Spooky rhythm and rhyme: Evanston author Jarrett Dapier discusses picture book “The Most Haunted House in America”


Jessica Ma/The Daily Northwestern

Evanston author Jarrett Dapier holds up a copy of “The Most Haunted House in America,” a spooky tale about skeleton drummers.

Jessica Ma, Reporter

Boom! Thump! Clang!

Three figures in skeleton jumpsuits banged their drums in the parking lot next to Squeezebox Books & Music, building to a haunting rhythm. A crowd of children and parents, some dressed in their Halloween costumes, cheered to the beat. 

Squeezebox Books & Music in Evanston hosted a public reading of the picture book “The Most Haunted House in America” Saturday. Written by Evanston author Jarrett Dapier, the story follows skeleton drummers at the White House’s Halloween celebration — complete with spooky twists and turns.

“They’re invited to play the drums while kids trick or treat,” Dapier told The Daily. “When they go inside, they take a wrong turn and run into some real ghosts at a haunted ghost party.”

Dapier drew inspiration for the story from his own experiences. In 2009, he was invited to drum at the White House for President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama’s first Halloween celebration. For over two hours, he drummed alongside two other drummers, all dressed as skeletons as more than 2,500 children and adults trick-or-treated.

That night, Dapier remembered looking around and thinking to himself, “I’ve got to remember this moment.” He saw children and their parents dancing to the beat of the drums, which he said  brought him immense joy. 

Evanston drummer Rick Kubes, who played alongside Dapier at the White House, joined for Saturday’s performance. As Dapier read aloud, Kubes and eighth-grader Jude Weinstein played the drums. 

“It’s such an awesome book,” Weinstein said. “It’s so fun being able to bring it to life.”

Squeezebox Books & Music owner Tim Peterson said at first he thought the drumming performance would be like a rock ‘n’ roll jam. 

Instead, the performance was similar to a moody soundtrack, Peterson said. He could see Dapier directing and crafting the piece as it went along.

“What I liked best about the piece was the shape, the form, the dynamics,” Peterson said. “That was really varied, eerie. Then, it got really rumbling and fun.”

For Dapier, strong rhythms are important in writing picture books and make for great read-alouds. Dapier said he brings his drummer’s sense of rhythm to writing the book, which was illustrated by Lee Gatlin. Throughout the book, he used drumming terminology to complete rhymes, such as ghost notes, a rim click and ratamacue. 

Dapier began writing “The Most Haunted House in America” after reading Michelle Obama’s memoir “Becoming,” in which she mentions the 2009 skeleton drummers’ performance.

“I nearly fell out of my chair reading the book. I didn’t think she was going to talk about that,” Dapier said. “That’s actually when I said, ‘Okay, she’s writing about this in her memoir. This is technically history.’”

In her memoir, Obama describes her efforts to organize the Halloween celebration, though the West Wing worried about the event’s optics while the country was experiencing economic troubles. Obama emphasized the importance of entertainment — even during hard times. 

Pandemic times can cause stress in people’s lives, Peterson said. While remaining conscious of COVID-19, he said, outdoor events like Saturday’s reading allow for communal joy.

Ultimately, living in Evanston shapes his storytelling, Dapier said, because of the creative people who live here. 

“It’s just inspiring because there are people who live here who made me who I am,” Dapier said. “(Evanston is) such a cool, creative place to be, especially for people with a family.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @JessicaMa2025

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