#228 – Drummer Boy of John John by Mark Greenwood

Drummer Boy of John John 20124 Stars

Drummer Boy of John John

Mark Greenwood
Frané Lessac
Lee and Low Books
Pages: 32         Ages: 4+

Jacket:  Carnival is coming and the villagers of John John, Trinidad, are getting ready to jump up and celebrate with music dancing, and a     parade. Best of all, the Roti King has promised free rotis—tasty friend pancakes filled with chicken, herbs, and  spices—for the best band in the parade

Young Winston dreams of feasting on those delicious rotis. But there is one problem: he’s not in a band! Pondering his predicament as he wanders through the village junkyard, Winston makes a curious musical discovery that may be just the ticket to realizing his dream.

johnjohnCarnival season is upon the small Caribbean Island of Trinidad and in John John, young Winston wants to win the band contest and its prize of Chicken Roti. Problem is, Winston is not in a band, and chances are extremely good he will not get an invitation to join one in time for carnival. He walks home past several bands practicing for the parade, each with their own particular sound.  One group uses maracas, another bamboo.

Wilson follows a goat path to the junkyard and sits below a mango tree. He eats a mango and tosses it toward the junk. He does this several times, noticing the sound as the pit hit tins, bottles, and buckets. Each type of material had a different musical sound. Big oilcans made low sounds. The small biscuit tins made high notes. Intrigued, Winston played around with the junk he found until he could play a tune.

Winston and his friends formed a band playing pots and pans and other types of metal.  They used old tires to soften the blow of the drumstick. They practiced every day until the parade day arrived.  Throughout John John, its people chanted.

“Paartiee all day. Paartiee all night.”

Dat is what happened all day, and all night, for five days, right up to Lent. There were calypso contests, drumming contests, dancing and “Paartiees!” Dat is how the carnival played. And dat is where we will leave this. No spoiler here.

For me, The Drummer Boy John John would be difficult to not like. The Caribbean Islands are my favorite places to visit. I adore the sound of a steel drum. Hand me a book about the originator of that wonderful instrument and, well, I am going to like it. The question is, do I love it?

Copyright ©2012 by Lee ans Low Books, used with permission.

The story is simple. It begins by setting a mood and a scene. Tropical weather on a day filled with people in colorful outfits, sewing beads onto equally colorful costumes and masks. I can feel a cool breeze from the ocean and the hot sun on my shoulders. All through the village, there are groups of people practicing songs and dances, or making tempting food made with local spices. A young man wishes to play in a drum band and win the top prize. He lucks into a unique sound and then works to perfect the sound. His friends appreciate the sound and together they form a band.

I think the best part of the book is after the story. The “Author’s Note” gives a short biography of the real Winston: ¨Winston “Spree” Simon. Like the Winston of the story, the real Winston lucked into a sound he then worked to perfected. While he used a rock to change the shape of his drum, Winston noticed the stone made interesting tones and pitches. He then perfected what luck brought him and that later became the steel drum of today.

The illustrations are bright and truly capture the Caribbean celebration look. On normal days, most Caribbean people look quite similar to you and I, but during Carnival that all changes. There is plenty of blue sky and green grass, and the music is expressed by fireworks. Kids will like and enjoy these pictures. I suggest locking up the drawers and cupboards that hold your pots and pans if you give this book to your child.


The Author’s notes have enough material for a book report, short history on the steel drum, or a short history of Winston “Spree” Simon. A glossary of words used on the island is included, as are the sources the author used to write The Drummer Boy John John.

I do like The Drummer Boy John John. Do I love it? I love the illustrations. The colors and sounds bring me back to the islands. The story of young Winston is too abbreviated.  I would have liked more of Winston and less of the villagers. But only so much can be done on thirty-two pages. The atmosphere of Trinidad shined through. The history of the steel drum is introduced. And a glossary and author notes help your child understand more of the story. I would buy The Drummer Boy John John. I think older boys and girls will like this book for the information and younger children will like it for the illustrations.


Drummer Boy of John John

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Author: Mark Greenwood    website
Illustrator: Frané Lessac    website           blog
Publisher: Lee and Low Books    website       Facebook
Release Date:  2012
ISBN: 978-1-60060-652-6
Number of Pages: 32        
Ages: 4+

Copyright ©2012 by Lee ans Low Books, used with permission.
Text: Copyright ©2012 by Mark Greenwood.
Illustrations: Copyright ©2012 by Frané Lessac.
book donated to library courtesy of author & publisher

7 thoughts on “#228 – Drummer Boy of John John by Mark Greenwood

    • I just found some typos. Dang

      Did you know that the word typos is slang? Yep, it is slang for “Oh, no. I misspelled that word.” It was suppose to mean the type setter put in the wrong letter. Nope, not anymore. It is all about misspellings by someone who didn’t know or didn’t look up a word, or simply did not check their writing.

      Did I say I misspelled a word? Nah, it’s a typo.


    • I agree. I immediately had images of the Caribbean and wanted to return, right then. I love the islands and the people. It is just as colorful as the illustrations when it is Carnival time. Or any festive time.


  1. I think this is a interesting book. The music, the village, the sunshine. Oh, the sunshine., What I wouldn’t do for some sun right about now. I’m freezing and we have at least 2, 932.5 feet of snow.


    • 2. (point) 9325 or 9, (comma) 9325. Isn’t the second number equal to a mile? So, you live on a mile-high mountain? Or is that just how high the pile of snow is after you plowed out your driveway? You people up north have such imaginations. You should be a writer with all those images floating in your head. (Or seek help. I don’t know which). 😉

      What would I do without you to find the funny or goofy in? That is what makes you a good author, but I can’t repeat that. Not on this side of the border. Least not right now.


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