There is something about the poetry of Margarita Engle that speaks to me. The Newbery honor winner has a way of making the lives of others as relatable to me as my own life. Her newest poem is presented as a picture book, Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, illustrated by Rafael Lopez.
Inspired by the story of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese-African-Cuban girl in the early-mid twentieth century, Drum Dream Girl presents a young girl who dreams of playing the drums, “of pounding tall conga drums/ tapping small bongo drums/ and boom boom booming/ with long, loud sticks/ on big, round, silvery/ moon-bright timbales.” (Emphasis by the author.) Despite her aspirations, she is told that only boys may play the drums. So the girl continues to dream, playing her own imaginary music, until her father allows her to have a teacher, who eventually decides the girl is ready to play the drums in public.
Throughout this poem, Engle makes use of figurative language, alliteration (“When she walked under/ wind-wavy palm trees,”) and sometimes repetition for impact. Upon meeting her music teacher, “The girl knew so much/ but he taught her more/ and more/ and more/ and she practiced/ and she practiced/ and she practiced.” The poem ends with the positive affirmation that “both girls and boys/ should feel free/ to dream.”
I cannot talk about Engle’s beautiful poem without also praises Lopez’s astounding paintings. Brimming with color and spirit, these illustrations bring to life the girl’s dreams of drumming. She drums while sitting on the crescent moon, while swimming under the ocean as a mermaid and on tables and chairs while floating through the air. When her father decides to let her drum, Lopez depicts the girl being pulled back to Earth by brightly colored ribbons. On the final page, while the girl happily drums, a boy with a drawing pad floats above her on his own dreaming cloud, while a smiling moon looks down on them both. Lopez’s art perfectly complements the rhythm and spirit of Engle’s poetry.
Engle includes as historical note at the end of the book to tell readers and listeners about the inspiration for the poem, and gives details about Zaldarriaga’s life, which includes playing for president Franklin D. Roosevelt.
I am going to enjoy sharing this book with my patrons, and I already know what kind of poetry break I would like to employ. After reading the poem once, I would like to show off the illustrations, especially the most imaginative ones, and block out the text and let the children create their own dreamy visions for these pictures. What do they dream about that they can see within these images? When the girl’s dream gives her wings to play drums on the flower tops, what do you see? What would you like to do? When the children have an idea of what their dreams might be, I would read the poem again, and see if they can hear their dreams in the words as well.
Engle, Margarita. Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music. Illustrated by Rafael Lopez. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015. ISBN: 9780544102293