The Composer is Dead
By Lemony Snicket
Illustrated by Carson Ellis
Music by Nathan Stookey
HarperCollens Children's Books, 2009

The Composer is Dead is a children's picture book intended to introduce young children to the instruments of the orchestra, much in the fashion of Peter and the Wolf. It comes with a CD audiobook read by Lemony Snicket with elaborate musical accompaniment.

The story starts with a dead composer. The police inspector is certain that it is a murder, and begins to interrogate the orchestra. But suddenly, and for no apparent reason, he is not addressing the members of the orchestra, but their instruments. And the instruments respond, each in the manner of their personality. The violins are proud and lively, the trumpets are loud and brassy, and the French horns... well they mumble to themselves in French.

There is very little plot, and we never do find out who murdered the composer (it is unclear, in the end, whether he is actually dead or if his death was a metaphorical slaughtering of his work). But that's simply not the point of the book. This isn't as much a story as an opportunity to spend 35 pages anthropomorphising instruments in an amusing manner. As you might expect, Snicket is very good at this, and the audiobook is better than the average read-aloud. The art is a very nice accompaniment, being perhaps a bit more simple than Carson Ellis' usual fare, but entirely appropriate to a children's picture book.

This recording and book are much more entertaining, in my opinion, than the recordings of Peter and the Wolf that I sat through as a child, so I would recommend this book/musical event to anyone who would like to introduce children to the orchestra. It would not, I think, do so well as a bedtime story, due to its lack of a plot, wordy paragraphs, and, if the CD is used, active and often energetic music.

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