7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #737: Featuring María Elena Valdez

h1 April 4th, 2021 by jules

“Paola: She saw an insect for the first time. / She was so happy that for the entire morning / her heart didn’t stop buzzing.”
(Click spread to enlarge)


María José Ferrada’s Niños: Poems for the Lost Children of Chile (Eerdmans, March 2021), illustrated by María Elena Valdez and originally published in Spanish in 2019, is an experience — the kind of book you want to mark out some time for and take in slowly and reverently. It is a tribute to the thirty-four children under the age of fourteen who died or disappeared during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorial 17-year regime in Chile.

This set of poems includes one for each lost child — the one closing the book (pictured below) dedicated to Pablo Athanasiu, who was found alive in 2013 — and they are brief triumphs. Evocative and lyrical, many of them are about nature and many of them about light and sound. Jaime “made friends with the birds who lived in the tree outside his window” and dreams he can visit the nest; Soledad listens to the unique sounds that raindrops make; Magla is fond of the sound that bubbles make when they disappear; Carlos wonders about the light in his lamp (“he wonders if it speaks the same language as the two-million-year-old stars”); and Gabriel imagines that the stars are “holes in the sky …”

“When the sun hides itself,
the Earth is covered by a black coat.
It is so old it has holes —
thus, those lights.”

Ferrada, who has a poet’s powers of observation, captures the unadulterated innocence of these children; each poem is a richly nuanced snapshot of their place in nature. It all sings with a tenderness, moving (and painful) in the knowledge that these children were never found. Her use of figurative language is striking (“It was a perfect afternoon, sweet like licorice”), and there is a powerful, plainspoken elegance to these words.

María Elena Valdez provides muted, soft, and subdued illustrations on a delicately colored palette. Spring becomes a bear with a cub on her back; Gabriel’s night sky (that you read about above) is a creature in a black coat, on the move over the earth; the earth fits into a glass of water for a child who imagines “a sky inside the cups.” Words and art here are perfectly balanced. The translation by Lawrence Schimel is seamless.

I wish I had many more spreads to show you below, but this powerful reflection on political violence in the lives of children is one I highly recommend you find on your own anyway. Take some time with it.


“Sergio: That spring he decided / he would plant words in a flowerpot. / He would carefully water the seeds. / The seasons would pass. / He would watch them bloom.”
(Click spread to enlarge)


“Pablo: When I grow up I’ll be a tree, a cloud, / a wave, / a snail. / And all those shapes / that can be seen in the clouds I’ve learned to stare at. / A tree, a cloud, a wave, a snail. / When I learn to speak, / these words will be the first things I’ll say.”
(Click spread to enlarge)


(Click cover to enlarge)


NIÑOS: POEMS FOR THE LOST CHILDREN OF CHILE. First published by © Alboroto ediciones, Mexico, 2019. First published in the United States in 2021 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. English language translation copyright © Lawrence Schimel, 2021. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

* * * Jules’s Kicks * * *

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

I had a super busy week with work, and I’m just glad that at the end of it all (on Friday) I made it outside for a walk in the sunshine with friends. Also, as I type this, my oldest daughter is getting part-one of her vaccine. For this I am very grateful. Maybe next week I’ll have seven separate kicks, but for now? Whew, it’s the weekend.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

9 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #737: Featuring María Elena Valdez”

  1. Oh wow, this is a.book I must buy! Thank you for the recommendation, Jules.
    Jules, hooray for end of weeks, walks, and your daughterngetting part 1 of the vaccine, wow! That’s great.
    My kicks:
    1. Sourdough cinnamon rolls about to go in the oven.
    2. Sourdough pizza crust.
    3. Dinner and talking writing with a friend.
    4. Poetry.
    5. Planting a flowering red current in front of the kitchen window.
    6. Finished The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantù, a must read about the border.
    7. Creating.
    Have a great week.

  2. Hi Imps! I hope you are all enjoying the spring weather and the spring holidays you celebrate!

    María Elena Valdez: Thank you for giving voice to these children and shining light on their stories.

    Jone: Sourdough cinnamon rolls sound DELICIOUS. Enjoy all of your writing, gardening, and baking endeavors!

    My kicks from the past week:
    1) Good conversations
    2) Good opportunities
    3) Good music
    4) Determination
    5) Completion
    6) Treats
    7) Bread

  3. Jone, thanks for the book rec! Enjoy your pizza and dessert.

    LW: Bread, always. Sourdough bread is even better. Sounds like you had a good week with good music and good connections.

    Have a great week, you two!

  4. What a beautiful, moving book. The illustrations are so thoughtful and gentle and solemn.

    Jules – hooray for your daughter getting vaccinated!! Congrats on making it through a busy week and getting to walk in the sun with friends.

    Jone – sourdough cinnamon rolls, yum! Pizza, yum.

    Little Willow – Sounds like you had a good week. Especially love the last 3 in a row. Yum, Bread.

    My kicks this week:
    1) The Oregon Court of Appeals reversed a trial I lost back in 2018; it was a tough loss, so this win and new opinion is very sweet.
    2) Got a case dismissed for another client.
    3) A thoughtful neighbor delivered hot cross buns to me for the holiday.
    4) Took a drive to a favorite restaurant outside of Portland for lunch. Yummy Cauliflower “steak” sandwich.
    5) Walks on nature trails after lunch.
    6) Daisy being a sun piggy all weekend.
    7) Time to read for fun.

    Have a wonderful week, Imps!

  5. Congrats on that first kick, Rachel! … I dreamt last night I was eating at a restaurant wtih friends, pandemic-free. Maybe soon … Also, in a novel I’m reading I read the word “apricity,” and I thought of dogs and cats, lying in the sun: https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/winter-words.

    Enjoy your week, Rachel!

  6. ooohh, apricity is a great word! Have a great week!

  7. This book… I don’t know if I could bear to read it and contemplate what has been lost. Thank you though.
    1. my father-in-law: grateful for his long life
    2. sketching a new book
    3. coffee shop sounds the other morning (thank you vaccine and CDC!)
    4. deer in the meadows
    5. return of spring

  8. […] Seven Impossible Things to Do Before Breakfast […]

  9. […] focused on illustration and picture books. “Ninos: For the Lost Children of Chile” was posted at 7-Imp on April 4, 2021 and is reprinted here with […]

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