From School Library Journal
Grade 1-4-This recently discovered work by the renowned African-American artist is not to be missed. It is the story of Li'l Dan, a slave on the Hollis plantation, who listens nightly to Mr. Ned play his drum from faraway Africa. As he learns more, he makes his own drum, practicing all of the sounds he hears. When black Union soldiers tell him that he's free, he follows them. A short time later, he uses his drum to save his new friends from enemy attack and is congratulated by General Sherman. Although the story is worthy in its own right, the 21 mixed-media paintings are the outstanding element here. With rich colors and bold black outlines, the dramatic art shows the influence of abstract expressionism. Brilliant blue Union uniforms and dark skin stand out against the white spaces, and text and art are in perfect balance. Beginning letters on many pages also reflect the illustrations in color, shape, and style. The simplicity of primary colors and abstract figures express so much more than the text alone. There is no doubt about Dan's intensity as he listens to the sounds of the woods and taps out the song with his fingertips. Li'l Dan is small-seemingly insignificant against the large soldiers in their striking uniforms. Yet his strength and self-assurance fill the page when he confidently strikes out the cannon fire. On the accompanying CD, Maya Angelou's mellow voice and easy pace complement this beautiful, creative work.-Carolyn Janssen, Children's Learning Center of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, OH
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
K-Gr. 3. Renowned African American artist Bearden, who died in 1988, wrote and illustrated this story about a slave boy who lives on a Southern plantation. Li'l Dan makes himself a drum and uses it to imitate the sounds around him: singing people, cawing birds, clacking leaves, and crashing thunder. After the Union army liberates him, Dan follows the soldiers of Company E, becomes their "mascot," and saves them from a Confederate cavalry unit with his remarkable drumming. Bearden's illustrations are expressive, and some are quite wonderful, but children may find it odd that Dan looks different from page to page, partly because the artist's style varies and partly because Dan's size and proportions seem to fluctuate. Still, children will enjoy the book as a Civil War story featuring a courageous African American boy, and adults will appreciate it as the only picture book Bearden left behind. Maya Angelou reads the story aloud quite effectively on the accompanying CD. Carolyn PhelanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved