Drummer Hoff (and possibly over-thinking it)

Drummer Hoff, adapted by Barbara Emberley and illustrated by Ed Emberley, was originally published in 1967. It won the Caldecott Medal in 1968. I don’t know what other books were up for the medal that year, but I can see why Drummer Hoff won. The unique illustrations are bright and bold with woodcut lines, and they almost look like stained glass drawings. No elaborate backgrounds were needed as the characters and foreground stand out enough on their own.

This book is the story of a cannon being built with different components coming from a person of each military ranking. And each person’s name conveniently rhymes with the item they bring for building the cannon. You know, “Private Parriage brought the carriage” and Corporal Farrell brought the barrel.” If you start thinking too much about this book, you may wonder if this is really just a folk tale written in verse for kids or a commentary on war–Was anyone hurt when the cannon was fired? Who’s at fault for firing it, Drummer Hoff, who “fired it off” or General Border who “gave the order”? And oh god, what sort of atrocity did Captain Bammer (who brought the rammer) suffer that caused him to lose his eye? How did Sergeant Chowder (who brought the powder) lose his leg? Don’t worry, the book doesn’t describe these injuries, Captain Bammer is just illustrated with an eye patch and Sergeant Chowder with a peg leg.

You could really get carried away focusing too much on the underlying war theme, but I don’t think kids’ minds will go there. They will have fun listening to the rhythm of the words when this book is read aloud to them. Drummer Hoff feels like a nursery rhyme, and kids will love memorizing the cumulative order of the story and reciting the lines along with the reader. And they will be mesmerized by the vivid illustrations. You can see why in the spreads below.