a librarian at Phillips Brooks School, Menlo Park, ­California. She has chaired the Notable Children’s Books Committee and taught at Notre Dame de Namur University and Lesley University.

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