Review of The Fastest Drummer: Clap Your Hands for Viola Smith!

The Fastest Drummer: Clap Your Hands for Viola Smith!The Fastest Drummer: Clap Your Hands for Viola Smith!
by Dean Robbins; illus. by Susanna Chapman
Primary    Candlewick    40 pp.
3/24    9781536224863    $17.99

Sixth in line to choose an instrument in her family’s band, Viola Smith (1912–2020) makes a life-changing decision when she picks the drums. At first her efforts result in a “terrible racket,” but “Papa showed her the proper way to hold the sticks,” and the Smith Sisters Orchestra makes its jazzy debut. Only thirteen and already touring the Midwest, Viola seeks “musical advice” from some of the greats and becomes “bolder, flashier, and faster.” Even after her sisters step away from the stage in the 1930s, Viola leans into a life in music. Robbins’s biography skillfully focuses on the pivotal moments in Smith’s career: from her childhood in small-town Wisconsin to the formation of her own band, the Coquettes, to her classical timpani training. Chapman’s upbeat illustrations create movement, sound, and emotion constantly swirling around “the fastest girl drummer in the world.” With a decidedly mid-century feel, the art reverberates with Smith’s active enthusiasm, with ripples from cymbals, starbursts from the bass drum, and twirling lines that trace the paths of her perpetually in-motion mallets. Robbins and Chapman collectively convey the vivacity and joy of this exceptional musician, and back matter further describes Smith’s advocacy for women in music.

From the January/February 2024 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Grace McKinney
Grace McKinney Beermann

Grace McKinney Beermann holds an MA in Children's Literature from Simmons University and reviews for the Horn Book Magazine. She works at a Montessori school in St. Louis, Missouri, and writes about children's books and Montessori on the blog Cosmic Bookshelf.

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