Title: Steel Drumming at the Apollo: The Road to Super Top Dog
Author: Trish Marx
Illustrator: Ellen B. Senisi
Publisher: Lee & Low Books
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level: 6.0
Concepts: human resources, schooling, careers, incentives
Review: This powerful book takes the reader on an exciting journey from Schenectady, New York to the Apollo Theater in New York City as the Hamilton Hill Street Drum Band tries to become the top act in the Amateur Night competitions. Along the way, we learn about the interesting and diverse backgrounds of the seven band members: Ahmel, Aaron, Spencer, Dayshawn, Andre, Steven, and Dha’Sean. Their family backgrounds, commitment to hard work, and their creativity in music and dance are conveyed through a clever blend of narrative and quotes. Photographs from the boys’ childhoods, performances, and jam sessions add to the reader’s emerging sense of the valuable roles that family, school, and community have played in their personal development. The accompanying CD (with the band’s competition song plus other original tracks by each band member) further helps the reader to experience their talents and energy.
The side bars with background information provide interesting facts about the Apollo Theater, the origins of the steel drum, the church as a location for teens’ social lives, and making beats in hip-hop and rap. We also learn about the importance of institutions such as the John Sayles School of Fine Arts, a part of the high school that these boys attend, in providing a specialized curriculum to prepare students for further schooling and careers in the arts. Another element in the mix is the Hamilton Hill Arts Center, a gathering place for young people in the toughest part of Schenectady. Directed by a woman who was active in the civil rights movement, this center provides the space, opportunities, and mentoring that all helped to inspire the Hamilton Hill Street Drum Band.
The main source of the book’s excitement and “can’t put down” feel comes from the Apollo Amateur Night competitions and the boys’ progression to the final face-off. Woven throughout is a sophisticated set of lessons about working hard, nurturing talents, mentoring, studying, and responding to positive incentives. The book is as meaningful in social studies content as it is rich in artistic expression.
Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children