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!

Swan: The Life And Dance Of Anna Pavlova (Laurel Snyder)

Hello, everybody! Today’s book is Swan: The Life And Dance Of Anna Pavlova, written by Laurel Snyder and illustrated by Julie Morstad, a picture book biography of the noted turn-of-the-century ballerina.

Born to humble beginnings in a cold, dark, and snowy country, Anna is very small while the world is very big. One day, Anna’s mother brings her to the ballet, and Anna feels her spirit grow. She is possessed by the desire to dance, working tirelessly despite her small size. She becomes a world-famous prima ballerina, performing for dignitaries and royalty. But Anna came from small beginnings, and she wants people like her to experience the wonder and beauty of dance. So Anna travels the world, dancing for rich and poor, in cities and villages, for princely sums and for nothing at all. And even when she grows sick and weak, the will to dance still burns within her, until she leaves the world wishing for one last spotlight, and one last turn as her most famous role, The Dying Swan.

This is an undeniably gorgeous book. The art is breathtakingly beautiful, capturing the light and delicate grace of Pavlova’s style of ballet, the fashions of the time, and the transformation of a dancer in their role. The text has a poetic rhythm, forgoing the basic statement of fact present in most biographies for spare, lyrical prose that definitely fits the ambiance of the book. Still, I might not recommend this for very young bookworms like JJ: the longer length, muted color scheme, and the accurate but rather depressing ending (Pavlova died as theatrically as she lived, but tragically nonetheless) make it a bit of a downer, and JJ clearly wasn’t feeling it by the end. Older bookworms, however, are sure to be enchanted by the phenomenal art and story, so we can still call this one Baby Bookworm approved!

Firebird (Misty Copeland)

Hello, friends! Today, we read Firebird, written by Misty Copeland and illustrated by Christopher Myers, a gorgeously unique ballerina book to inspire young dreamers.

An abstractly autobiographical story, Copeland, the first African-American ballerina to become a principal dancer of the American Ballet Theater, uses the story of her own rise to encourage a young dancer struggling with confidence. The girl believes that Misty’s success and talent are an unachievable goal for someone like her. Misty denies this, relating that she once stood in the girl’s ballet slippers, and that hard work, dedication, and belief in herself is what made her great. She shows the girl that with these qualities, she too will shine bright as a Firebird, and inspire the next generation of dreamers that follows.

This book was fabulous. On the surface, it’s a classic lesson in achieving through work and perseverance, made all the more authentic due to its author. More than this, though, it is a wholly unique ballerina book that injects a little style and color into a well-worn genre. As Copeland notes in her afterward, while there are plenty of books about ballerinas, there are very few about ballerinas who look like her, and she wanted to write a book for them. The stylistic, lyrical text and bright, vibrant hues of the illustrations join the story in celebrating dancers of color (including boys in the final pages, a lovely surprise!) in a way that departs from the prim, pastel images of most ballet books, giving it a vibrancy that these stories can lack. The length was great for little ones, and JJ adored the story and art. If you’re looking for a ballerina book that breaks the mold, this is it. We loved it, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

Brontorina (James Howe)


Summer Reading Day 51: Today’s book/hat is Brontorina by James Howe. This was a book that came up on a lot of bloggers’ lists when I was looking for book recommendations for my Body Positivity display, and I can totally see why. It’s a great story about Brontorina, an apatosaurus who just knows that she was meant to be a dancer, even if she’s not shaped like the other ballerinas.

The underlying message is one of believing in your dreams, but I also loved how the other characters were so willing to support Brontorina. The dance school’s teacher and students are behind Brontorina and her dreams, with the exception of two characters that are so in the background that even their words of doubt are diminished to tiny speech bubbles, and not included in the main narrative. Fortunately, the book ends happily for Brontorina, with a final page that brought a tear to my eye. It’s a great length for a one-year-old, and while the illustrations are a little less engaging for a toddler than some of the books we’ve read (they have a pretty limited color scheme), they are adorable nonetheless. Thumbs up from JJ and I!