During this time, I’m going to use different literary mediums to be teaching ELA (non-fiction, fiction, poetry) every few days (not sure, maybe each week) as a gateway to explore different subjects like Art, Music, Geography, History, Food, Culture, Math, etc. We may not do all the subjects every time and sometimes we may do more–I’m playing a lot of it by ear. Mostly, I’m going to let my daughter guide me, and if she’s really into something, we will continue to explore it. The larger point is to have fun and do the best we can under these extraordinary and unknown moments while keeping her engaged and excited about learning.

Please remember, the beauty of poetry is that it opens up world’s beyond the poem. You can use one to teach language, writing, art, music, geography, culture, history, food, the list is endless. Most important, poetry and language are supposed to inspire not frustrate.


Read the poem to yourself, and then read it aloud several times (you can even ask your someone to go back and forth with you–one person reads one stanza and another the next). Pay attention to the sounds and the beats. Underline words or phrases that you strike you.


Drum Dream Girl

By Margarita Engle

On an island of music

in a city of drumbeats

the drum dream girl



of pounding tall conga drums

tapping small bongó drums

and boom boom booming

with long, loud sticks

on big, round, silvery

moon-bright timbales.


But everyone

on the island of music

in the city of drumbeats

believed that only boys

should play drums


so the drum dream girl

had to keep dreaming






At outdoor cafés that looked like gardens

she heard drums played by men

but when she closed her eyes

she could also hear

her own imaginary



When she walked under

wind-wavy palm trees

in a flower-bright park

she heard the whir of parrot wings

the clack of woodpecker beaks

the dancing tap

of her own footsteps

and the comforting pat

of her own



At carnivals, she listened

to the rattling beat

of towering


on stilts


and the dragon clang

of costumed drummers

wearing huge masks.


At home, her fingertips

rolled out their own

dreamy drum rhythm

on tables and chairs…


and even though everyone

kept reminding her that girls

on the island of music

have never played drums


the brave drum dream girl

dared to play

tall conga drums

small bongó drums

and big, round, silvery

moon-bright timbales.


Her hands seemed to fly

as they rippled


and pounded

all the rhythms

of her drum dreams.


Her big sisters were so excited

that they invited her to join

their new all-girl dance band


but their father said only boys

should play drums.


So the drum dream girl

had to keep dreaming

and drumming



until finally

her father offered

to find a music teacher

who could decide if her drums


to be heard.


The drum dream girl’s

teacher was amazed.

The girl knew so much

but he taught her more

and more

and more


and she practiced

and she practiced

and she practiced


until the teacher agreed

that she was ready

to play her small bongó drums

outdoors at a starlit café

that looked like a garden


where everyone who heard

her dream-bright music


and danced

and decided

that girls should always

be allowed to play



and both girls and boys

should feel free

to dream.


This poem was inspired by the childhood of a Chinese-African-Cuban girl who broke Cuba’s traditional taboo against female drummers. In 1932, at the age of ten, Millo Castro Zaldarriaga performed with her older sisters as Anacaona, Cuba’s first “all-girl dance band.” Millo became a world-famous musician, playing alongside all the American jazz greats of the era. At age fifteen, she played her bongó drums at a New York birthday celebration for U.S. president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, where she was enthusiastically cheered by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. There are now many female drummers in Cuba. Thanks to Millo’s courage, becoming a drummer is no longer an unattainable dream for girls on the island. [note from the author]


Margarita Engle, “Drum Dream Girl” from Drum Dream Girl.  Copyright © 2015 by Margarita Engle.  Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Source: Drum Dream Girl (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015)



There are 6 short answers and a prompt for a longer writing at the end


Poetry terms:

Point out two things:

This poem uses Onomatopoeia.

Onomatopoeia: word that sounds like what it is (Boom, chirp, pow)

Stanza: group of lines in the poem


Have kids answer the following and then you can pick one question or all to discuss.

  1. Why do you think the poet titled the poem Drum Dream Girl?


  1. Why did the drum dream girl dream quietly and secretly?


  1. What’s one adjective that you would use to describe the drum dream girl. Explain why you chose that word.


  1. Pick a favorite line/stanza. Tell me why you chose it?


  1. What does this mean: “You and I travel to the beat of a different drummer.” Could it be said that Millo heard her own rhythm?


  1. How important was practice in Millo’s effort to make her dream come true? How important were lessons?


  1. What do you think the poet wants us to learn from this poem?


Longer writing: Think of a time in when you were told you couldn’t do something either because of your gender or because it was “too hard.” How did you cope? (did you imagine, dream, or ask someone for help)? And what was the outcome?



Art component:

Go back to the poem and choose one stanza you really liked. Now, like the Drum Dream girl, imagine it and draw it.


 Explore some music from Cuba or listen to Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, the girl being referenced in the poem, play drums.



Try making some traditional Cuban food


Explore some of the history of Cuba at the time of the poem 1932.

Explore the history of Cuban music


Look at Cuba on a map

Talk about its climate and what it produces


Explore some Cuban culture