Meet Jefferson. Jefferson is young, and curious, and full of energy to explore. He was the perfect playmate for today's post: books for young drummers.
Max Found Two Sticks by Brian Pinkney
Max Found Two Sticks is one of my favorite musical children's books. In the story, Max doesn't feel very much like talking that day. He's sitting on the steps in front of his house when a strong breeze rustles two sticks on the ground in front of him so Max picks up the sticks and for the rest of the day uses the sticks to do all the talking.
I first heard about this book at a music educator's conference where the clinician talked about using it for improvisation. After reading the story, the teacher would speak in rhythm, "Max found two sticks, what did he play?" and the students go around the circle playing back their answer.
From the text of the book, it doesn't sound to me like the author was necessarily trying to make a connection between emotion and musical expression. However, when I read this I see that Max was having trouble verbally communicating that day and found another way to express himself and interact with his environment through his "drumsticks". This would be a good thing to point out to a lot of children I work with. . . that we all have times when we don't feel like talking, but there are other appropriate options for interacting with our world besides verbal communication. If I were to use this book again, I may ask the students to brainstorm reasons that Max didn't feel like talking that day. . . and then segue into the improvisation activity.
Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb by Al Perkins
The book follows a band of monkeys and all the sounds they make with their hands, fingers, and thumbs.It opens with a single monkey drumming with one thumb but the book eventually progresses to "Millions of fingers! Millions of thumbs! Millions of monkeys drumming on drums!" before ending quietly as the monkeys walk away drumming into the distance.
I have so much fun reading this book. And the kids I've read it to have had just as much fun playing while we read. There is a super catchy reoccurring refrain - dum ditty dum ditty dum dum dum - that the kids play with me every time it comes up. I've also used the book with older students who play the rhythm of my words back to me after every page. Though it is written for toddlers, I've found that elementary students like it a lot for the mischievous monkey illustrations, upbeat groove of the rhythms, and progression of the story as more monkeys join.
When Jefferson and I went through it we made sure to play with what the monkeys were using - either hands, fingers, or thumbs.
Drum City by Thea Guidone
Much like Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb, Drum City is an engaging poem where more and more drummers join in the fun until there are "hundreds and hundreds of drums". In this book, however, it is not monkeys who do the drumming. It's children from the city who march, dance, and drum all together. What I especially love about this book is that the kids don't actually have traditional skin head drums. Instead, they get creative and bring whatever they can to join in the ensemble. The result is a hooting, hollering, music making group of kids from all sorts of different backgrounds with all sorts of different found musical instruments.
This book can serve as an invitation to look for musical potential everywhere. A great at-home challenge would be to instruct kids to find every day household items and explore ways to make creative sounds as many ways as they can think of - hit it, shake it, scrape it. . . and then pull out the book and let the kids play along!