This year, the Tucson Festival of Books celebrates its 10th anniversary. In a short period of time, the festival rose to become the third largest book festival in the U.S. drawing crowds in excess of 130,000. Each year the festival hosts 60-70 authors and illustrators of books for children and adolescents. This month My Take/Your Take features four books by this year’s festival authors to provide a personal take, starting with Jean and Holly on Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle and Rafael López.
JEAN: In thinking about this story of a little Cuban girl wanting to participate in drumming, which traditionally only boys could do, I am immediately struck by the words “on the island of music.” Really? I associate music with a happy, pleasant place and Cuba is not a place I ever associated as a happy pleasant place. Probably that has to do with my age and the political history I grew up with. So immediately I felt in conflict. I feel angry when it comes to doors that are closed for females. It is interesting how the norms of the day are both accepted and resisted in the text.
HOLLY: I noted the sexism in the text as well, and while this is a historical text, it still relates to current issues. Engle writes a lot about her childhood, when Cuba was a happy island and not involved in conflict with the USA. So, yes, the boys are able to make happy drum music, and the girls are denied that joy. This is a true story, however, about Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, who defied the rules, so imagine the conflict she must have encountered to be able to make her own music. The book’s “happy” colors somewhat diminish that conflict. What do you think about the illustrations?
JEAN: The illustrations are a reflection of the girl. They are both bold. The girl is bold to break through the stereotypes of the day. The illustrations are done in bright, bold colors offset with rich darker tones. They are playful and warm and inviting to me. I find the illustration of the drum with wings in the birdcage above the girl’s head like a dream, a brilliant metaphor. By turning the illustration/page to create a larger space makes the reader wonder if the drum dream is attainable, but to also appreciate the fauna and flora that enhance the pages. I need to visit Cuba!
HOLLY: Yes, visiting Cuba is on my bucket list, too! The bold colors of the illustrations reflect Cuba’s past and present that include both a wonderful bright physical and emotional world with historical political and social conflict. I love your description of how the illustrations reflect the girl’s boldness! The darker undertones also offset her boldness in respect to gendered tradition, which keeps her from freely participating in drumming. The illustrations also portray how the girl has to keep what she learns a secret–it has to be done undercover, so to speak. But her joy is bright and bold, and she boldly takes on tradition and brings her talent to light.
There is more to this book than a simple story of a young girl dreaming about being a drummer. The history of Cuba, the gendered practices of boys and girls, and the courage to take on that gendered and political history is well-worth exploring with readers of all ages. It would take a bit more work to address this book on that level, but what insights would be gained!
Title: Drum Dream Girl
Author: Margarita Engle
Illustrator: Rafael López
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Date Published: March 31, 2015
This is the first installment of March 2018’s My Take/Your Take. To follow the whole conversation, check back each Wednesday.