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The Composer Is Dead Library Binding – March 3, 2009

102 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Kindergarten-Grade 5—Benjamin Britten's "Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" has been the gold standard for introducing children to instruments since 1946. The concept has been embraced (some may say enhanced) by none other than Lemony Snicket, whose picture-book overview offers the additional layer of a murder mystery. The CD presentation features music by Nathaniel Stookey, performed by the San Francisco Symphony. The story is well paced, employing wordplay, humor, and mild suspense to build a slow crescendo that originates with the delicate strings and climaxes with percussion. The bombastic Inspector, read by Snicket on the CD, sports pinstripes, a bowler hat, and a handlebar mustache in the book. As he interrogates each section of the orchestra, the instruments describe their whereabouts on the night of the crime in characteristic voices, telling something about their actual roles while offering imagery for the illustrator. Thus, "'We were performing a waltz,' said the Violins. 'We played graceful melodies so the ladies and gentlemen could spin around and around and around until they felt dizzy and somewhat nauseous.'" Ellis's watercolors combine caricatures of the action with silhouettes of the instruments. Evidence leads to the conductor, since "wherever there's a conductor, you're sure to find a dead composer!" Musings on justice versus art point to certain acquittal. Due to the length of the musical portions, it is unlikely that children will listen and read simultaneously. It is quite likely, however, that both formats will provide entertainment and enlightenment, in whatever order they are encountered.—Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

This irreverent picture book is built somewhat along the lines of Who Killed Cock Robin?, but imbued with Snicket’s charmingly snide wit. The Composer is dead (“This is called decomposing”) and the Inspector is called in to uncover the murderer—or murderers. The sections of the orchestra are personified as the Inspector interrogates the Violins and Woodwinds and Trumpets and even the Conductor. Each has an alibi, though by the end it becomes clear that they are all complicit in the butchering of countless dead composers. The artwork alternates between silhouettes of instruments, the indignant Inspector accusingly pointing his finger, and chaotic, playful interpretations of waltzes and marches as notes and ligatures swirl about. An accompanying CD features a comically dramatic reading by Snicket set against a mishmash of music that integrates motifs from various classical sources. The whole slightly macabre package is great fun, and while many youngsters will miss the clever wordplay and wry twist at the end, this still winds up being a fairly good overview of each orchestral section’s role in bringing music to life. Or death. Grades K-3. --Ian Chipman --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 4 - 8 years
  • Grade Level: Kindergarten and up
  • Library Binding: 40 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; Lib/Com edition (March 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061236284
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061236280
  • Product Dimensions: 11.1 x 8.9 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,649,369 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Lemony Snicket claims he was nowhere near the scene of the crime. He is the author of several other unpleasant stories, including those in the bestselling A Series of Unfortunate Events and The Lump of Coal.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By BassClef on March 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I have been a huge Lemony Snicket fan for awhile now, and I was also a music major in college, so when I heard about this book, I was very excited. I just got the book today and have already listened to the CD three times (and it's about 30 minutes long)! Every time I have been laughing out loud so hard! Lemony Snicket's voice really adds to the story, and the music is very fun. (I especially like the trombone/percussion music.) Since the music and narration add so much, I don't know if I'll read the story by itself very much or even read along with the CD at all because it's so good by itself. I think many people would like this book, but if you don't know instrument stereotypes or don't have a little knowledge of some composers, you might miss some of the humor. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who has been in a band or orchestra or likes classical music or Lemony Snicket.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Sherry Ellis VINE VOICE on June 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover
If you are familiar with the series, A Series of Unfortunate Events, then you know all about Lemony Snicket's fondness for using big words and providing definitions. The Composer is Dead follows in the same way: "'Composer' is a word which here means a person who sits in a room muttering and humming and figuring out what notes the orchestra is going to play." There's also plenty of Lemony Snicket's dry humor: "...the Composer was not muttering. He was not humming. He was not moving, or even breathing. This is called decomposing."

The Composer is Dead, while a bit wordy for a picture book, does a fine job of introducing the reader to the various sections of an orchestra. The murder mystery aspect of the book is a neat concept. Who but Lemony Snicket would have thought of such a thing?

The CD that came with the book is very well done. The music that is played with Lemony Snicket's narrative of the book gives the listener an auditory lesson of all of the instruments in an orchestra and adds to the drama.

You may be wondering why I have given this book only three stars after all of the positive things I have to say about it. Unfortunately, it failed miserably in my kid test. Both of my children, ages five and eight, thought this book was boring. I think it was just too long, with too many words, and a story line that didn't hold their interest. Also, the illustrations were done in shades of brown, grey, black, and red. While they added to the somber mood of the book, they didn't capture the interest of my children. I will say that my kids did enjoy the CD slightly more, but half way through, they began getting antsy.

That said, I still think this is a book you would want to check out at the library. If your kids like it, then purchase it. If nothing else, your kids will get an education about orchestras. And that makes it worth the read.
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Format: Hardcover
Remember the days when kids would learn about the different instruments of the orchestra by attending mandatory orchestral performances of Peter and the Wolf? Well, go to bed, old man! Kids today don't have time for stories of wolves and boys and lucky/unlucky duckys. Not them. No, these days to grasp a child's attention fully it takes nothing short of murder. Cold-blooded, tastefully adapted, deeply illustrated murrrrderrrrr (roll them r's about your tongue). A shot has been cast across the brow of old Peter and his dilapidated wolf, and a new author's in town to entice your children with death, woodwinds, and questionable Offenbach references. Yes! Lemony Snicket a.k.a. Daniel Handler a.k.a. that bloke with the accordion (sorry accordion fans: no squeezeboxes in this orchestration) has gone out, written a picture book of a police procedural, found himself a composer of his own (presumably not dead yet), and an orchestra to play on the accompanying CD. There was even an illustrator thrown somehow into the mix. The result is The Composer is Dead, a kind of drawing room murder mystery where a subpar Hercule Poirot attempts to pin the murder of "the composer" on various members of the orchestra. And so, without a bit of musical background to my name, I'll be attempting to review the book and the CD together in one fell swoop. Wish me luck.

Composers compose. Dead composers decompose. And this decomposing composer in particular has caught the interest of the local constabulary. An Inspector is dispatched right quick to interview the suspects, pardon me, the "usual suspects", find the culprit, and haul him or her off to jail. But it is not so easy. Everyone has an alibi, and if they don't have an alibi then they are mighty persuasive.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By S. Grow on March 11, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This book is amazing! My friend who is a music teacher and I were listening to a review of this book on NPR when it caught our interest. On a subsequent trip to Target, we found this book. Upon finding said tome, we proceeded to excitedly read aloud its contents. My favorite part is where the woodwinds use flattery to deflect the blame. My friend's? The decomposing pun. If a book can entertain two grown women in the middle of Target... imagine the possibilities! Needless to say, it is firmly ensconced in her classroom repertoire. Enjoy!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By James on March 5, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I liked this book, but since it costs about the same as the hardback, it should include the recording (which does come with the hardback). Or there should be a statement in the description saying it doesn't. Amazon need to get this stuff sorted out - its easy to do in other formats, so why not have embedded multimedia any time it's possible?
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