Friday, August 7, 2009

Snicket Goes to the Orchestra

The Composer is Dead
by Lemony Snicket
HarperCollinsPublishers, ©2009

Lemony Snicket's newest masterpiece, The Composer is Dead, serves multiple purposes. Taking the format of a murder mystery (guess who the victim is!), the book serves first as a fantastic introduction to the parts of an orchestra, individually and as a whole. It is also an excellent primer in Snicket's signature brand of dry wit and macabre sensibilities.

The Composer (now decomposing) had died, and it is left to the Inspector (who is suspiciously autobiographical) to determine who was the culprit, and find them wherever they may be lurking. He then interrogates each section in turn, beginning with the violins and moving right through strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion. Each instrument, though, gives an alibi, until the Inspector reaches the Conductor himself, and discovers to his horror that "dead composers litter the musical world...". The entire orchestra comes to the Composer's rescue, however, with a revelation both shocking and hilarious (depending on your constitution).

One of the neat parts of this book is the CD that comes with it. In the first half of this, Lemony Snicket reads the story aloud with orchestral accompaniment composed by (still living) Nathaniel Stookey. The second half is just the music, without Snicket. As each instrument is interrogated, it is heard in the background, so that the second half of the CD can be used to help children learn to identify each instrument by sound.

The artwork in this book is somber, and a little bit retro; the color palette is reminiscent of 70's "Sesame Street", all faded earth-tones which could be friendly or tiring, depending on your tastes. Of course, that's probably the point - the Snicket books have always challenged the sensibilities of the young, glowing and lively, and are best suited to the underage curmudgeon-in-training.

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