Regional focus: Cuba
Author: Margarita Engle
Illustrator: Rafael Lopez
Genre: children’s literature, memoir, poetry
Summer and reading are two words that I hold dear to my heart. As a child, summer meant lackadaisical days that melted together–ample time to swing from the oak tree in my backyard, reunite with my neighborhood friends and spontaneously set up the slip n’ slide or create a pillow fort in solitude.
Summer also represented unstructured reading…opportunities to discover what I wanted to read and not what I was expected to read. I loved The Baby-Sitters Club Book Series by Ann M Martin as well as Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren. Other favorites included The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard Atwater and A Little Princess by Francis Hodgson Burnett.
As an adult, summer embodies family vacations (this year in Baja California), piles of board games and puzzles (too many…for every good summer must eventually come to an end), late mornings and later nights and ice-cream indulgence. And yet, like the 10 year old child I once was, few and far between are the material possessions that can make me happier in the summer than a stack of good books to read under the sun or in the refuge of a pillow filled bed.
I am lucky enough to be traveling this summer, making a triangle between Guatemala, California and Mexico. One of the unexpected benefits of visiting the US is access to public libraries! As Vincent Van Gogh said, “Bookstores always remind me that there are good things in this world.” I feel the same way about libraries.
My current summer children’s literature reading list, all found at the public library includes:
- Drum Dream Girl, Margarita Engle
- 90 Miles to Havana, Enrique Flores-Galbis
- The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changes Science, Joyce Sidman
- Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message, Chief Jake Swamp
Other literary treasures I have collected over the summer include:
- There, There, Tommy Orange
- The House of Broken Angels, Luis Alberto Urrea
- Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry
While I have devoured all the books on my list, I am particularly fond of Drum Dream Girl, written by the talented poet Margarita Engle and illustrated by one of my favorite illustrators, Rafael Lopez. The book narrates the biography of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Cuban-African-Chinese girl who dreamed of becoming a musician. She was born with rhythm in her blood and the pulse of jazz in her soul. At an early age, Millo was called to tap on the congas and to beat on the bongos. However, in Cuba in the 1920s, like in many places in the world, women were not seen as equals to men, and, they were limited by societal norms that defined who and what they could could become. Millo aspired to play the drums and to share music with her community, country and the world, but she was was continuously told that only boys could play drums. She persisted, and formed the first female band in Cuba with her 11 sisters in the 1930s!
Drum Dream Girl is a story of hope, dreams, determination and equality.
What I love:
- Lopez illustrates with bright, bold colors that exude the essence of Cuba. His use of poignant metaphorical imagery such as a winged drum in a locked cage provokes meaningful imagery.
- Engle’s retelling of Millo’s story allows children to identify and challenge cultural norms.
- What’s not to love about a story with a determined, passionate, talented, courageous female main character!
Themes: music, determination, social norms, equality
- What do you dream of transforming into in the future?
- What would you do if someone important to you prohibited you from following your dreams?
- Have you ever been told that you couldn’t do something because you are a boy or a girl? How did you feel?
- Use found objects at home to make your own drums (cans, pots, boxes) and experiment with different sounds and rhythms.
- Listen to the music of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga and her band, Anacona here.
- Make a Zine about your hopes and dreams. Learn how to make a Zine with author Celia Perez here.