Patricia A. Keeler and Júlio Leitão's Drumbeat in Our Feet
Children's book review by Suzanne Holland
Drumbeat in Our Feet is a story about African dance rhythms but that does not adequately describe this informational gem.
This fantastic book separates itself into two parts: the informative background pieces are on the left hand page while the lyrical poetry like verse is on the right hand.
Depending on the age of your listener, you can read either or both. The flavor of African celebrations is contained in both as well as in the illustrations.
Keeler and Leitão explain the intricacies and the history of African dance. Each page explains a particular aspect of dance culture. We learn about the origins of African dance, “which is as rich and diverse as the land itself,” and that different ethnicities each contributed to the overall look and feel of dances.
We also learn about different types of dances, the costumes and rituals associated with a performance. There is so much to learn! I never knew that dancers from the Congo paint white dots on their bodies to represent ancestors, or that the color red established contact with spirits.
The illustrations by Keeler are a particular delight. The left pages are drawn in sepia tones and depict the events of an African village. The right-sided pages are vivid watercolors showing contemporary children learning and interpreting the same dances.
The children are about to put on a show, and excitement mounts as they paint themselves and don costumes.
For those children who are musically inclined, there are pages explaining the use and creation of native instruments. Drums, rattles and xylophones are the percussion instruments created from gourds and wood. We learn that there are different types of drums depending on where you are in Africa. Who knew? I always figured one drum was pretty much like another; not so!! (I sense great craft opportunities here.)
The book is amazing considering that the authors have condensed centuries of African cultures into accessible segments. Each page of information lends itself to discussions of comparing cultures, traditional versus contemporary dance and what it means to be a dancer. For all those children enrolled in tap and ballet class, this would be an exciting new world!
Although Drumbeat in Our Feet is a great learning resource, it is primarily a joyous celebration of dance. If you look at the faces of the children in the book, you cannot help but feel their pride in their heritage.
The last pages of the book are a biography of Julio Leitão and his dance troupe Batoto Yetu of Harlem. The photographs of grinning children practicing jumping and twirling are mesmerizing in their exuberance!
The very last pages include a pronunciation guide and a map of Africa. I found this to be of particular importance as it clearly shows the physical diversity of this continent.
Drumbeat in Our Feet would be a worthy addition to any home or school collection.
Hooray for celebrating heritages!
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