Welcome to another Write a Review Wednesday, a meme started by Tara Lazar as a way to show support to authors of kids literature. Last week we reviewed Me and Rolly Maloo. This week I look at Groundwood Books’ Banjo of Destiny (age 10-12), written by Cary Fagan. I have to thank Trisha at Groundwood Books for my review copy.
Jeremiah Birnbaum is stinking rich. He lives in a house with nine bathrooms, a games room, an exercise room, an indoor pool, a hot tub, a movie theater, a bowling alley and a tennis court. His parents, a former hotdog vendor and window cleaner who made it big in dental floss, make sure Jeremiah goes to the very best private school, and that he takes lessons in all the things he will need to know how to do as an accomplished and impressive young man. Etiquette lessons, ballroom dancing, watercolor painting. And, of course, classical piano.
Jeremiah complies, because he wants to please his parents. But one day, by chance, he hears the captivating strains of a different kind of music — the strums, plucks and rhythms of a banjo. It’s music that stirs something in Jeremiah’s dutiful little soul, and he is suddenly obsessed. And when his parents forbid him to play one, he decides to learn anyway — even if he has to make the instrument himself.
I’ll admit, I was personally drawn to Banjo of Destiny because of my love of the ukulele. I realize they’re not the same instrument but they are viewed in the same way: strange, uncommon, lowbrow. But like Jeremiah, I was drawn to its sound.
You may think a book about a boy playing the banjo wouldn’t be that appealing to kids, but Banjo of Destiny is more than that. It deals with growing-up and finding your own voice. Jeremiah has let his parents have control over all his life: where he goes to school, what he wears, the classes he takes, even the music he listens too. But when the sound of the banjo strikes a chord with him (no pun intended), he doesn’t let his parents’ desires get in the way.
When his parents won’t let him learn the banjo, he decides to do it in secret, even going as far as building one in shop class to ensure he doesn’t break his parents’ rule about spending any money on the instrument. Jeremiah’s best friend Luella, who isn’t rich and has a wilder, more relaxed view on life, encourages his desire. Knowing how much playing the banjo means to Jeremiah, Luella even pushes him to let his parents know, to stop keeping it a secret.
Banjo of Destiny is a great story for kids about finding your passion and pursuing it, not letting others deter you. It’s also a wonderful story about friendship. I love Cary Fagan‘s writing too (Thing-Thing from Tundra Books is still one of my favourite pictures books to date).
To add a copy of Banjo of Destiny to your personal library, visit your local bookstore or Groundwood Books. For other great book ideas for kids, reach through the previous Write a Review Wednesday posts. What books are your kids enjoying?