Drum Dream Girl

Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music By Margarita Engle, Illustrated by Rafael López (2015) – hardcover



Recommended ages: 4 to 7

Drum Dream Girl introduces young readers to the story of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga. In 1932, 10-year-old Millo (of Cuban-African-Chinese descent) and her ten sisters formed an all-female jazz band in Cuba, the first of its kind. The narrative of the book is beautifully presented as a free verse poem. This is the style of choice of Cuban-American poet and author Margarita Engle, intending “to appeal to a very young child’s natural sense of rhythm…” With the target audience of children ages 4 to 7, she chose to exclude names, dates, and locations and leave only the essence of Millo’s journey towards becoming a female drummer. 

Engle succeeds in crafting an elegant yet simple narrative. It’s part an ode to music: 

Her hands seemed to fly

as they ripped 


and pounded 

all the rhythms

of her drum dreams. 

And part biography, as she emphasizes the fact that Millo was constantly reminded that girls cannot and should not play the drums. Her father even discouraged her at the beginning, but eventually came around and found a music teacher that would help Millo achieve her dreams of performing publicly. 

Someone once asked me if illustrations or narrative matters more in children’s picture books. After reading this book, I am convinced that illustrations are king. Award-winning illustrator Rafael López took Engle’s words and created dreamscape masterpieces. His saturated colors and use of movement evoke a sense of wonder and awe, sure to engage any reader. Every spread, done on acrylic and wood board, is worthy of being posterized. If the narrative were subpar (and it most definitely is NOT with Drum Dream Girl), the award-winning illustrations alone could tell the story. López took home the 2016 Pura Belpré Award for illustration for this book. 

Check out the book trailer below for a look at how López made some of these gorgeous illustrations!

Take-away message: Milo’s story is one of tenacity and perseverance. She was determined to play the drums, even after the constant attempts of discouragement simply because of her sex.

TAGS: notable POC, mixed race, Latinx, Chinese, Asian, Black, Cuban, female lead, hardcover

Additional Resources:

Reader’s Guide from the Publisher

Book Trailer

Listen to Millo and her band, Anacaona!

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