Civil War Drummer Boy

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Overview

Powerful history through the eyes of a young boy

When Johnny joins the Confederate Army as a drummer boy, he enters a world full of patriotism and adventure, breathtaking hot-air balloons, cannons and campfires. His job is to drum rhythms that tell soldiers what to do. But the dangers of war are all around him and when he returns to the magnolia trees and cotton blossoms of his home, Johnny and the country are forever changed.

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Overview

Powerful history through the eyes of a young boy

When Johnny joins the Confederate Army as a drummer boy, he enters a world full of patriotism and adventure, breathtaking hot-air balloons, cannons and campfires. His job is to drum rhythms that tell soldiers what to do. But the dangers of war are all around him and when he returns to the magnolia trees and cotton blossoms of his home, Johnny and the country are forever changed.

Boys as young as nine years old joined both sides during the Civil War and many became drummer boys, giving Verla Kay and Larry Day tons of fascinating details to illuminate Johnny's story.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Terse verses trace this story from the beginning of the Civil War. With his drumsticks, young Johnny joins the Rebel army. He learns all the different drumbeats, to signal everything from waking up to breaking camp. After a hard day of battle, the soldiers on both sides actually make music together. One of Johnny's roles is to drum a message to the troops from a spotter launched in a hot air balloon. After a fierce battle, he must drum a slow retreat. When the long war finally ends, Johnny wearily returns home, where many things have changed, but he is glad to see that some remain the same. The very brief text serves as captions for the detailed, naturalistic, chiefly double-page scenes of this historic drama. Watercolor and gouache paintings over ink and pencil drawings help generate emotions as we empathize with the appealing hero. Illustrations like the launch of the balloon and the glowing red campfires at night add attraction to his adventure. A note from the author adds factual information. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
Gr 3–5—Kay has chosen a complex subject for this picture book told in rhyme. Drummer boys as young as 10 years of age played a vital role in the Civil War, tapping out instructions to the troops while enduring the harsh conditions alongside their adult comrades. In a writing style that the author calls "cryptic rhyme," the basic causes of the war are laid out. As Johnny the drummer boy moves from recruitment to training to the horrors of the battlefield, Kay outlines his experiences in powerful, well-chosen words. Each tight stanza generates atmosphere: the excitement, the waiting, and the eventual sense of loss. Pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations bring the text alive with details of military life, fierce expressions of men fighting, and a way of life lost to the war. Day's use of light and color skillfully alters the mood of the narrative. The opening page is full of color and good cheer. With a shift in viewpoint, the following page shows enslaved laborers toiling in the fields next to white children playing on a Southern plantation. A dark, stark image toward the end of the book conveys the immense task of rebuilding after war. As the author ends the narrative with Johnny returning to his Southern home, the last four stanzas will promote much discussion about the Reconstruction. An excellent classroom read-aloud.—Elizabeth C. Larson, Hennepin County Library, Hopkins, MN
Kirkus Reviews
The author's note at the beginning sets the time and circumstance: April 21, 1861, when the first shots of the War Between the States were fired. This fictionalized account of a young drummer boy is told in brief four-line stanzas. "With his hopes high, / Lincoln leads. / Can't prevent it-- / South secedes. / … / Army calling, / ‘We need YOU!' / Johnny joining, / Drumsticks, new." The watercolor-and-gouache illustrations provide visual context and depict historical details cited in the author's note. For instance, a soldier floating above the landscape in a gas-filled observation balloon would signal the drummer boy to relay his orders to the troops with his drum. While the text's catchy rhythm and rhyme would seemingly lend itself to a young audience, it does not pull punches with the subject. "Soldiers shooting. / Rifles aimed. / Bullets buzzing, / Bodies maimed. / ... / Cannons blasting, / Smoke-filled sky. / Fierce-fought battle, / Soldiers die." The clipped verse relies on readers' having some familiarity with the Civil War. Plus, the boy's voice becomes clouded by the poetry, further hampering the book's ability to connect with readers. While the verse form seems to aim the book at preschoolers and early-elementary children, its subject and need for prior knowledge demand older readers, who will likely reject the format. Other drummer-boy accounts exist; this one is a cannon-shot shy of making its mark. (Picture book. 8-11)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780399239922
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/10/2012
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 723,030
  • Age range: 6 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 8.10 (w) x 10.70 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Verla Kay lives in Tekoa, Washington.

Larry Day lives in Oak Park, Illinois.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2013

    disappointed

    I returned the book - nowhere on the web site did it say this was for a very young child. I wanted it for a teenager. It should have given an age preference.

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