The author’s note at the beginning sets the time and circumstance: April 21, 1861, when the first shots of the War Between the States were fired.
This fictionalized account of a young drummer boy is told in brief four-line stanzas. “With his hopes high, / Lincoln leads. / Can’t prevent it— / South secedes. / … / Army calling, / ‘We need YOU!’ / Johnny joining, / Drumsticks, new.” The watercolor-and-gouache illustrations provide visual context and depict historical details cited in the author’s note. For instance, a soldier floating above the landscape in a gas-filled observation balloon would signal the drummer boy to relay his orders to the troops with his drum. While the text’s catchy rhythm and rhyme would seemingly lend itself to a young audience, it does not pull punches with the subject. “Soldiers shooting. / Rifles aimed. / Bullets buzzing, / Bodies maimed. / ... / Cannons blasting, / Smoke-filled sky. / Fierce-fought battle, / Soldiers die.” The clipped verse relies on readers’ having some familiarity with the Civil War. Plus, the boy’s voice becomes clouded by the poetry, further hampering the book's ability to connect with readers. While the verse form seems to aim the book at preschoolers and early-elementary children, its subject and need for prior knowledge demand older readers, who will likely reject the format.
Other drummer-boy accounts exist; this one is a cannon-shot shy of making its mark. (Picture book. 8-11)