Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Different Drummer: I Am Drums by Mike Grosso

"Can you tell me why you're here?" Dr. Pullman asks. "A lunch supervisor says you hit Danny with a drumstick."

"That's not true," I say. "I hit Danny with a marimba mallet. Danny says girls look stupid playing drums. I was minding my own business practicing with my mallets, and he started saying my rhythm sucks and I ruin every song in band class."

Dr. Pullman sighs. "Well, he shouldn't have said that. But you have to learn that there are other ways to solve problems that won't land you in trouble."

That's easy for Mr. Pullman to say. I'm the only girl in the percussion section in band.

Sam is a girl who doesn't care about being popular or making the honor roll at middle school. She just wants to play drums. She hears drums in her head day and night, and during classes her hands are busy tapping out rhythms in her lap. The trouble is that the drums in band class are the only ones she gets to use.

I only asked for a drum set once. And I had the miserable luck of asking for it the day my dad came home with the news that he'd been laid off. He totally blew a gasket.

Sam fashions a make-shift drum kit, with a paperback Calvin and Hobbs for snares, two encyclopedias for the tom-toms, a fat Sunday newspaper for a crash cymbal, and two weekly newspapers for her ride cymbal and hi-hat. They're quiet, but nothing like a full drum set, and Sam's only hope of ever playing a real kit is to make the eighth-grade jazz orchestra.

Sam knows that her only chance to pass that audition is to take lessons and get to play real drums, and when she learns about Pete Murphy, the best teacher in town, she screws up her courage to ask him for lessons. She "borrows" the family lawn mower and lines up enough mowingcustomers to pay Pete thirty dollars a week, and with just a few lessons, Pete's skepticism about her talent turns to real enthusiasm.

But Sam's other problem is still there. Mr. Pullman keeps calling her parents to set up a conference about the mallet incident, and Sam keeps deleting the calls, hoping that Mr. Pullman will forget about it. Pete gives her a practice pad and Sam works at her drumming every minute she can, and Pete responds by wrangling her a spot at the Kirkwood Music School recital. And when she learns that music classes at her school have lost all funding for next year, Sam knows that Kirkwood may be her only way to continue in music. Pete promises her that she's going to wow the judges.

But then everything goes wrong. The lawnmower quits working and Sam's dad comes home from being fired from his new job to find her trying to sneak the broken mower back into the basement. And then her little brother answers the phone, and it's Mr. Pullman, not at all happy to be making his eighth call on a Saturday to reach her parents. Sam is grounded, has no way to pay for lessons and the drum set she's been saving for, and her hopes seemed to crash like out-of-tune cymbals.

From its downbeat, Mike Grosso's I Am Drums (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) is in perfect time with this story of a girl with a different drummer inside her head. Despite her drive to be the only girl drummer in her school band, Sam's story of a seventh-grader who has found her life's passion is right on the beat, one that many kids who don't exactly fit into the rhythm of middle school life will feel in their hearts.

Grosso's storytelling has both honesty and humor, riding the upbeat, keeping readers invested in Sam's struggles to find a way to follow her dreams and develop her talent against the odds.

Two crash cymbal strokes and a forte Ba-Dah-Boom, Mr. Grosso!

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