Kid's Stuff -- Books About Dancers and Dancing
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"Stella's Dancing Days"
Written by Sandy Asher
Illustrated by Kathryn Brown
(Harcourt, 2001)

A lovely cat's-eye view of the world. When Stella was a little kitten and was rescued by two children ("The Tall One" and "The Gentle One") she was rambunctious and full of bounce. As she got older, though, she liked to "dance" less and less, and eventually, when she was a full-grown cat, she liked to lie around and be mellow. She also got the urge to go on nightly prowls, and after she met another big cat -- a male -- she started looking for a place to hide and make a nest. Thus, Stella became a mother. Her kittens, though, were also dancers, and once again the children had bouncy little kitties to play with and make fly. A sweet, innocent story (although perceptive children may probe a bit about how Stella's meeting the boy cat and the subsequent pregnancy are related...) Includes some basic ballet terms, like plie and jete, for kids who are on a dancing kick. (A)


"Ballerino Nate"
Written by Kimberley Brubaker Bradley
Illustrated by R. W. Alley
(Penguin/Dial Books, 2006)

A great dance story, with a gender twist. After attending a school ballet show, a young boy named Nate decides he wants to dance ballet as well, but his older, butcher brother Ben teases him and tells him that boys can't be ballerinas. With his parents' support, Nate perseveres and enters a dance class, which he loves even though he's the only boy there. Ben keeps teasing him until one day Mom takes Nate to see a professional dance company where half the ensemble are men, and one of the principal dancers meets Nate and gives him encouragement. It turns out Ben was right about one thing: men can't be ballerinas, but the man suggests the word ballerino instead, since that indicates a male dancer. The PC sentiment aside, this is a lovely book, with great artwork that captures the personalities of all involved and provides lots of nice details (including the older brother playing video games at home, giving this a decidedly contemporary slant...) There are a few rough spots in the text -- particularly when the dad makes a parallel between the two girls on Ben's softball team and Nate going to a mostly-girl dance class; that passage could have been clearer -- but it's no biggie, the story is still a winner. A heartwarming book about gender stereotypes that makes its point without placing too much emphasis on the "you're a sissy!" part of the equation. Recommended! (A)


"Dance, Tanya"
Written by Patricia Lee Gauch
Illustrated by Satomi Ichikawa
(Philomel, 1989)

The start of the Tanya series introduces us to a little girl who loves to dance -- she imitates her big sister and follows her to ballet class, but is frustrated when her parents tell her she's still too little to go to class. In the end, though, her close study of her sister's lessons pays off -- when Tanya gives an impromtu dance recital for her family, everyone realizes that she has real talent, and in the end she gets to go to classes, too. Thus starts the Tanya saga, which delves into ballet and the pressures of performance art -- if your child is enrolled in dance classes, the level of detail in these books might be a real help; the discipline required to master the art is unsentimentally explored, as is the difference between kids who "love to dance" and those who can apply themselves to the rigors of formal instruction. For casual readers -- kids who just think dancing sounds cool -- these books may be too detailed and complex -- and even a bit discouraging. It might be worth your while to read them ahead of time, to see if you think they'll be appropriate for whatever level your child is at... This first volume is one of the nicest, though. Recommended. (B+)


"Bravo , Tanya"
Written by Patricia Lee Gauch
Illustrated by Satomi Ichikawa
(Philomel, 1992)

In this book, little Tanya is now in ballet class, but is finding it hard to reconcile her love for joyous, expressive dancing with the rigorous technical requirements of formal ballet. Her teacher scolds her, and Tanya feels inadequate until another, more understanding adult helps her find the artistic streak that lays beneath ballet technique. I imagine this conflict -- between delight and discipline -- is quite common, and if you have a child who is actually doing ballet, this is probably a fine book to help talk through the topic. However, for more general readers, this volume is a bit too technical, somewhat harsh, and kind of a downer. Worth checking out, if you're in the thick of it, but it's not as happy or as fluid a story as the other books in the Tanya series. (C+)


"Tanya And Emily In A Dance For Two"
Written by Patricia Lee Gauch
Illustrated by Satomi Ichikawa
(Philomel, 1994)

In this followup to the initial Tanya books, our heroine is older and has been taking dance lessons for a while. A new girl joins her class and Tanya is envious of her skill and elegance... The two eventually form a friendship and dance together, each getting something new and valuable from the friendship. The ballet instructor notices how well they work together and gives them a solo number in the class recital. A nice story, with exuberant, evocative dance images. Recommended. (A)


"Tanya And The Magic Wardrobe"
Written by Patricia Lee Gauch
Illustrated by Satomi Ichigawa
(Philomel, 1997)

One of the most complex and compelling of the Tanya stories... During her first trip to a real, professional ballet performance, Tanya wanders backstage and meets the wardrobe manager, an older woman who shares her love of dancing and imaginative play with Tanya. As she brings out various costumes, they play roles from "Sleeping Beauty," "Cinderella," "The Nutcracker" and other favorites, including "Copellia," the ballet Tanya came to see... The story explores the artistic impulse from a variety of perspectives, and is joyful and playful throughout (with none of the anxieties or darkness of some of the other Tanya titles...) Recommended! (A)


"Presenting Tanya, The Ugly Duckling"
Written by Patricia Lee Gauch
Illustrated by Satomi Ichikawa
(Philomel, 1999)

A new teacher, Miss Foley, casts Tanya as the lead in "The Ugly Duckling," and prepares the class for the performance. Tanya wonders why she, of all people, was picked for the part, and grapples with her insecurity as the rehearsals progress. The structure of the book is a little unwieldy -- the pages alternate between an ongoing narrative that shows the class learning their parts (and Tanya's anxieties about the performance) and wordless two-page spreads that show how the actual performance looked like on stage when the show was... Thus, we are continually flipping back and forth in time, which is a little confusing, especially for smaller readers. Still, it's a nice book, another nice addition to the "Tanya" saga. (B-)


"Tanya And The Red Shoes"
Written by Patricia Lee Gauch
Illustrated by Satomi Ichikawa
(Philomel, 2002)

One of the more negative of the Tanya books... Here, Tanya yearns to learn to dance on point, but is told she is too young for that, and will have to wait. She practices at home, but when she finally gets pointe shoes and is allowed to try them out, she discovers how painful and difficult actually dancing en pointe can be... This is one of those bummerific ballet books that might be true to life, but it's kind of a downer, and may discourage kids who are interested in taking up dance. This is one that I leave at the library, if I can get away with it. (C)


"A Tanya Treasury"
Written by Patricia Lee Gauch
Illustrated by Satomi Ichikawa
(Philomel, 2002)

This handsomely bound volume gathers three of the best Tanya books, Dance, Tanya, Tanya And Emily In A Dance For Two and Presenting Tanya, The Ugly Duckling. Often reprint collections like this shortchange readers as far as the layout and artwork, but not this one... The pages lay perfectly flat, the reproductions are true to the originals, and the books is quite easy to read. As noted above, the Ugly Duckling story is a little hard to track, but overall, this edition is a great introduction to the series and certainly worth picking up. (A)


"Time For Ballet"
Written by Adele Geras
Illustrated by Shelagh McNichols
(Penguin-Dial Books, 2004)

A young girl name Tilly goes to her last ballet lesson before the big class performance that all the parents and grandparents come to see... In the show, she dances dressed as a cat, and her dad praises her afterwards, saying he thought she was a real kitty cat... This book fills much the same need as Patricia Lee Gauch's Tanya series, but it's a little less severe and a little more celebratory. If you just want to encourage your child's interest in dancing, this is a fine, fun volume to read. Uncomplicated and joyful, this is a pretty nice book. Shows a boy dancing, too, if that helps. (A)


"Got To Dance"
Written by M.C. Helldorfer
Illustrated by Hiroe Nakata
(Random House, 2004)

I was drawn to this by Hiroe Nakata's artwork (love her stuff...!) and also because I have a little girl who just loves to dress up cute dance all day long. I found the text disappointing, though, and difficult to read. The giddy, impressionistic blurbing doesn't always make sense right away (or set the artwork up as well as it might) More irritatingly, it has a we're-rhyming-no-wait-we're-not structure which brings each page to a skidding halt. If there's a clear or consistent meter here, I wasn't able to figure it out. Good in concept, but I wasn't wild about the follow-through. (C)



Katherine Holabird 's "Angelina Ballerina" series -- see author profile


"Swan Lake"
Written by Rachel Isadora
Illustrated by Rachel Isadora
(G. P. Putnam, 1991)

An excellent adaptation of the classic Tchaikovsky ballet... Isadora pares the story down to its bare essentials and presents it amid gorgeous, expressive watercolors that lend a dreamlike quality to the work. Her use of light and shadow is particularly evocative -- all in all, this book is a real class act. The perfect companion to a trip to the ballet, or simply to inspire a budding dancer's imagination. Highly recommended! (A)


"Isadora Dances"
Written by Rachel Isadora
Illustrated by Rachel Isadora
(Puffin Books, 1998)

Based on the life of Isadora Duncan... (-)


"Not Just Tutus"
Written by Rachel Isadora
Illustrated by Rachel Isadora
(G. P. Putnam, 2003)

Apparently there are some weird body messages here... I haven't read it yet, but I've seen where some parents are critical of Isadora's curt assessment of various body types and such... Hmmmmm... (-)


"On Your Toes: A Ballet ABC"
Written by Rachel Isadora
Illustrated by Rachel Isadora
(Greenwillow, 2003)

A former dancer who's authored several plot-driven dance books, Isadora turns here to doing an alphabet book. The plates are colorful and large, but you kind of have to already be immersed in dance lingo to get the context for most of these ideas. Like many ballet-oriented picturebooks, this has to hit its readers at the right time: old enough to be doing dance at a high enough level to appreciate the concepts, but young enough to still like picturebooks. It's a very pretty-looking book, though!
(B-)


"Emily's Dance Class"
Written by Claire Masurel
Illustrated by Susan Calitri
(Penguin/Puffin, 2001)

Another nice, simple, optimistic Emily story, with the cute lil' bunny girl going to her ballet class, where they dress up pretty, point their toes, hop off the ground and spin around with ribbons. A pretty good representation of what preschool-age dance classes are like... Very cute and encouraging.
(B)


"Sophie And Lou"
Written by Petra Mathers
Illustrated by Petra Mathers
(Simon & Schuster, 1991)

After a dance studio opens across the street, a painfully shy, housebound mouse named Sophie becomes interested in dancing, but instead of taking lessons, she peeks through her curtains and follows along at home. One day she works up the nerve to check some dance books out of the library and learns how to do the tango and foxtrot -- and later she even goes out and buys some fancy new shoes. All the while she keeps bumping into Lou, a quiet fellow who is one of the students at the studio -- when Sophie gets her dance books, Lou is in the stacks checking out a book of love poems. Finally, our hero and heroine meet, when she has mustered enough confidence to dance whole dances by herself, and when he decides to knock on her door and ask her out. The text omits a few details, but these are borne out in the illustrations, so this is a good book to use to encourage children to look for details outside the verbal narrative... Lou's story, for example, is played out almost entirely in the artwork, and we don't even learn his name until the very last pages. This story is a bit odd -- it may take a while to warm to such reclusive characters -- but it has an undeniable charm. (B)


"Dream Dancer"
Written by Jill Newsome
Illustrated by Claudio Munoz
(Harper Collins, 2001)

A touching story about a girl named Lily who loves to dance but has to stop after she falls from a tree and breaks her leg. The rest of the book involves her yearlong recovery, which is helped by a little ballerina doll named Peggy who does Lily's dancing for her while she heals. Hobbled by her leg cast, Lily moves from a wheelchair into crutches, and then eventually is again able to walk again -- and dance! -- once her leg has healed. A sweet, hopeful story with lovely artwork, ideal for children who are dealing with major injuries or who have gone through physical rehab and want to talk about it. Very matter-of-fact, neither too scary or too sentimental... hits just the right emotional tone. (B+)


"Footwork: The Story Of Fred And Adele Astaire"
Written by Roxane Orgill
Illustrated by Stephane Jorisch
(Candlewick, 2007)

Hollywood icon Fred Astaire was, arguably, the most famous dancer in the world, projected into tens of millions of minds over the decades, in film, in song, on video, over the radio and onstage. It's ironic, then, that when he started his career, as the junior dance partner to his older sister Adele, everyone assumed she was the one that destiny had big plans for... This elegantly crafted picturebook tells the tale of the Astaire siblings, who were headliners on the professional vaudeville circuit, and later on Broadway for over two decades, from 1906 to 1932. There's a lot of train travel involved, and a lot of Fred hanging around backstage, studying every nuance and trick of the trade among the diverse performers with whom they shared the stage. As the book explains, the Astaires started their act in a time before radio, TV or talking pictures, and conquering vaudeville placed them at the pinnacle of American popular culture. It was only when Adele announced her retirement -- so that she could marry -- that Fred turned his sights towards a film career, and hopped yet another train, this time to Hollywood, where he became the global star we know and love today. This is a great book for older children who love dance, or who appreciate history and the charm of bygone days... It's also a good introduction to or compliment to all those great old Fred Astaire films -- like Astaire himself, this one's a real class act. (B+)


"Over The Meadow At The Big Ballet"
Written by Lisa Shulman
Illustrated by Sarah Massini
(G. P. Putnam, 2007)

An okay book about stage-fright, self-confidence and perseverance. I wasn't fond of the story -- about a little tutu-clad swan-girl who is encouraged by her teacher (a kitty-cat) to make it through rehearsals and star in a big ballet show -- or the artwork, although I did appreciate the message. It didn't seem like a very magical or artful book to me, although I'm sure it would be helpful to some small, shy person somewhere... (C+)


"Ballerina!"
Written by Peter Sis
Illustrated by Peter Sis
(Greenwillow, 2001)

A very basic dancing book -- a little girl goes into her room and dances in front of the mirror, imagining herself in all sorts of productions -- "The Nutcracker," "Cinderella," etc. On one side of the book we see the girl dancing in her dress-up clothes, on the facing page we see her idealized self-image of herself as a grown-up ballerina. The kicker at the end is that she actually has an audience -- her parents -- who clap and cheer enthusiastically as the show wraps up. I wasn't wild about this one, but it's okay.
(C)


"Bijou, Bonbon & Beau"
Written by Joan Sweeney
Illustrated by Leslie
(Chronicle, 1998)

Short, but sweet. Whether you like great art, dance or cute little kitty cats (or all three!) this brisk little book should bring a big smile... Painted after the style of Edgar Degas, this tells the story of a mama cat and her three kittens who become adopted by the dancers and stagehands of a Paris concert hall where Degas is making sketches for his famous ballet paintings. Degas himself is enchanted by the kittens and shields them from the scornful eye of a hot-tempered house manager. When the new ballet is finally staged, the kittens wander onstage, but instead of ruining the performance, they charm the audience and make the ballet the talk of the town. Cute story, beautiful artwork, nice cultural-historical lesson as well, although in a very subtle, unforced way. Recommended! (B+)


"Belinda The Ballerina"
Written by Amy Young
Illustrated by Amy Young
(Viking, 2003)

A pure delight! The story and art quirky and cute, and each are equally joyful. Belinda is a dancer with two giant-sized, gallumphing feet, yet despite her humongous clompers, she prances and pirouettes like pro... Not that that matters to the snooty judges at her dance audition -- they take one look at her humongous hooves and send her right home. Discouraged, Belinda hangs up her tutu and goes to work in a cafe, until opportunity knocks and success beckons. A clever Cinderella-in-the-arts fairy tale, with groovy, highly stylized artwork and one of the sweetest, most demure picturebook heroines in recent memories... Kids will love the story; chances are parents who are in the performing arts will appreciate the good-natured jabs at the arts establishment... A sweet fantasy story that holds up to repeated readings... Highly recommended! (A)


"Belinda In Paris"
Written by Amy Young
Illustrated by Amy Young
(Viking, 2005)

Belinda returns, this time as a star performer who is the talk of all Paris... But her big show is about to be a flop, since the airlines have misplaced her one-of-a-kind, oversized dance shoes... Can she find replacements in time for her gala performance that night? Her adventures through a cartoonish Parisian landscape are wonderful fun, both for folks who have been to Paris and for those who have not. And, of course, the happy ending comes with a healthy dose of laconic humor. Another highly recommended, thoroughly enjoyable story... I just wish there was another Belinda book we could read as well! (A)


"Belinda And The Glass Slipper"
Written by Amy Young
Illustrated by Amy Young
(Viking, 2006)

Wow... I was really disappointed in this one, and hadn't expected to be, at all. We loved the first two Belinda the Ballerina books -- she's such an optimistic, patient character, and her world was so gentle, that it was really fun to read her stories. This third installment in the series is kind of a downer, though, as Belinda gets caught in a power struggle with a completely mean, spiteful rival dancer, over who can dance the lead in a production of the "Cinderella" ballet. The snottiness and dishonesty of the new character, Lola, is meant to mirror the negative qualities of Cinderella's wicked step-mother and step-sisters -- indeed, Lola even locks Belinda into a dressing room the same way Cinderelly gets locked into her room in the Disney film. But the Lola character's harshness is a poor match for the Belinda books -- in the past, people who were mean to Belinda, such as the haughty art critics and high society types, were mere caricatures, silly, silly people who would see that they were wrong, once Belinda got to strut her stuff. But Lola is really just plain evil and the tone of her character is all wrong -- her meanness is genuinely disturbing, and overplayed. Hmmm. Oh, well. I guess we can just pretend this book never existed, and enjoy the first two. (B-)


"Belinda Begins Ballet"
Written by Amy Young
Illustrated by Amy Young
(Viking, 2008)

(-)




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