The Boy with a Drum

Hi everyone,

Yesterday I spoke to The Hospitality Club at Twin Oaks Country Club in Springfield and enjoyed it very much. Shortly before leaving the house I received a note from a lovely woman named Amy Hebert that began, “rat-a-tat-tat, rum-a-tum-tum.” I knew at once she was talking about THE BOY WITH A DRUM, illustrated by the wonderful artist Eloise Wilkin. Amy told me that her daughter, now in her 30s, loved THE BOY WITH A DRUM when she was six months old and used to bounce and bob to the rhythm of the book. That, of course, made my day.

As we exchanged notes I also learned that Amy’s husband once gave a sermon based on the story. I smiled about that thought as I drove to Twin Oaks and on the way remembered that many years ago a friend of mine who died had THE BOY WITH A DRUM read at her funeral. I was there to hear it.

THE BOY WITH A DRUM was my first children’s book and came out on October 1, 1969. I was paid $350 outright for it and by 1979 it had sold 2 million copies. Later this year I’ll try to remember to have a small celebration on that date. This morning I visited Amazon to capture a picture of the book for this blog and discovered that it is still being reviewed now and then, one as recently as July, 2018. The only reviews that aren’t 5 stars are by people who bought used copies and weren’t happy about the condition of their book. Here’s a typical review.

5.0 out of 5 stars
A Must-Have for Every Child’s LibraryApril 2, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase

This darling little book has gotten oodles of use in my family- so many fond memories. My sisters and I were read it growing up, and once our brother came along….well let’s just say we all STILL have it memorized even now that he’s all grown up and a talented drummer in a band, LOL. It has such a fun rhythm and rhyme to it while telling a story about a little boy playing his drum and meeting different animals along his way. By the end, they’re all following him. You can almost hear his rat-a-tat-tat, rum-a-tum-tum going off into the distance 🙂 Really gets everyone’s feet and hands tapping. Great pictures too. One of those books you won’t mind reading over and over and over…and you WILL 🙂 It’s as enjoyable to read as it is to listen to. I buy this book for every baby shower I attend and I haven’t met a parent, grandparent, or child yet (infant on up) that doesn’t love it (and I was a nanny.) What are you waiting for, buy it already!!

In a 2017 review I read that THE BOY WITH A DRUM was read to a sick infant who died after living only thirty days. The family read the book at his funeral. I’m deeply touched knowing that my simple little story has been so intimately involved in people’s lives.

THE BOY WITH A DRUM hasn’t been in print for decades except for anthologies such as LITTLE GOLDEN BOOK CLASSICS and FARM TALES. I’m grateful that my little boy is still out there, playing his drum and marching over the hill.

Some wonderful things have happened along the way

Hi everyone,

Talking about the plays with Sandy Asher yesterday got me thinking about the versatility of children’s stories and poetry. As Sandy prepared to write the play, SOMEBODY CATCH MY HOMEWORK, she read all my books of poetry at the time plus some manuscripts on hand, discovered the characters that appealed to her sense as a playwright, and then created a special time and place peopled with some of my characters and some of hers. My poems came from different books written over time. How Sandy managed to pull them all together in one classroom is something she would have to explain! Poems came from SOMEBODY CATCH MY HOMEWORK (the book) plus A THOUSAND COUSINS, THE ALLIGATOR IN THE CLOSET, THE MOUSE WAS OUT AT RECESS, THE PURCHASE OF SMALL SECRETS, WILD COUNTRY, and various works in progress.

It has been my good fortune to see my work adapted to other uses too. JOHNNY APPLESEED, MY STORY was adapted as a short play. WHEN COWS COME HOME was set to music and released as a cassette. The book SOMEBODY CATCH MY HOMEWORK was released on CD-Rom (back in the day). Piggy Wiglet, from PIGGY WIGLET’S BIG ADVENTURE is now a tattoo on a fan’s leg.

Poems from six of my books (THE BOY WHO COUNTED STARS, THE ALLIGATOR IN THE CLOSET, EASY POETRY LESSONS THAT DAZZLE AND DELIGHT, THE MOUSE WAS OUT AT RECESS, A THOUSAND COUSINS and USING THE POWER OF POETRY) have been set to music (by Chris Craig), performed by a trio before live audiences, featured on radio, and recorded on a CD.

The poem, “My Book,” from the book SOMEBODY CATCH MY HOMEWORK was chosen by a committee in Phoenix to sandblast into the sidewalk into the new (at the time) Children’s Garden at the Burton Barr Library. The same poem was chosen in Pueblo, Colorado to be painted all the way around a newly purchased bookmobile that serves children in rural and hard to reach areas. Plans were (or are) to translate the same poem into Swahili to use with children of the Kibera Slum School in Nairobi, Kenya.

Patrick Reynolds, conductor of the Dayton Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, featured five poems from BUGS, POEMS ABOUT CREEPING THINGS (Flea, Bees, Worm, Fly, and Spanish Flea) for the final concert in the 2013-2014 Family Series. The Dayton Ballet II also performed before the audience of 1,200 people. In Texas a university music teacher wrote musical accompaniment to “Signing On a Crew” from PIRATES for a choral contest she entered with her men’s choir.

We’re in ongoing discussion with a classical composer in Berlin who is interested in creating orchestral accompaniment for THE BOOK OF GIANT STORIES, which was his favorite book as a child in Germany. Story tellers in the U.S. and abroad have adapted stories from THE BOOK OF GIANT STORIES for their purposes, at least one with musical accompaniment. Up in Canada, Ginn Publishing brought out Listening Tapes for Levels Five and Six and included “The Little Boy’s Secret” from THE BOOK OF GIANT STORIES. Stories from the book have been read on BBC. Another book, LITTLE TURTLE’S BIG ADVENTURE, was read by Mr. Green Jeans on the old TV show, Captain Kangaroo.

I’m skipping anthologies and other translations to focus on unusual or unexpected uses of my work. I think I’ve overlooked some but this amble is already too long. All I can say is that I’ve been grateful for each and every pleasant surprise along my way. Since I set out for first grade in Ajo, Arizona, I’ve had a grand journey so far. Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!


Hi everyone,

By now many of you have spotted Sandy Asher’s post of the latest news about our play (which she wrote inspired by my poetry) called SOMEBODY CATCH MY HOMEWORK. It is about to be presented by Story Theater Company in Iowa City, Iowa, as its winter touring production. Directed by Caisha Johnson, this STC ON TOUR production will perform several shows for Ames area after-school programs in February and March of 2019 with a final showcase performance for the public on April 5 at STC’s Black Box Theater.

STC produces two main-stage productions, two black box shows, and a touring production each season as well as classes, camps, and workshops. They are particularly committed to reaching under served children. They have donated hundreds of free tickets to area social service agencies, provided scholarship aid to participants, and kept tickets reasonably priced, in their on-going effort to afford everyone the opportunity to experience live theater.

Maybe Sandy will have a better idea than I about how many times the play has been produced since it celebrated its world premier, directed by Maxine Whittaker, with original music by Ric Averill, in Springfield, Missouri, April 11-14, 2002. I remember at least once when it was produced in Europe. I’m always thrilled when a new production comes along. Thank you, Sandy, for making this happen!

Sandy and I collaborated on another play based on our novel in verse called JESSE AND GRACE: A BEST FRIENDS STORY. Again, Sandy wrote the play but in this case it was based on our story of Jesse and Grace, which we took turns writing. This one premiered in the Pollyanna Theatre Company, Austin, Texas, in June 2008, directed by Matetzschk-Campbell. That play won Distinguished Play of the Year from the Alliance of American Theatre and Education. Sandy received the honor in Chicago in 2011.

Waiting for spring

Hi everyone,

Waiting for spring, our hibiscus plants lean against the window and practice blooming. The bougainvillea is doing the best it can to show some color now and then. Even the dormant orchids in the window are beginning to anticipate the return of more reliable sun.

In the yards around Goose Lake, geese are pairing off and wandering alone like shy teens on first dates. The crows own the patio. Might as well play there. No one else is using it yet.

Facing forward

Hi everyone,

As we all know, writing stories and finding publishers for our work is a slow, tedious business. I was fortunate to have two new titles come out in 2018 plus a chapter in a book for the classroom and some poems in anthologies. This year I have one new book coming out plus the lead article in next month’s Winter Issue of Missouri Reader.

In 2020 two new trade books are set for release. One is nonfiction, one is poetry. Two more trade books come out in 2021. One is fiction, one is poetry. I think I’ll have one, if not two, education books out during that same period.

It’s a long time from now to 2021 so I will do all I can to get more projects under contract by then, but in football parlance, this is a ground game. Progress is usually made in a series of short yardage gains. I’ve sold 101 books in 52 years so my average is roughly two books per year.

To Matt Forrest Esenwine, Charles Waters, and you others who are coming on strong now as you build your careers, I applaud you and wish you much success salted with patience for the process. Every time someone knocks you down, someone else will give you a hand up. It is, after all, a humane industry.