One of my favorite picture books as a child was “Drummer Hoff”.
The simple text and vivid illustrations captured my attention as a child and still hold it as an adult. In doing some research, I discovered the book was a bit controversial for its time, and believed to carry an underlying anti-war sentiment which was denied by the author and illustrator, Barbara and Ed Emberley. There’s no denying there is much that could be read into the text and illustrations, as with many books, but for me it was always about the rhythm and rhyme. The men in colorful uniforms, each performing an important task. And Drummer Hoff, it was always about Drummer Hoff.
As the book opens, the reader is already privy to the ending, “Drummer Hoff fired it off.” On the first page, we know how the book ends. Why would a reader keep reading?
Knowing the ending, is only part of the story. Yes, the ending is important, and quite satisfying, but it is not the most important part. Sometimes it really is about the journey.
We are told “Drummer Hoff fired it off”, but what is the mysterious “it”?
Even though we know the ending, our journey with Drummer Hoff and the mysterious “it” has only just begun.
I have read this book a hundred times and still I find myself fascinated by the characters, entranced by the color and design of the officers’ uniforms. I feel the excitement I felt when I first wondered, what happens next?
In my own writing, I often struggle with endings. Something terrible or wonderful or earth shattering must happen at the end! But I’m learning (slowly) that the end comes naturally when I let the beginning and middle take me there.
“Drummer Hoff fired it off.” A simple, powerful opening that leaves the reader wondering and wanting more. And so, page after page, we meet the men who build the cannon. Each man doing his duty, contributing an important piece to the story.
Sometimes as a writer, I lose focus of being a reader. I become so focused on what I want to say, that I forget to think about what my reader wants to read. Finding my old friend Drummer Hoff has reminded me, the most important part of any story is to entertain the reader. Some writing is meant to persuade or inform, but ultimately even those articles need to be entertaining. Whether it is a children’s story, a science article, a novel, a poem, a journal article or anything else, if the reader does not wonder, “What happens next?”, they will move on to something else.
Some may not be nearly as entertained by Drummer Hoff as I am, and that’s OK. My Drummer Hoff, may be your Pippi Longstocking or Winnie the Pooh. A character, a story, that keeps the reader guessing and wondering “What happens next?”
As expected, at the end of the book, Drummer Hoff does indeed “fire it off.” And what a big bang it is!
But ultimately, even the bang isn’t truly the end. There is always something after. There is always more to the story, and perhaps that is the best ending of all. An ending that leaves the reader wondering, “What happens next?”
All illustrations are from “Drummer Hoff” adapted by Barbara Emberley and Illustrated by Ed Emberley. Copyright 1967.