Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Banjo of Destiny

Banjo of Destiny

Cary Fagan
For ages 8 to 10
Groundwood Books, 2011   ISBN: 978-1554980864

When they were young, Jeremiah’s parents, Albert and Abigail, “had nothing.” They had to struggle to make ends meet, and had to do without. Then, together, they invented a dental floss dispensing machine and they became very successful, and very wealthy, business people.

Considering their history, it is not surprising that Jeremiah’s parents want only the best for their only son, but unfortunately they do not always take what Jeremiah wants into consideration. They are focused on making sure that he is an “accomplished and impressive” young man, and therefore Jeremiah is subjected to dance, etiquette, and piano lessons that he does not really want. Jeremiah does like music, but having to play classical music on the piano really makes him quite miserable. In fact, as far as the boy is concerned, his life is “a very expensive nightmare.”

One day, during a school cross-country race, Jeremiah and his best friend Luella are trailing behind – Jeremiah is not a good runner – when they hear a sound coming from an old abandoned farmhouse. When they go to investigate they find an older African-American man sitting on the front porch steps and he is playing a banjo and singing. The sound of the banjo completely captivates Jeremiah, who has never heard such wonderful music. For the first time in his life Jeremiah feels a “need” to “be able to make music like that.”

When Jeremiah tells his parents that he wants to learn how to play the banjo they are not pleased. At all. In their opinion a banjo is not a suitable instrument for their son to play, and they don’t care that he does not like the piano; they don’t care that he does not want to play Beethoven, Mozart, or Scarletti. Jeremiah’s father promptly, and firmly, forbids his son from buying a banjo.

Jeremiah’s need to bring a banjo in his life is so acute that he decides to work around his parent’s prohibition. They said he could not buy a banjo, but they did not say that he could not make one. Jeremiah goes online and finds out that it isn’t that hard to make a simple banjo, though for a boy who is not very good at making things with his hands, it will still be a challenge. Luckily for Jeremiah, there are people who are willing to help him, and so he begins on a journey to build his first banjo.

This absolutely delightful book tells the story of how a boy falls in love with a musical instrument, and how that love takes him down a path that forces him to confront all kinds of problems head on.

At the back of the book the author tells us a little about the history of the banjo, and we learn that he, like Jeremiah, has made his own banjos over the years.