Fuse 8 n’ Kate: Drummer Hoff by Barbara Emberley, ill. Ed Emberley
As many of you already know, I hate to start a podcast off in this way with my sister’s #1 dislike (honest!fer sure! you betcha!) but since listener Ann Burke was so kind as to send us a remarkable piece of clown-related kidlit history (and I am RAPIDLY making an amazing Vintage Horrifying Picture Book Clown collection for myself) you cannot blame me if I feature it on the podcast right off the bat.
Meanwhile, (and not to bury the lede) our actual book featured today was DRUMMER HOFF. An odd mix of 1960s psychedelia meets Colonial woodcuts, in 1968 it was the ultimate Vietnam War bit of picture book commentary. NOT that the Emberley ever embraced that interpretation, but I am DANG sure the librarians had that in their minds when they selected it for a Caldecott Award. In today’s talk we discuss our various interpretations of this book as well as what its ultimate contribution was to children’s literature as a whole.
Trigger Warning: If you do not like clowns, this may be the post to skip. But to do this book right, I’m showing you the following right off the bat. The publication date is 1953. This is what stood in for nonfiction in that era. It’s The Book of Clowns by Felix Sutton, ill. James Schucker:
It gets worse.
Okay, let’s just count them down at this point. So you’ve got ableism . . .
Fatphobia . . .
Uh. . . . oh boy.
You know what? I’m out. I’m just out at this point. Let’s get on with our real book today, shall we?
Kate: re the cover: “It’s so busy”. And why is the cannon named “Sultan”?
Kate’s argument is that Corporal Farrell is our best representation of Sgt. Pepper.
Kate: “If an illustration could show PTSD, it is what it would be. It would be this guy.”
“None of these outfits are appropriate for the battlefield!”
“And then we meet, Major Scott… He looks like he’s going to pass out.” And the little bird on it is clearly standing on his shot, mocking him.
This is the page where you can really appreciate the variety of noses amongst the men.
Like I said, the Emberleys did NOT want to engage in a big discussion of what this book “means”. I respect that. At the same time, I cannot help but notice that on every single page, Drummer Hoff, the guy who is setting off the weapon at our command, is staring directly at us. Breaking the fourth wall. Holding us accountable for what he is about to do. This man, and I mean this sincerely, terrifies me.
Stare into the soul of Drummer Hoff and repent your sins.
Do you like the word “Kahbahbloom” for this cannon going off?
I will say this much. If, as the Emberleys said, this wasn’t an anti-war book, how do you justify this last image?
Kate Recommends: The Devil Next Door
Betsy Recommends: Oppenheimer
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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