Feb 16, 2012

In the Time of the Drums

In the Time of the Drums by Kim L. Siegelson
Illustrated by Brian Pinkney
Published by Hyperion Books for Children
"In the long ago time before now, on an island fringed by marge meadows and washed by ocean tides, mean and women and their children lived enslaved. This was the time when giant live oaks trembled with the sound of drums and, say some, it was a time when people could walk beneath the water."
    So begins this incredible tale.  A boy named Mentu, born in the island, lived with his grandmother Twi, who had come from Africa. "There, she had learned powerful root magic" and whites and blacks all feared her.  But Mentu had known nothing but kindness from his grandmother. "Some said his first breath had come from her own mouth. That as a new babe he had been still until she whispered the secret of life into his tongue." From Twi, Mentu learned how to play the drums, how to be strong, and the songs and stories from her Africa.
     One day, a large ship arrived carrying slaves.  When the slaves heard the sound of the African drums welcoming the ship, they thought they had made it back to their land, but as they emerged bound and tied, they didn't recognize the island.  As the slave traders hit them with their whips, the slaves began chanting a song in their own language.  Twi let Mentu know that his time to be strong had arrived, that the song from the slaves talked about going home, "say the water brought'em cross the passage and it can take'em back, fe true."  As Twi ran towards the ship and the water that would take her and the slaves back to their home, her body transformed into the young woman she had been when she had left Africa many years before.  She held hands with her people and as many times as the slave catchers tried to slip ropes around their necks, nothing could hold them back.  They walked beneath the water chanting "the water can takes us home. It can takes us home."
     Years later, the islanders stoped casting their nets in the area "for fear of pulling up those chains sunk deep in soft gray mud." And Mentu grew strong and played the drums with his children. He told the stories Twi had taught him, "so rich that they wondered if he had lived in Africa himself."
     In the Time of the Drums is one of the most powerful picture books I've ever read.  Siegelson masterfully tells the story, with gorgeous details and beautiful language. And the illustrations by the incredible Brian Pickney are, as usual, mesmerizing.  This one will stay with you long after you finish reading it.  Spellbinding.

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