June is National Caribbean American Heritage Month. To celebrate, I thought we should find a parade and make some music, like they do in many parts of the Caribbean for Carnival, an event held during February on many islands, but in summer in others.
Title: Drummer Boy of John John
Written By: Mark Greenwood
Illustrated By: Frané Lessac
Publisher/Date: Lee & Low Books/2018
Suitable for Ages: 3-8+
Themes/Topics: Caribbean, Carnival, recycling, steel drums, music
The sun beat down on the tropical island of Trinidad. In the village of John John, families and friends toiled in teams, sewing beads onto costumes, decorating masks with feathers and shells.
Brief Synopsis: Young Winston dreams of participating in the Carnival Parade and winning free rotis, but he needs instruments in order to form a band and march in the Parade.
Links to Resources:
- Create your own drum using found objects, like empty buckets, pots and pans, empty coffee cans, or even hollow logs;
- Learn about Trinidadian roti and try making them;
- Find more ideas in the Teacher’s Guide.
Why I Like this Book:
Drummer Boy of John John is a fun read-aloud, full of the sights and sounds of the Caribbean island of Trinidad. Based on the true story of Winston “Spree” Simon, who, according to the Author’s Note, was “a pioneer in the development of the steel drum, or pan”, Drummer Boy of John John tells the story of young Winston and his desire to form a band for the Carnival Parade. Winston, though, has no musical instruments. But when he hears the sounds of a mango pit pinging and panging on metal objects in the junkyard, he creates his own instruments out of trash.
I love how readers see that with a bit of imagination and elbow grease to paint the trash, Winston succeeds in creating musical instruments even with no money to purchase anything. I also love how Greenwood weaves the sounds of the drums and the sounds of other bands’ instruments through the text – making this reader feel as if I’ve just enjoyed a Carnival parade. Readers also learn about roti – a popular dish in the Caribbean. Drummer Boy of John John is a great way to travel to, and learn about, the people and culture of this part of the world.
Lessac’s bright and colorful illustrations bring the island and Greenwood’s text to life. The Author’s Note and Glossary and Pronunciation Guide round out this wonderful picture book.
A Note about Craft:
Music is an integral part of this picture book, and Greenwood brings music to his text by using onomatopoeia repeatedly throughout the story. In the main text, he uses phrases such as “tapped out tinkling tones.” But in colorful, bold text woven through the illustrations, we read “jingle jangle tingle tangle clink clank clunk”. I think this is a wonderful way to capture the sounds of the Carnival bands and draw readers right into the action. And what young child can resist repeating these sounds: “boom boody-boom chucka boom bam”!
Read an interview with Greenwood and Lessac, the husband and wife creators of Drummer Boy of John John.
This Perfect Picture Book entry will be added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!