Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music
Written by Margarita Engle and Illustrated by Rafael Lopez
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
Grade level: Preschool to 3
A Cuban girl dreams of “pounding tall conga drums, tapping small bongo drums and boom boom booming with long, loud sticks on big, round, silvery moon-bright timbales.” But at this time in Cuba, only boys can be drummers. This lyrical story is inspired by the story of a Chinese-African-Cuban girl named Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, who in 1932 at the age of 10, performed with her older sisters in Anacaona, Cuba’s first all-girl dance band. She went on to become a world-famous musician.
The story is told with beautiful, lyrical language in the style of a poem. Drum dream girl lives on the island of music in the city of drumbeats. She goes to outdoor cafes and hears drums played by men. She closes her eyes and hears her own imaginary music. As she walks around her tropical island home, she hears music in parrot wings, woodpecker beaks, and in her own footsteps and heartbeat. At carnivals, she listens to the rattling beat of dancers on stilts and the dragon clang of costumed drummers in masks. At home, she drums on tables and chairs.
Her sisters invite her to join their all-girl band. But their father says only boys should play drums. She keeps drumming and dreaming until her father finally agrees to let her take drum lessons. She practices and practices until the teacher agrees she’s ready to play her small bongo drums at a starlit café. Everyone who hears her “dream-bright music” sings and dances, and decide that girls should be allowed to play drums.
The full-page, colorful illustrations are as full of beauty and movement as the words. Lopez’s luminous acrylic paintings bring the girl’s brave story to vivid life.
This inspirational book will be enjoyed by adults as well as children. It has won many awards including the 2016 Charlotte Zolotow Award for outstanding writing in a picture book and a 2016 Pura Belpre Medal for illustration, which goes to a Latino/Latina illustrator whose work celebrates the Latino cultural experience.
The book includes a historical note at the back, giving some information about the child Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, who inspired the story.
About the Author and Illustrator:
Rafael Lopez grew up in Mexico City, where he was immersed in the rich cultural heritage and color of street life. His vibrant picture books include “Tito Puente, Mambo King,” and “My Name is Celia,” both written by Monica Brown, and “Book Fiesta!” by Pat Mora. He has received the Pura Belpre and Americas awards multiple times. An acclaimed muralist, he has designed community-based mural projects nationwide. He divides his time between San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and San Diego, Calif.