When Langston Dances (Kaija Langley)

Hello, friends! Our book today is When Langston Dances, written by Kaija Langley and illustrated by Keith Mallett, a wonderfully empowering tale of one boy’s passion for dance.

Langston likes basketball, but after attending an Alvin Ailey performance, he finds that he LOVES ballet. Having a newfound passion for dance, and with his mother’s ready support, Langston begins practicing poses and moves at every opportunity. He does his best to brush off negative comments, throwing himself into his first dance class in a way that stuns his fellow students and impresses his new teacher. Being a ballet dancer will take work, but Langston is ready – he LOVES to dance.

Majestic. While ballerina books are readily available, ones with male and/or POC protagonists are rare, making this a uniquely inclusive title from the jump. But it is the work of Langley and Mallett that elevate this story of self-acceptance, passion, and pride to a must-read. Langley’s energetic text captures Langston’s irrepressible love for ballet, while deftly and delicately tackling outdated ideas about masculinity. Mallett’s photorealistic illustrations are incredibly engaging – one can see the love in Langston’s mother’s eyes, the pride in ballet teacher Ms. Marie’s smile, and the unfettered joy in Langton’s graceful movements. The final few pages are simply breathtaking, and perfectly capture the exuberance one feels when doing the thing that most brings them happiness – all the more powerful when that someone is a young black boy expressing himself without reservation. The length is great for an elementary storytime, and JJ and I absolutely loved it. Simply put, a fantastic book with the potential to be a modern-day classic, and we highly recommend it. Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided by The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Parker Shines On: Another Extraordinary Moment (Parker Curry & Jessica Curry)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Parker Shines On: Another Extraordinary Moment, written by Parker Curry and Jessica Curry, and illustrated by Brittany Jackson.

A sequel to the real life-inspired Parker Looks Up, we catch up with the irrepressible Parker and her young siblings, Ava and Cash. Parker is a wonderful and caring older sister, always making time to play and have silly dance parties with her little sibs. However, when she’s in ballet class, she stays focused on learning how to be a “real” dancer. Inspired by Mira – a new and talented dancer in class – and a collection of legendary Black ballet dancers, Parker resolves to dedicate her dancing at home to serious practice… even if it means less silly dancing with Ava and Cash. Yet when the big recital comes, Parker may reconsider everything she thought about what it means to be a “real” dancer…

Wonderful. There are several themes at play throughout the story, and they dovetail nicely in the climax, telling a story that encourages kindness and supportive friendship/siblinghood, as well as balancing passion and commitment to one’s endeavors. I especially liked moments that subverted typical tropes; for instance, when another dancer is more talented than Parker and wins the solo in the recital, Parker reacts with support and admiration rather than jealousy. It’s a small moment, but a great reminder that another’s shine does not dim our own. Jackson’s illustrations are graceful and heartwarming, the length is great, and JJ throughly enjoyed the story, but this former dancer does have a quibble: several ballet terms are used incorrectly, and Parker and her fellow students are shown dancing en pointe at far too young an age (which can permanently injure a dancer’s feet). Otherwise, this is a lovely continuation of Parker’s story, and we liked it. Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Black Ballerinas: My Journey to Our Legacy (Misty Copeland)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Black Ballerinas: My Journey to Our Legacy, written by Misty Copeland and illustrated by Salena Barnes, a striking celebration of women of color in the world of dance, past and present.

Historically, dancers of color have often been marginalized in, if not outright excluded from, the world of ballet, both in the performance and recorded history of. As author and famed ballerina Misty Copeland explains, seeing another black ballerina – Lauren Anderson – changed her conception of her own place in dance, and with this in mind, she brings the history, biography, and artistic contributions of twenty-seven other black ballerinas. Readers can get to know dancers like Marion Cuyjet, Debra Austin, Francesca Hayward, and many more – their struggles, their triumphs, and the legacy they are creating for future ballet dancers.

Gorgeous. With each dancer being introduced to the reader through a page of biography, Copeland’s personal thoughts or anecdotes (especially interesting for her contemporaries, whom she has often formed friendships with), a quotation, and a stunning watercolor-inspired portrait of the dancer in action. Copeland fairly acknowledges the issue of colorism within dance, yet presents this volume as an inspiration for future ballerinas to have to courage to change the dancing world, just as their (and her) predecessors did. The art is simply stunning, celebrating the beauty of ballet AND of the black women performing it. The subject matter and tone of the writing make this title better for slightly older bookworms – older elementary to middle grade – but younger readers like JJ can still enjoy the art and the inspirational quotes. A lovely book that shines a light on a collection of graceful and gorgeous women who are more than deserving of their spotlight. Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Brave Ballerina: The Story Of Janet Collins (Michelle Meadows)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Brave Ballerina: The Story Of Janet Collins, written by Michelle Meadows and illustrated by Ebony Glenn, the true story of the remarkable dancer who became the Metropolitan Opera’s first black prima ballerina in 1951.

Born in 1917 in New Orleans, Janet Collins found a passion for dance at an early age. Her tradesmen parents paid for her ballet lessons by making costumes for recitals, and Janet worked hard to improve her craft each day. Yet despite her obvious talent, each ballet academy turned her away at the door, refusing to accept a black student. Continuing to train, mastering new styles and learning from any instructor who would teach her, Janet was finally accepted to a ballet company – only to be told that she would need to paint her skin white to match the other dancers. Janet refused, continuing to work and train and perform where she could until finally, a company saw her skill and talent. Earning her place as prima ballerina at the Met in 1951, Janet Collins was able to step out on stage as herself and do what she was born to – dance.

Powerful. I admit to never having heard Collins’ story before, and it’s a testament to Meadows’s rhyming text and Glenn’s artwork that, by the time the story was through, the reader feels as though they have joined Collins in her journey. The passion for dance bursts from her face and form in each illustration of her in motion; the frustration and shame of the prejudice leveled against her is palpable; the glorious final spread of her beaming onstage before a cheering audience is triumphant. The text is succinct enough to keep the story moving at a brisk pace, yet never glosses over or rushes – each beat feels important and necessary. A beautiful story of perseverance, determination, and pride, and we loved it. Baby Bookworm approved.

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Dancing In The Wings (Debbie Allen)

Hello, friends! Today’s book is Dancing In The Wings, written by Debbie Allen and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, a story about a young girl finding the self-confidence to achieve her dreams.

Since she was very little, Sassy has always longed to dance. She works hard in her ballet class, but there is one problem: Sassy is a head taller than all the other pupils, with long legs and large feet. Because of her size, she rarely gets to perform, having to dance in the wings offstage instead. When an opportunity to audition for a special ballet program comes up, Sassy is eager to try out. That is, until she overhears two girls making fun of her size. Crestfallen, she begins to lose her nerve, until her Uncle Red convinces her that standing out is nothing to be ashamed of. Determined, Sassy decides to embrace her uniqueness: rather than try to blend in, she finds the confidence to stand out.

We had a mostly positive experience with this one. First, as a tall woman with a daughter who may grow be tall herself, I’m happy to find a book that celebrates tall girls. Sassy’s revelation that being different or being noticed can often help us toward our goals is a fantastic lesson for girls, inside and out. Being confident, self-assured and having positive body-image is always something that young girls should be encouraged to do. Two sticking points for me, though: a lot of premium was placed on Sassy’s looks, but far less on her non-physical attributes. I was also slightly disappointed that when another character would insult Sassy’s appearance, she would often retort by insulting the other person’s appearance in turn. Sinking to a bully’s level of being petty or cruel isn’t the best lesson. Still, this was a mostly positive story, with some lovely art to boot. The length was a bit long for babies, but JJ enjoyed it. So we’re calling this one Baby Bookworm approved!