Children’s Books about Dance Are Taking Flight

BookendsLynn: When I was six my father took me to my first ballet. I was completely smitten and decided instantly that my future lay in toe shoes and tutus! Alas, since I have zero coordination, grace, or balletic ability there was never a chance I would ever join the corps. But I have never lost my childhood love for dance and I know my fascination is shared by many young readers. We’ve had some wonderful and varied books about ballet and dancers this last year and we didn’t want neglect those while we get swamped by 2015 titles.

First up is an inspiring story about a remarkable young woman and her equally remarkable family. In Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerinataking flight (2014), Michaela and Elaine De Prince tell their story. Orphaned in the horrific war that tore apart Sierra Leone, Michaela chanced upon a magazine featuring a ballet dancer on the cover and began to dream. That dream sustained her through tragic events, fear, serious illness, and on her journey over the ocean to a new home with the De Prince family who adopted her. Despite physical injuries, racial prejudice, and the intense competition, Michaela kept her dreams and her determination while her family did everything possible to help her make those dreams come true. At the time of the writing, Michaela was a prima ballerina with the Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam. Her story is truly inspiring but also frank and honest. The De Princes pull no punches about the fierce competitiveness, the physical hardships, or the sacrifices that had to be made. The book provides a back-stage look the world of ballet and its impact of young dancers. It is also a revealing story of a young girl’s growth into an admirable young woman.

And—that gorgeous cover is sure to draw in readers!

FirebirdCindy: Picture books often feature ballerinas, but there were some great additions to that shelf this past year. Firebird (2014), by American Ballet Theatre soloist Misty Copeland, is an inspiring, encouraging story for young ballerina dreamers everywhere. Christopher Myers won the 2015 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for the stunning art that makes Copeland’s story leap off the page.

Dance Like StarlightAfrican American girl ballerina dreams are also featured in Kristy Dempsey’s A Dance Like Starlight (2014) with evocative illustrations by Floyd Cooper. The young girl here gets a chance to see Janet Collins perform at the Metropolitan Opera House and her ballet dreams are no longer just wishes on stars, but possibilities to achieve. Brava.

RupertFor a more lighthearted look at ballet and dance, be sure to check out Jules Feiffer’s Rupert Can Dance (2014), about a girl and her cat, Rupert, who make quite the dance duo. No wonder cats sleep so much during the day—they steal our ballet slippers and dance the night away while we sleep!

Ballet CatFinally, watch for the first installment in Bob Shea’s new early reader series, Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret (May 2015). Ballet Cat and Sparkles the Pony are friends but they don’t necessarily share the same love for ballet! Good friends work out their differences, though, and honesty and compromise pay off!

It’s so cold in Michigan I can barely type. I think I’ll go dance to warm up!

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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