Beat the Drum: Independence Day Has Come; poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins; illustrations by Tomie dePaola


07.02.20 • 1:06 pm EDT | 0 responses |

“Squeak the fife and beat the drum,

Independence Day has come.”


How was I to know when I was searching out a picture book for young readers to celebrate Independence Day that I would happily stumble, quite by accident across this treasure.

Copyrighted in 1977, it is a collaboration of two favorite picture book heroes of mine: Lee Bennett Hopkins and Tomie dePaola.

Both, I knew, and fervently admired for their passion about picture books and the ability of the picture book to teach, comfort, amuse and allow the imagination of the young reader to let fly.

Lee Bennett Hopkins decidedly chose the area of poetry to reach the heart of his readers. He was an educator, author, poet, anthologist and was the the editor or author of some 100 books for children.

I remember reading a book of his own poems relating to the divorce of his parents in the 50’s, and how his secure life was suddenly upended, how he was thrust into an adult world of emotions that were hard to understand. He speaks of the hand to mouth existence and the struggle to make sense of all of it.

His poetry in this book, even at a young age, was insightful, tender and charged with subtlety. He speaks of his dreams of becoming a writer and so much more. The book is called “Been to Yesterdays: Poems of a Life.” I highly recommend it.

Reading this book of his AFTER his passing, I wish that I had known that about him, for in that regard, his and my life, experiencing the divorce of parents at a young age, and in the 50’s, when it was a rarity, was something I wish we both could have shared. We had that in common and a love of writing.

Tomie dePaola? Do I have to say anymore.

He continues to be an icon in picture book lore. His list of achievements in that area are long and legendary. His creation, Strega Nona, for which he won a Caldecott Honor Award in 1976, his reception of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, given for his body of work and its contribution to children’s literature ( and yes, I do know her name was unceremoniously stripped from the award in 2018) , is further proof of his influence and legacy in the world of children’s literature.

He wrote and illustrated over 250 books for children.

Here, in “Beat the Drum; Independence Day Has Come,” Lee Bennett Hopkins and Tomie dePaola have “once again assembled a dazzling and whimsical selection of poetry and pictures – this time to celebrate the Fourth of July.”

Such poets as Carl Sandburg, Shel Silverstein and Stephen Vincent Benet “reflect the joyfulness and sheer fun-parades picnics, fireworks-and at the same time the patriotic aspects of this very important celebration.”

Tomie’s art is a bombastic red, white and blue that perfectly fits the fireworks of poetry that “explode off the page” in the poetry selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins.

Maybe when the pandemic has subsided, or maybe right now, is the time to read aloud some of these wonderful poems, and the art that accompanies them, to celebrate the days and the dynamic that makes this country great despite its failures and fumblings at times, to continue its journey towards the fulfillment of the beliefs that began its start.

Here is a sample of the poetry:

Just Like You

The famous men and women

Who helped our country grow

Weren’t always great and famous

Those long, long years ago.

George Washington and Betsy Ross,

Ben Franklin, Paul Revere,

All started out as babies

And grew a bit each year.

They started out as children,

Just boys and girls like you

Who worked and played and laughed and sang

And cried a little, too,

And learned their lessons when they could

And said their prayers at night.

They never knew we’d call them great

And keep their memories bright.

They never knew someday they’d be

Famous names in history.

Margaret Hillert

“Big oaks from little acorns grow”; and from that idiom comes this takeaway to young readers…large and powerful things grow sometimes from the very small and seemingly unimportant.

Perhaps, this is something for you and your young reader to take in and discuss.


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