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Li'l Dan, the Drummer Boy: A Civil War Story

Overview

Li'l Dan, a slave on a Southern plantation, loves to play his drum. When a company of Union soldiers announce that the slaves have been set free, Dan has no place to go, so he follows the soldiers, who make him their mascot. But Confederate soldiers attack, and Dan discovers that he is the only one who can save his friends.
The only children's book ever written and illustrated by legendary American artist Romare Bearden, Li'l Dan, the Drummer Boy was just recently discovered. ...

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Overview

Li'l Dan, a slave on a Southern plantation, loves to play his drum. When a company of Union soldiers announce that the slaves have been set free, Dan has no place to go, so he follows the soldiers, who make him their mascot. But Confederate soldiers attack, and Dan discovers that he is the only one who can save his friends.
The only children's book ever written and illustrated by legendary American artist Romare Bearden, Li'l Dan, the Drummer Boy was just recently discovered. Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. has written a personal introduction to the book, describing his own memories of the artist while Bearden created this memorable tale.
On an accompanying CD, Dr. Maya Angelou, three-time Grammy Award winner for spoken word recordings, reads the text.

When a company of black Union soldiers tells L'il Dan that he is no longer a slave, he follows them, and uses his beloved drum to save them from attack.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee This touching tale, colored by the sensitivity and warmth of Romare Bearden's art, tells of an intense moment in history through the eyes of a child at freedom's door. How fortunate that this story was not lost forever. We loved it!
The Washington Post
While not as densely layered as some of his celebrated collages, Bearden's watercolor and marker illustrations show his trademark inventiveness with color. His scenes are rhythmic, fluid and animated, whether portraying slave labor in the fields or the fierce gallop of mounted soldiers in combat. Deftly combining tender moments with episodes of danger and sudden violence, Bearden provides his young hero with an initial view of freedom that is as daunting as it is beautiful. And he has bequeathed young readers a memorable book that should never go out of print. — Jabari Asim
Publishers Weekly
A boy's passion for drumming literally saves lives in this uplifting tale, completed in 1983 and published posthumously-the only children's book that Bearden (1911-1988) both wrote and illustrated. Li'l Dan, whose parents "were sold away when I was most young," loves to hear Mr. Ned play the drum, which the man's father brought from Africa. Mr. Ned teaches Dan to drum, "just the way he had learned from his father," and the boy sets out to make one of his own. Generous white space sets off intimate black line drawings with bold watercolor wash, as Mr. Ned compliments Dan on the drum he made and as Dan communes with the birds and leaves, imitating the sounds they make. In stark contrast, a full-page painting of Li'l Dan gazing over a vast land after the Union soldiers inform him he is free ("What do that mean?" asks the boy) simultaneously evokes a feeling of being overwhelmed and also of possibility. The artwork is more narrative here than in Bearden's illustrations for Herschel Johnson's A Visit to the Country; only a very few compositions incorporate collage elements. Here the artist favors simplicity, keeping readers closely involved in the interactions between Dan and Mr. Ned-and ultimately the soldiers who adopt him as their "mascot," and whose lives he saves with an act of ingenuity... and his drum. This story will appeal to history buffs, Bearden fans and those who believe that art can serve as inspiration and sustenance. A CD of Maya Angelou's reading (tucked into the back cover) is an added bonus. All ages. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
The slaves worked long and hard picking cotton on the Hollis plantation. Li'l Dan, who had no parents to care for him, looked to Mr. Ned when work was over. Mr. Ned had a drum that he played; a drum that had come from Africa. Li'l Dan made a drum of his own and spent his extra time learning how to copy the sounds of nature. In 1864 a strange thing happened. Soldiers in blue uniforms came and told the slaves that they were free, but what did freedom mean? Dan followed the soldiers and was adopted by one named Scipio who had a boy of about the same age. Li'l Dan became the mascot for the company and in the evenings he would play his drum for the soldiers. Dan became a hero when he used his drum to save the company from an attack by the "gray horsemen." His reward was to become an official drummer. The amazing comment attributed to General Sherman is one of the real messages in the book—"Dan, I want you to be a drummer in our Army's Drum Corps. And listen, Dan, you play your drum in your own way." The illustrations are deceptively simple-looking—broad strokes and splashes of color that have a childlike quality that fits the story. They also are filled with energy and pathos as well as the fury of battle and the caring relationship between Dan and his friends, Mr. Ned and Scipio. The book has a wonderful foreword by Henry Louis Gates Jr. who knew Romare Bearden and had seen the painted panels and heard the story long before it was ever published. The book also comes with a CD with Maya Angelou reading the story. It is a terrific package. 2003, Simon & Schuster, Ages 6 up.
— Marilyn Courtot
School Library Journal
Gr 1-4-When black Union soldiers tell Li'l Dan that he is now free, the boy follows the men and eventually uses his homemade drum to save them from danger. A compelling story by a renowned African-American artist, told through eloquent words and striking mixed-media paintings. Maya Angelou narrates the CD. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Recently discovered, this is Bearden's only work for children. Li'l Dan was a slave on the Hollis plantation, and every day after work, he came to hear Mr. Ned play his African drum. And each day Mr. Ned taught Dan how to play that drum. Eventually, Dan makes his own drum, perfects his skills, and goes off with the Union army. He becomes a hero when his drumming warns his troops of an impending attack from Confederate troops. Li'l Dan is congratulated by General William Tecumseh Sherman and is invited to join the army's drum corps. Mixed-media art enhances the text and serves as a fine introduction to Bearden's work. An introduction by Dr. Henry Louis Gates and a CD with Maya Angelou's reading of the story are included. An important find for the world of children's literature. (Picture book. 4-8)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780689862373
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
  • Publication date: 8/5/2003
  • Edition description: Book and CD
  • Pages: 40
  • Sales rank: 227,552
  • Age range: 4 - 8 Years
  • Lexile: AD760L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 12.00 (w) x 9.80 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Romare Bearden (1911-1988) is internationally recognized as one of America's greatest artists and was a recipient of the President's National Medal of Arts. Bearden worked in many media, but he is best known for his collages. His work is included in museums and galleries throughout the United States, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A retrospective of his work is currently on display at the National Gallery of Art; it will travel over the next few years to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Dallas Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

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Read an Excerpt

Li'l Dan, a slave on a Southern plantation, loves to play his drum. When a company of Union soldiers announce that the slaves have been set free, Dan has no place to go, so he follows the soldiers, who make him their mascot. But Confederate soldiers attack, and Dan discovers that he is the only one who can save his friends.

The only children's book ever written and illustrated by legendary American artist Romare Bearden, Li'l Dan, the Drummer Boy was just recently discovered. Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. has written a personal introduction to the book, describing his own memories of the artist while Bearden created this memorable tale.

Read More Show Less

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