Kid Lit Review of “Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music” by Margarita Engle

How many girls still grow up being told that “girls can’t do that”? I know I was – not by my parents, but by others, who discouraged me from pursuing my dreams.


This is a story inspired by a Chinese-African-Cuban girl, Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, who never gave up her own dream of being a drummer, and succeeded in breaking Cuba’s traditional taboo against female drummers, becoming, at age ten, the first female to play drums publicly in Cuba. Millo was a world-famous musician by the 1930’s, even, at age 15, playing her bongo drums at the New York birthday celebration for U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt.


The story is told in free verse style, echoing the music that courses through her head and heart:

“Her hands seemed to fly
as they rippled
and pounded
all the rhythms
of her drum dreams.”


The folk-art illustrations were made by Rafael López in acrylic paint on wood board. All the images of a tropical paradise that dominated ideas of Cuba before the Communist revolution come to vibrant life in a riot of sun-drenched color. Like Chagall, López uses the metaphor of flight to show dreams, with butterflies and birds recurring elements in the pictures even when the little girl herself is not launching into the air. Other characters in the pictures reflect Cuba’s multicultural society, as does of course, Millo herself.

The real Millo Castro Zaldarriaga

The real Millo Castro Zaldarriaga

Evaluation: The inspirational story and gorgeous pictures will keep kids (suggested age is 4-8) paging through this book over and over again.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015

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3 Responses to Kid Lit Review of “Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music” by Margarita Engle

  1. BermudaOnion says:

    I need that book! When I was in the 6th grade you had to be in band, choir, or art. I tried out for band and wanted to play the drums. The band director told me girls don’t play drums. I refused to try out for another instrument and ended up in choir.

  2. Vasilly says:

    Ah! Great minds think alike! 🙂 I just read this book for the first time yesterday! Engle and Lopez did such a good job with this book.

  3. Trish says:

    Yay! My library has a copy of this one. Looks absolutely gorgeous. Scott and I are always getting onto Elle when she says she can’t do something. YES YOU CAN!!!!!!!! I also get onto daddy when he says girls don’t do xyz (like watch The Avengers. LOL!). YES THEY CAN!

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