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The Angelina Ballerina series is one of the girliest of the girly in kid's lit... But with their ever-ernest heroine and delightfully detailed, fine-line artwork, the Angelina books are immensely rewarding and appealing, a rich reading experience that also invites leisurely hours spent just looking at the pictures. It's a little embarrassing, but Angelina is a big favorite in our household...

Following the success of the original series, Angelina was spun off into a popular television series (which I'm less enthusiastic about...) The TV show has, in turn, inspired a series of lesser, simpler picturebooks, which I have listed separately from the big books by the original author/illustrator team of Katherine Holabird and Helen Craig.






Katherine Holabird Bibliography

"Angelina Ballerina"
Written by Katherine Holabird
Illustrated by Helen Craig
(Random House/Clarkson Potter, 1982)

Birth of a legend. The first Angelina book sets the tone for the entire series, introducing us to a little girl mouse who loves to dance... In fact, she's obsessed with dancing, and capers about all day long, neglecting her schoolwork, chores and meals. She's also a little clumsy, bumping into furniture and breaking dishes, until her mother loses her temper and scolds her. Daddy mouse comes up with a solution: getting Angelina into a ballet school, which is exactly what the little twirler needs to find focus and fulfillment. The book fast-forwards to Angelina's adulthood, where she becomes a famous "real" ballerina, performing in large concert halls (shown in a neat, two-page spread with a cutaway view of the opera hall's entrance, mezzanine, balcony, orchestra pit and stage... Helen Craig's flowery, detailed artwork is a hallmark of the Angelina series; even when the text drifts into iffy terrain, her pictures are always a delight, with plenty of rich detail to admire.) The abrupt transition from Angelina's childhood to her adult success was confusing for my little girl -- she kept asking "where's Angelina?" and looking for the little girl, but for older kids that'll be less of a problem, I'm sure. Anyway, this volume sets the template for the other books: Angelina is always the star of the show, and the overall vibe is very girly and delicate. Starting here helps, though, as new characters are added to the series afterwards. (B)


"Angelina And The Princess"
Written by Katherine Holabird
Illustrated by Helen Craig
(Pleasant Company, 1984)

One of the few times Angelina suffers any sort of setback... and, of course, it's only momentary. When Mr. Lightfoot, from the Royal Ballet Company, visits Angelina's school to find children to dance in a royal command performance, poor Angelina comes down with a flu, and the lead roles are given to her friends Flora and Felicity. Tearfully, Angelina vows to quit dancing, but ultimately she sticks with it and follows her mother advice and simply does her best, even with a small part, to help make the whole show better. But, wait! Just as the curtain is about to go up, Flora twists her ankle and Angelina -- who had quietly been studying the lead part as well as her own -- gets to dance the lead anyway. Hooray!! The day is saved, and the world gets to revolve around Angelina after all... Whew! I was worried there, for a minute. (B)


"Angelina's Christmas"
Written by Katherine Holabird
Illustrated by Helen Craig
(1985)

Ho, ho, ho. Haven't read it. Now I'm gonna get coal in my stocking, right? (-)


"Angelina At The Fair"
Written by Katherine Holabird
Illustrated by Helen Craig
(1985)

One of the most emotionally complex Angelina books, and one in which our heroine goes through some real character growth. All year long, Angelina has waited for the fair to come back to town, but on the first day of the fair, she gets stuck babysitting her little cousin Henry, and can't hang out with her friends from school. Selfishly, Angelina drags Henry onto all the "big kid" rides -- scary rollercoasters and haunted houses -- and ignores him when he says he doesn't feel well, or that he wants to ride the merry-go-round. After Henry gets lost in the crowd, though, Angelina panics and realizes how poorly she'd ben treating the little boy. After they are reunited, a chastened Angelina treats Henry much better. This is a wonderful book: the situations are very real, the presentation of the carnival is quite interesting, and the lesson about how to be considerate of others (especially of smaller children) is very welcome. This one's a favorite. (A)


"Angelina On Stage"
Written by Katherine Holabird
Illustrated by Helen Craig
(Pleasant Company, 1986)

Angelina gets grumpy when her pesky, little cousin Henry, who she thinks is clumsy and undeserving, is cast alongside her in a big "grown up" stage production. And he even gets some lines, while she has none! Angelina has a change of heart, though, when the forgetful Henry freezes up with stage fright on opening night. She saves him through a helpful ad lib, and her improvised dialog is added to the show from then on. Another narcissistic fantasy tale, but with wonderful illustrations, particularly the detailed look at how a stage show is put together, complete with showing the set construction and grip work. Probably great for any kids pondering theater or dance performance. (B)


"Angelina And Alice"
Written by Katherine Holabird
Illustrated by Helen Craig
(Random House/Clarkson Potter, 1987)

A new girl at school wows Angelina: newcomer Alice is interested in dancing and gymnastics, too, and the girls hit it off right away. Alice, however, can do a full handstand, and when Angelina tries, she falls down and some of the other kids on the playground laugh at her. She instantly feels self-conscious and insecure, and gets neurotic and depressed when Alice laughs, too, and goes off with the other kids when recess ends. Alice comes through in the end, though, and partners up with our heroine in gym class, even showing her how to (gasp!) do a handstand herself. I didn't really like reading this one to my daughter: Angelina's overly-anxious, painfully wimpy response to a tiny bit of schoolyard cruelty was kind of pathetic and drawn-out. I'd rather see a kid who had the inner strength to not care so much what other kids thought, or to not be psychologically felled by one little mistake, particularly an error as simple and completely understandable as not being able to do a handstand. Alice's loyalty to her friend redeems this story a little, but even so, it's only when Angelina is able to win the approval of her "audience" (the mean kids) that things are really okay. Yuck. Couldn't Angelina hang out with some stoners or iconoclastic theatre geeks instead? (C+)


"Angelina's Birthday Surprise"
Written by Katherine Holabird
Illustrated by Helen Craig
(Pleasant Company, 1989)

One of the more complex and down-to-earth (and, consequently, admirable) "Angelina" books. It begins with Angelina and her friend Alice riding their bicycles into town to buy decorations for Angelina's upcoming birthday. On the way home, though, they race their bikes along the country lane and Angelina hits a rock and crashes, ruining her bike. The girls work all week long to try and make enough money to buy a new one, but find that a new bike is too expensive. Of course, all the neighbors chip in and get her the bike she wants, but the story is noteworthy for showing a kid learning the value of hard work, etc. and showing little readers exactly what that would look like. Angelina comes off as much less spoiled than in other volumes of the series. Great artwork, as usual, particularly the two-page spread showing the old-fashioned country store they visit to purchase the ribbons and balloons. (Reprinted in 2006 as Angelina's Birthday.) (B)


"Angelina's Baby Sister"
Written by Katherine Holabird
Illustrated by Helen Craig
(1991)

One of the few outright unpleasant "Angelina" books... This is an "issue book," about sibling rivalry and resentment that takes place when Angelina's baby sister, Polly, is born. While it is a good book for that genre, in the context of the other "Angelina" books, it's a rather jarring -- Angelina really acts out and misbehaves, both physically and verbally. It's really out of character, and if you've been enchanted by the nicey-niceness of the other books in the series, you might want to skip this one, since it kind of breaks the spell. Naturally, everything works out in the end, but it's still a pretty bumpy ride. (C-)


"Angelina Ice Skates"
Written by Katherine Holabird
Illustrated by Helen Craig
(Random House/Clarkson Potter, 1993)

Some rowdy boys pester Angelina and her friends while they are trying to rehearse for an upcoming winter ice-skating pageant. Angelina's mother explains that the boys are probably only looking for attention, which inspires Angelina to invite them to take part in the skating show. Are we surprised to learn that the show was a big success? Everyone in town comes and has a great time. This is an okay story; nothing too objectionable, although the early scenes of the boys teasing the girls and the resultant gigantic snowball fight might be too violent for overly-protective, pacifistic parents... Probably depends on how old your child is when they set out on their Angelina kick. (B)


"Angelina's Halloween"
Written by Katherine Holabird
Illustrated by Helen Craig
(Random House/Clarkson Potter, 2000)

One of the more disturbing and troublesome Angelina books. When going out trick-or-treating, Angelina is placed in charge of her little sister, Polly, who Angelina considers a pest, and who she is a bit mean to at the start of the book. As the girls go out, they are harassed by the bullies Sammy and Spike, who goad them into entering a "haunted" abandoned house. Exiting unharmed, Angelina goes on to star fabulously in the Halloween dance pageant, and is quite pleased with herself, until she realizes that the little "ghost" dancing with her is her cousin Henry, and not Polly, as she had thought. Ooops! She lost the baby! Angelina races about, retracing her steps until she finds Polly, still sitting at the haunted house, playing with some other kids. Seems like a lot of anxiety and negativity to pack into one little book... I skimmed through this once with my kid, then quietly tucked it away in the take-back-to-library pile. (C-)


"Angelina And Henry"
Written by Katherine Holabird
Illustrated by Helen Craig
(Random House/Clarkson Potter, 2002)

While on a camping trip with her rambunctious little cousin, Angelina gets lost in the woods at night, although she keeps her cool and protects young Henry from harm. This is a nice book -- pretty artwork, as usual -- but it may be a little too scary and fear-fraught for really little readers. I usually skip the several pages of text detailing Henry and Angelina's fright and anxiety while they are lost in the woods, and just skip to the part where Uncle Louie rescues them. (B)


"Angelina's Invitation To The Ballet"
Written by Katherine Holabird
Illustrated by Helen Craig
(Viking, 2002)

A pull-out, pop-up style book, in which Angelina stars in a presentation of the mouse ballet, "Cindermouse." (-)


"Angelina, Star Of The Show"
Written by Katherine Holabird
Illustrated by Helen Craig
(Penguin/Puffin, 2004)

Well, of course she is...!! (-)


"Angelina At The Palace"
Written by Katherine Holabird
Illustrated by Helen Craig
(Random House, 2005)

Continuing with Holabird's preoccupation with royalty and wealth, Angelina is (of course) invited to perform at the royal palace... There are lots of pretty pictures of the majestic, palace and its spacious grounds, with Angelina properly in awe of the poshness and wealth. She feels awkward and ungainly amid the royals, but later realizes that they are just people, too, particularly the three bratty princesses, who argue with each other about who will play the lead in the dance production. With Angelina's help, they learn to work together and put on a fabulous, adorable show. Little Cousin Henry comes along and is also cast in the performance, and makes a splash when he appears onstage wearing a real set of armor, borrowed from the royal hallways... All in all, this is one of my least favorite "Angelina" books: it trods over familiar territory and is overly fawning towards royalty. Besides, what happened to the older princess seen in Angelina And The Princess? Did she go study abroad or something? And why weren't her three little sisters at the other show? (B)




Books Based On The TV Series

"Angelina And The Butterfly"
Written by Katherine Holabird & Sally-Ann Lever
Illustrated by Helen Craig
(2001)

(-)


"Angelina's Ballet Class"
Written by Katherine Holabird
Illustrated by Helen Craig
(2001)

A dance primer, illustrating various ballet steps and moves... Not sure how much of a story is involved, but dance fans might like this... (-)


"Angelina Loves..."
Written by Katherine Holabird
Illustrated by Helen Craig
(2002)

(-)


"Angelina And The Rag Doll"
Written by Katherine Holabird & James Mason
Illustrated by Helen Craig
(2002)

(-)


"Angelina's Silver Locket"
Written by Katherine Holabird
Illustrated by Helen Craig
(Grosset & Dunlap, 2004)

(-)


"Angelina Ballerina: A Dance of Friendship"
Written by Katherine Holabird
Illustrated by Helen Craig (?)
(Grosset & Dunlap, 2006)

(-)




Other Media

"Angelina Ballerina: The Rose Fairy Princess" (DVD) (2003)
Our daughter loves the "Angelina Ballerina" books, and when we decided to start letting her watch TV, this was one of the first titles I thought would be good for her to watch... Unfortunately, the cartoons are very different from the books, in an entirely negative way. Most alarming of all is how whiny, self-centered and deceitful Angelina is -- almost every episode involves her telling a fib and then having to make up for it. This is horrible role modeling for younger children, particularly since she KEEPS LYING from episode to episode -- there's no character growth, just Angelina being dishonest over and over again, until she gets caught or her conscience catches up with her. I'm also not fond of the ultra-competitiveness shown between Angelina and the other characters. In the books, Angelina always gets the lead role, but she is considerate of others, and shares the spotlight generously. By contrast, these cartoons show a never-ending series of backstabbing and manipulation... The supporting characters, including Angelina's friends, are made more flawed and unlikable than they are in the books. Alice, for example, is transformed from a perfectly nice little girl into a clumsy, self-pitying hanger-on who is embarassed and envious of Angelina's success. The Pinkpaw twins are new characters who seem to have been invented just to be bad guys -- they try to sabotage Angelina at every turn -- and Angelina herself is far less likeable here than in the original books. Frankly, I'm amazed that the book's author, Ms. Holabird, allowed such terrible, distorted versions of her stories to be produced. The books are magical, but the TV shows left a bad taste in our mouths. They are not on our "safe to watch" list anymore. Parents who were charmed by the books might want to preview these cartoons first, before letting your kid soak them up... It would be a shame to let them ruin the books for your mouse-loving little ones.




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