Also by this author: Mexique: A Refugee Story from the Spanish Civil War, One Million Oysters on Top of the Mountain, It's So Difficult, Different: A Story of the Spanish Civil War, Madani's Best Game, 9 Kilometers
Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers on March 23, 2021
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On September 11, 1973, a military coup plunged Chile into seventeen long years of dictatorial rule. Only the return of democracy could reveal the full horrors of Augusto Pinochet’s regime: 3,197 people dead or disappeared—including thirty-four children under the age of fourteen.
This book is a stirring memorial to those victims and to the cost of extremism. Thirty-four poems—one for each child lost—consider the diverse hopes of these fragile young lives. From Alicia to Jaime, Héctor to Paola, Soledad to Rafael, they were brave and creative, thoughtful and strong. In these pages, some children watch for the changing seasons. Some listen for new sounds on rainy afternoons. And some can’t wait for their next birthday.
Featuring gentle, emotive poems and soft, pastel-toned illustrations, Niños is an unforgettable tribute to the children of Pinochet’s Chile and all those threatened by political violence across the world.
A few months ago, I reviewed a children’s book called Mexique that chronicled the story of a ship laden with children on a journey to escape the Spanish Civil War. Displaced in Mexico, few of those children ever returned home. In Ninos, author Maria Jose Ferrada moves to a different exploration of tragedy, penning a series of poems for 34 children killed in Pinochet’s military coup of Chile.
You may ask yourself why Ferrada insists on writing such depressing books for children. Where are the colors? Where is the fun? And even if we must remember and teach our history, why center the accounts of children? The answer is that children are important. The history books teach us that war is an adult’s game and only rarely tells us of the children or its impact on them. By centering the accounts of children, Ferrada is able to show readers—young and old—a different perspective.
Ninos: Poems for the Lost Children of Chile is exactly what the title says, commemorating by name the 34 children known to have been killed or displaced by the Pinochet dictatorship. The poems range from just a few lines to a page and are thoughtful, poignant, and literary. They are artistic poems, conceptual, and tie into each pages’ artwork—skillfully done by Maria Elena Valdez. For example, one poem is:
She saw an insect for the first time
She was so happy for the entire morning
her heart didn’t stop buzzing.
My struggle with this book is that I’m not clear on who the audience would be or how the book would be utilized. My best thought is that, if I was an upper elementary to early high school history teacher going through this period, I might use the poems for some form of assignment. But really, the book isn’t necessarily intended for an audience. It’s intended for the 34 lost children of Chile. It’s a book in their honor. To say that they were not forgotten. To say that they were valued. Any audience is secondary to that. And anyone who chooses to be the audience, who willfully enters into this reflective work, will find themselves contemplating the horror of war, the brutality of dictatorship, and the beautiful humanity of children.