Mat and Martha's daddy tells them a story about the spirit of African people. He uses the image of drumbeats to explain their history and accomplishments. Coleman's simple, repetitive narrative is amplified by Robinson's art-collages of fabric scraps, raw cotton, clay, and other evocative elements which primary art teachers should find both fascinating and inspirational.
Children's Literature - Kathleen Karr
Daddy Wes tells his two children "long before time...on the continent of Africa, the rhythm of the earth beat for the first people." He describes how the beat moved through bodies, pushed out from fingers, and a drum was born. The drums were taken away from slaves. Those who became the drum pushed out the earth's spirit with their entire bodies. In brief but poignant vignettes of African-American history Coleman tells how her people embraced this beat: courage became drums in war or minds became drums in inventions; drums became communities, art, story and dreams. The book ends as Daddy Wes walks off with his children, "the heartbeat of the earth sounding their way." Incredible textural collages become the drums of Coleman's story, beating out the history, beauty, and a richness of movement and color.
Children's Literature - Susie Wilde
Gr 2-4This ambitious picture book celebrates the creativity and individuality of African Americans, beginning with the origin of human life when "the rhythm of the earth beat for the first people," filled the air with spirit, and flew into their bodies. This beat enables them to create actual and, possibly, symbolic drums. When the people are enslaved and carried to a new land where their "drums" are taken from them, they still feel the earth's beat in their bodies and become "living drums," and all of their skills and talents become symbolic instruments. Accomplishments in science, the arts, the military, and the Civil Rights Movement are referred to and the account ends with an exhortation to readers to find out how to beat out their own rhythms of the earth. The art is executed with thick paint, fabric collage, old buttons, fibers, clay and sand, and shreds of old baskets. The double-spread pictures run off the pages and compositions often swirl endlessly with no place for the eye to rest. Sometimes the backgrounds almost overpower the foregrounds. Images change from simple patchwork, to a misty scene, to thickly painted portraits, to simple washes. The picture of the creation of life with bold black outlines anchoring the portraits seems the most successful. Some readers may enjoy the poetic, inspirational text, but others may find the insistence on the drum metaphor and the relentlessly energetic art a bit overbearing.Marilyn Iarusso, New York Public Library
The drum is a mytho-poetic symbol that links people to their African roots and to the rhythm of the earth, or so Daddy Wes tells his children, Mat and Martha. In broad sweeps of historycovering slavery, war, civil rightsþand in the struggle for intellectual and artistic pursuits, Daddy Wes declares that the underlying heartbeat of a people is the drum. Metaphorically extending the idea, he explains that when the literal drum was taken from the slaves, the rhythm was internalized: "When we talked to each other, we made our speech drums. When we stitched our quilts, we made our hands drums." The message hovers, rising from the core of African-American experience, even when the image becomes abstract, even when the moralizing momentarily overtakes the drumbeat. That's the moment, in this joyful and robust chronicle, to turn to the art, where the energetic montages bustle with multi-textured backgrounds and figures, employing cloth, cotton, old buttons, sisal, wool, clay, and more, in theatrical, pulsing settings. (Picture book. 5-10)
"While the book explicitly addresses African American readers, its strong emotional charge is universal."