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Pedrito’s Day

by Luis Garay

In Pedrito’s Day, Luis Garay returns to the subject of his 1993 collaboration with Monica Hughes, A Handful of Seeds. Both books examine a working child’s efforts to make a living in a poor Latin American country. Garay, a Nicaraguan-born artist who now lives in Toronto, also illustrated Patricia Aldana’s folktale collection, Jade and Iron (1996). This book marks his debut as an author-illustrator.

Pedrito’s day begins when he and his mother go to market: Mama sells tamales and tortillas, and Pedrito shines shoes. Pedrito has been saving his shoeshine money for a long time to help pay for a bicycle, though his parents don’t think he is big enough for one yet. Tía Paula sends him with a large bill to make change. On the way, he joins some boys in a soccer game. When he remembers his errand, the bill has disappeared. Pedrito considers his options, and decides to tell Tía Paula the truth. He repays her out of his bicycle money, which greatly depletes his savings. Mama concludes from his handling of the situation that he is now mature enough to have a bicycle, when they can afford one.

There are many nice touches in the telling. The sights, smells, and sounds of the market permeate the page. Pedrito’s longing to be big, his dream of the perfect bicycle, his dismay at the loss of Tía Paula’s money … all these are described with sensitivity. And he is open to baser impulses, too – he thinks of a few fanciful lies before telling Tía Paula what really happened.

Garay’s realistic paintings feature strong, clear colours overlaid with delicate black cross-hatching and tiny dots that soften the brightness of the images. He shows the reality of Pedrito’s poverty without making it too bleak – there are cracked walls and litter-filled streets, and Pedrito goes barefoot while shining the shoes of well-dressed office workers. The people exhibit a certain iconic weight and dignity: though there is lots of movement, they seem frozen in their activities, like workers in a Diego Rivera mural. The strength of a given scene comes more from the composition than from an individual’s expression, which may not say much on its own. For example, the well-chosen cover illustration, a close-up of Pedrito concentrating on his work, shows him sandwiched between a bicycle, the object of his desire, and the shoeshine box containing his savings. This is a story with heart.