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Review of Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music

engle_drum dream girlDrum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage 
Changed Music
by Margarita Engle; 
illus. by Rafael López
Primary    Houghton    40 pp.
3/15    978-0-544-10229-3    $16.99

A young girl dreams of becoming a drummer. Though she lives “on an island of music / in a city of drumbeats,” hers is an impossible dream: only boys play drums. An appended note reveals that the story is based on Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a “Chinese-African-Cuban girl who broke Cuba’s traditional taboo against female drummers” and in the 1930s played with her sisters in an all-female band, Anacaona. Engle’s poetic text takes its cues from Zaldarriaga’s chosen instrument, its rhythm at times steadily assured and at others loose and improvisational. There’s ear-pleasing onomatopoeia (the “boom boom booming” of sticks on a timbale), copious descriptive adjectives, and thoughtful alliteration, with both lots of hard ds and softer, rolling rs appearing throughout: “Her hands seemed to fly / as they rippled / rapped / and pounded / all the rhythms / of her dream drums.” López’s saturated acrylic-on-wood illustrations capture the musicality of the island (most everyone plays an instrument) and the surreal dream-images (even a mermaid is shown playing percussion) that inspire young Millo to pursue her love of drums. Warm blues and purples swirl against hot pinks and bright oranges — every spread is full of motion, with some of the illustrations requiring a ninety-degree turn, as if the book itself has got to dance.

From the May/June 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College and a BA from Oberlin College.

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