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Drummer Boy of John John

Drummer Boy of John John

4.0 1
by Mark Greenwood, Frane Lessac

A young boy in Trinidad wins the Carnival band competition after he discovers he can create tunes by banging on discarded metal tins and cans.


A young boy in Trinidad wins the Carnival band competition after he discovers he can create tunes by banging on discarded metal tins and cans.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A roti (a folded pancake "filled with chicken and secret herbs and spices") might not seem like a rich enough prize to inspire the creation of a musical instrument, but Winston is hungry, and he knows that the best band in the Carnival parade will win one. He discovers that cookie tins and paint cans in the junkyard make sounds ("tom ping tom pah") and that he can "tune" the metal surfaces by hammering them. This is a biography of a real person: Winston "Spree" Simon is the creator of Trinidad's signature steel drum. Working in gouache, Lessac, who worked with Greenwood on The Donkey of Galli-poli, combines bright tropical backgrounds of lemon yellow, sky blue, and palm green with the crowns, feathers, streamers, and rhinestones of Carnival costumes to make folk art–style paintings with firecracker energy. Funky onomatopoeia should give out-loud readings pizzazz ("The chac-chac players rattled rustling sounds. shoush-shap shukka-shap shoush-shap shukka-shap"), and dynamic type makes the words shimmy on the page. Valuable both for its portrait of a child inventor and a vibrant community of color. Ages 5–10. (Oct.)
Children's Literature - Kasey Giard
All the people of the town of John John prepare for Carnival. Watching the preparations, young Winston is sad. If only he had a band and could win the honor of free rotis, a traditional meat and pastry treat, after the parade that night. Discouraged, he retreats to a field near a junk yard where he inadvertently discovers the unique sounds made by hitting metal containers of different sizes and shapes. When his friends hear the sounds, they join him in forming a band, and together they all receive the honor of the Roti King's free treats. In this clever retelling of the invention of the steel drum, both author and illustrator show the joy and excitement of the small Trinidad town where a young boy changed music forever. Following the simple tale is a short biography detailing the creation of the steel drum and providing additional information about its maker, Winston "Spree" Simon. This would be a great classroom resource for a music teacher to use with younger grades. Recommended. Reviewer: Kasey Giard
School Library Journal
PreS-Gr 2—Lessac has long been a lively interpreter of Caribbean culture. In her latest collaboration with her husband, they imagine the childhood of Winston "Spree" Simon, who is credited with developing the steel drum. Greenwood sets the story in the days preceding Carnival, when the bands are preparing for the parade and anticipating the prize-free rotis (spiced chicken wrapped in dough) from the Roti King. Winston desperately wants that reward, but what are his chances without a band, much less an instrument? Lessac's vibrant gouache scenes in her signature folk style radiate the energy of the music and the lushness of Trinidad. As the author introduces each group of musicians, he spells out their unique sounds-an invitation for listeners to repeat the refrains. So the Chac-chac (gourds with seeds) players produce a "shoush-shap/shukka-shac/shoush-shap/shukka-shac." Munching on a mango near the junkyard, Winston ponders his dilemma; a casual toss of the pit against metal objects produces the "pong, ping, pang" that leads to a solution. He discovers that the number of dents and bumps and the size of the metal container all affect the pitch. Friends gather to paint, rehearse, perform, and celebrate victory. The finale pulses with color and pattern. A bit of colloquial speech adds flavor, as do the humorous visuals, such as the matron in her pink plastic curlers. A glossary, two-page author's note, and list of sources round out this upbeat celebration of creativity.—Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library
Kirkus Reviews
Winston, a boy in Trinidad, wishes that he could play in a band and win free rotis, the delicious island specialty prepared by the Roti King and presented to the best performers at Carnival. In the weeks before Carnival, the people of the Caribbean island are busy sewing costumes, and bands are busy rehearsing with their gourds, bamboo sticks, bottles-and-spoons and drums. Winston hears the sounds that his mango pit makes when he chucks it into a junkyard. Inspired, he tries out different can and tins, listening carefully to their different notes. More experimentation follows, and soon, he is performing for his neighbors. Friends join him to form a band made up of "pots and pans, tins and cans in a rainbow of colors." The sounds are winningly irresistible, and Winston and his fellow musicians soon enjoy their "folded pancakes filled with chicken and secret herbs and spices." Greenwood's story is based on the childhood of Winston Simon, the 20th-century musician credited with the invention of the steel drum. The text is filled with a cacophony of musical words that are fun and challenging to read aloud. Lessac's gouache paintings pulsate with sun-drenched island colors and often resemble a folk-art quilt. A joy to read. Play calypso music and celebrate! (author's note, glossary and pronunciation guide, author's sources) (Picture book/biography. 3-8)

Product Details

Lee & Low Books, Inc.
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
10.31(w) x 8.43(h) x (d)
AD820L (what's this?)
Age Range:
7 Years

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Drummer Boy of John John 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Andrea_C More than 1 year ago
The illustrations in this book inspired by real events capture the excitement of Carnival. Words added to the pages help to further illustrate the various sounds that can be created by different drums. Learn new words and phrases by visiting the glossary in the back. There is also a brief biography of the late Winston "Spree" Simon, who is the real-life inspiration for this book. By simply tossing a mango pit in a junkyard, Winston realizes that nontraditional items can make for some awesome instruments. His fellow villagers quickly join in the fun and a new tradition is born. Kids will love reading this book and then looking for their own ways of making new instruments from everyday materials. It is also a fun look at a different culture that could inspire a Carnival within the classroom or at home. It's a great addition to a classroom or home library. I received a complimentary eARC in exchange for my honest review.