Drum Dream Girl

drumI love a story that I have never heard before. Enter Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Music, which tells, in the simplest language, the story of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga. It does not surprise me that I had not heard of one little girl in Cuba; what surprised me was that girls were not allowed to play drums in Cuba in the 1920s. It was actually considered taboo. I simply had no idea. Which brought me to my next thought, “Were women in the good old USA allowed to play drums?” This book did that thing that books sometimes do: open the crack in the door to the realization that I sometimes accept things without examination. I really had never even thought about drummers, let alone girl drummers. So, when I could only bring Karen Carpenter and Meg White to my mind as female drummers, this book sent me running to the Internet to do some quick research about the many other female percussionists. I hope Millo’s story will inspire young readers to do the same.

Margarita Engle and Rafael López team up to tell Millo’s story — Engle in poetry and López in deep, saturated acrylics on wood board. The Caldecott Committee will undoubtedly spend some time talking about López’s color choices. He uses deep blues, purples, and greens, with each painting filled with images of flowers, birds, and butterflies, allowing the reader to feel a part of Cuba. Millo and her sisters are always clad in white, which allows the reader both to see them on the bright pages and to feel how separate Millo must have felt when she could not follow her dream. On the pages where their father is chastising the girls, the artist uses hot orange and browns to show his ire and the sisters’ disappointment.

The illustrator requires the reader to turn the book 90 degrees for two tall spreads — a carnival scene and an affecting image of Millo's drum shut up in a birdcage. The committee will surely discuss why he chose to have the reader turn the book. I am not sure myself, especially when there is another image (when she is flying to the moon) that seems to be made for a vertical illustration. It always makes for interesting table discussion when artists make these sorts of choices.

We learn in the historical note that Millo was of Chinese-African-Cuban descent. There are a few nods to those cultures in the art, most notably a Chinese dragon and costumed drummers. I did not pick up on any image that refered to Millo’s African heritage, though I bet some of you will!

Robin Smith
Robin Smith
Robin Smith is a second-grade teacher at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a reviewer for Kirkus and The Horn Book Magazine and has served on multiple award committees.
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Sam Juliano

Yes this is a very great book without a doubt, and well deserving of Caldecott recognition. The writer is such a lovely person and great talent, and the illustrator just gets better and better. Enthralling presentation here.

Posted : Nov 18, 2015 10:07

Susan Dailey

This is a delightful book! I love the color palette and its vibrancy. I feel Lopez captures emotion and movement very well. A small thing, but I like the fact that the sun and moon have facial features when the girl drummed, but not when she wasn't/couldn't. I'm not sure why Lopez made the choice about the spread you described. I tried to visualize this spread as a vertical and felt that you might lose the eye contact between the father and daughter if she had to be placed above him. Just a guess, but I hope this is discussed at the "table" because I'd be happy if this book had a Caldecott sticker on it in mid-January.

Posted : Nov 13, 2015 12:31


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