Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music Book Poster Image
Gorgeous, magical story of a girl with music in her heart.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

An inspiring example of the hard work and persistence needed to turn talent and passion into skill. An author's note explains the story is inspired by Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, who broke Cuba's taboo against female drummers in the 1930s and went on to become a famous musician. 

Positive Messages

Nurture your dreams, even when you're surrounded by naysayers. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The girl is brave and undeterred, and she doesn’t let people discourage her. The girl’s father changes his mind and allows her to take lessons, and her teacher encourages her talent.

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Drum Dream Girl -- written by poet Margarita Engle (The Poet Slave of Cuba) and beautifully illustrated by Rafael Lopez (Book Fiesta!) -- is based on the true story of a young girl who broke down barriers for female drummers in Cuba in the 1930s. Her father at first admonishes her, but he has a change of heart and eventually warmly supports her. Drum Dream Girl won the 2016 Pura Bulpre Illustrator Award honoring a Latino illustrator whose children’s book best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latinx cultural experience.

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What's the story?

A young African Chinese Cuban girl hears drumbeats all around her, including in her heart. But she's repeatedly told that girls cannot play drums in Cuba, so she plays her bongo drum alone but dreams of playing freely and in public. Her father refuses to let her play with her sisters' band, but eventually he allows her to have drum lessons. The girl’s teacher marvels at her skill and urges her on until finally she plays for an enthusiastic audience in a starlit garden café.

Is it any good?

Musical text and sumptuous illustrations honor the story of a young girl who wouldn't take no for an answer. Boys and girls will find encouragement to hold fast to their own dreams in this entrancing collaboration by Cuban American poet Margarita Engle and illustrator Rafael Lopez. 

Engle's poem depicts Cuba as "the island of music" and beautifully describes the girl's "quiet secret drumbeat dreams.” Keeping her drumming to herself leaves her isolated. It's only when she can share her passion that she seems fully engaged with those around her. Lopez uses rich, warm hues to blend scenes of Cuban life (joyful musicians at a café, costumed dancers on stilts) with fantastic dreamscapes (the girl playing drums as a mermaid in the sea or climbing a tower of drums to beat her rhythm on the very moon). It's a book to treasure.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the idea that only boys should play drums. Can you think of anything that people today think is only for boys or only for girls? Do you think that's reasonable or unfair?

  • Look through the illustrations. Which are realistic scenes, and which have dreamlike imagery?

  • Do you hear drumming rhythms around you, as the girl hears in her footsteps and heartbeat?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love music and picture books

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