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.)

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!