Corporal Farrel brought the Barrel,
Private Parriage brought the carriage,
but Drummer Hoff fired it off.
Ed Emberley's 1968 Caldecott medal winning picture book is deceptively simple. The words, based on the old nursery rhyme "John Ball shot it all," tell a story about a group of soldiers, going all the way up the ranks to general, who progessively put together pieces of a cannon until Drummer Hoff fires it off with a final KAHBAHBLOOM.
The pictures, however, tell a subtly different story. The bright, engaging woodcuts make the story visually delightful, but its the details that piece together the message. Every military item, from the cannon itself down to the uniforms are drawn in brightly decorative styles, looking more like jewels and fancy costumes than the tools of war. And nature is in bloom all around them, from the flowers that peek out from below the cannon to the curious birds that examine everything going on. The soldiers themselves may be brightly dressed but they show the marks of war, from scars on their faces to eyepatches. And the final illustration shows nature taking over after the soldiers are gone, presenting war as a departure from the natural order.
It's this conflicting story that makes Drummer Hoff such an intriguing book. The bright pictures and fun-to-say words alone make this a perfect read-aloud book for children, who will have fun repeating the chorus "Drummer Hoff fired it off." And there could, of course, be morals drawn about teamwork, or individual vs. corporate responsibility. But the deeper message about war itself cannot be ignored. The book is not overtly anti-war, but the year it won the award is no coincidence. At any rate, it presents a nuanced view of war by showing, as Emberly said in his Caldecott acceptance speech, "that men can fall in love with war and, imitating the birds, go to meet it dressed as if to meet their sweethearts. The pictures also show that men can return from war sometimes with medals, and sometimes with wooden legs." A far more complex message than the simple rhyme suggests, Drummer Hoff is vastly entertaining and still enormously thought-provoking.
Review by Lauren Shearer
Lauren Shearer writes words for fun and profit. She also makes films, but everyone knows you can't make a profit doing that. Her other hobby is consistently volunteering way too much of her time. You can read more of her reviews here.
Review by Lauren Shearer
Lauren Shearer writes words for fun and profit. She also makes films, but everyone knows you can't make a profit doing that. Her other hobby is consistently volunteering way too much of her time. You can read more of her reviews here
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