Pedrito's Day

by Luis Garay,
ISBN: 0773729992

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Children`s Books
by Silvana Bartlett

At first glance, this story seems to rehash a familiar and even predictable plot. A young boy who is saving to buy a bicycle is sent on an errand for his aunt. On the way, he stops to play with some older boys, only to discover when the game is over that he has lost his aunt's money. He does the honourable thing, sacrificing his bicycle funds to repay his aunt, and doing so in a way that compels us to admire him. But the message about responsibility and acceptance of consequences is only one aspect of the book.

Luis Garay's illustrations are finely detailed, mutely stark, and soberly coloured. The cover features a barefoot boy crouched with buffing-cloth at the foot of a man shod in a powerful-looking, shiny black shoe. What an image of oppression! The shoeshine boy is a touching symbol of the underprivileged and exploited children living in the Hispanic world.

Garay has illustrated several children's books in his distinctive style, most recently a collection of folk-tales. He also collaborated with Monica Hughes on A Handful of Seeds (produced with UNICEF), which dealt with the problems of homeless children. Instead of stealing in order to eat, the children in this book learn to plant and save seeds so they can be self-sustaining and independent.

In Pedrito's Day, Garay overcomes the didactic quality of A Handful of Seeds. He is dealing with the same kind of material but he is skilled and comfortable enough to let the story dominate the moral lesson.

Pedrito's day does not revolve around the nursery school or the neighbourhood park. His father is away working to support the family, and Pedrito lives with his mother and grandmother. Luis Garay introduces his young readers (in his own words from the dust-jacket) to "the realities and delights of other cultures". We do not feel sorry for Pedrito, for his courage is stronger than his poverty. It was only after I finished the book that I asked myself, "Why is this boy not in school?" Only then did I think seriously about his situation, for Pedrito works all day as a shoeshine boy in the market where his mother sells tamales. The bicycle is a necessity for work, not just a recreational vehicle.

What has happened to the boy's childhood? Canadian schoolchildren know they are among the fortunate ones. Most classes or schools will have a foster-child whom they have "adopted". But rarely do they get to identify with a poor child the way they do with Pedrito. This book is unique among Canadian children's books in the way it offers multicultural insight.

Child labour is a reality in many countries. While children may have talked about it in school, or seen media images of it, here is a young boy they can identify with, who has courage and dignity. Pedrito helps us to feel first-hand the plight of children too poor to go to school and destined for a life of unremitting hardship.

I look forward to seeing Luis Garay's next book. Here is my own idea for a sequel to Pedrito's Day. Perhaps his father will call the family north, and next year he will be sitting in a Canadian classroom beside my own child. His teacher will struggle to understand and validate Pedrito's experience for all the children. Let's hope there will be more books like this one to assist the teacher. 

Silvana Di Fonzo Bartlett is a teacher whose early life was in a village in the Italian region of Lazio.


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