Reviews for In the Time of the Drums

Booklist Monthly Selections - #1 April 1999
Gr. 2^-5, younger for reading aloud. Based on the Gullah legend of a slave rebellion at Ibo's Landing in the Sea Islands, this stirring picture book tells the story from the point of view of an African American child. Mentu is island born and has never known Africa or longed for it, but his beloved grandmother, Twi, is an Ibo conjure woman who remembers the times before. Unlike many who work in the fields, "harvesting what they could not keep," she is not broken by slavery. She teaches Mentu the old stories and songs, teaches him her secrets, and shows him how to beat the ancient rhythms on the goatskin drum between his knees. Then one hot, breathless day, a slave ship arrives with a whole village of Ibo from Benin: the Ibo people hear the island drums and think some magic has brought them home, but when they see the truth of where they are, they refuse to get off the ship. Twi calls to them ("The water can take us home"), and together they walk into the ocean to get home. Mentu grows up strong to pass on what Twi had taught him "through slave time and freedom time and on up to now time." As in the urban contemporary story Max Found Two Sticks (1994), Pinkney's signature colored scratchboard illustrations with swirling circular rhythmic lines show the drums that beat in the story and the connections they make, circles through sky, land, and ocean, and between people. In an afterword, Siegelson traces the legend, which she first heard from her grandmother as a ghost story, and extends it. This handsome picture book will pass it on. ((Reviewed April 1, 1999)) Copyright 2000 Booklist Reviews

Horn Book Magazine Reviews 1999 #3
This eerily beautiful slave tale takes place off the coast of Georgia where Mentu lives with his grandmother Twi, an Ibo conjure woman. She teaches him the songs and stories of her African birthplace, insisting on the importance of not forgetting his people's past, and he practices on his drum until the rhythms feel "as natural to him as his own heart beating." When a slave ship arrives, bearing members of the Ibo tribe, the captives refuse to follow their captors ashore. The water had brought them, they chant, and the water would bring them home. Conjure-woman Twi runs to the captives, "the years melt[ing] from her like butter on an ash cake," and leads them, still chanting, back to the river, where they follow until their chains snap away and the water swirls over their heads. An author's note details the derivation of the story and how Siegelson has adapted it (changing the death, or "slave's freedom," chosen by the Ibos into an actual ability to walk beneath water). Siegelson peppers the text with a rhythmic dialect that is deftly balanced by the slow, dignified cadences of the narrative. Pinkney's scratchboard illustrations reflect the allegorical nature of the tale, revealing both the real and the imagined, sorrow and joy. The dark, initial picture of the slaves in the hold of the ship contrasts sharply to the last image of them, clasping hands, all power and fluid movement against the swirling lines of the water. In the end, Mentu, a father now, teaches the old songs, stories, and rhythms to his own children, assuring that Twi's lessons will not be forgotten. n.v. Copyright 1999 Horn Book Magazine Reviews

School Library Journal Reviews 1999 May
Gr 2-5-A Gullah story brought into beautiful focus by Pinkney's trademark scratchboard-on-oil drawings. Mentu and his grandmother, Twi, are plantation slaves who live on an island off the coast of Georgia. Twi knows some "powerful root magic" and still yearns for her African home. She remembers the stories and the rhythms of the drums, and shares them with Mentu. One day, a ship bearing new slaves arrives in Teakettle Creek, and the island people beat ``ancient rhythms" on their drums announcing the ship's arrival. At first the Ibos think they are back in Africa; when they realize they are not, they refuse to leave the ship. Suddenly, Twi hangs her charm bag on Mentu's neck and begins to run toward the water. Magically, the years slip off her as she beckons to the newcomers. Together, they break away from the slave catchers and disappear under the water. Mentu believes that they are walking home to freedom. This well-told story is unusual and powerful. It raises some interesting questions about the meaning and value of freedom, and of literal interpretation of text. The rhythms hint at Gullah language, but the narrative is clear, accessible, and at the same time poetic. Pinkney's illustrations enhance the power of the tale by being at once realistic and mystical. This thought-provoking story would be a splendid addition to any collection.-Linda Greengrass, Bank Street College Library, New York City Copyright 1999 School Library Journal Reviews