Firebird by Misty Copeland, illustrated by Christopher Myers
Wow! Misty Copeland, soloist at American Ballet Theatre, is only their second African-American soloist in their history and the first in more than 20 years. Here she writes her debut picture book and through it encourages other young dancers of color. Lest you think this is a book just for dancers, it is not. It is for anyone who needs to hear a voice of success speak about how important dedication and hard work is to creating that success. Copeland tells it all in poetry that soars and dances just as she does. This is a beautiful book of inspiration that reaches far beyond dance.
Copeland’s verse is exceptional. It is hard to believe that poetry with this much control and beauty comes from someone who has not written many books. It is shining verse that lifts the reader up and invites them to leap across the page along with Copeland. She weaves lovely metaphors throughout her words, “stitching worn-out slippers, swift as applause” is one of my favorites and it is just as vivid and unique as Copeland herself.
Myers art is a lush mix of media that is just as radiant as the verse. The pages are filled with Copeland and young African-American dancers who fly across the pages. Myers creates motion on the page with his strips of paper that frame as well as enliven the illustrations.
A magnificent picture book for young dancers that will inspire them to see joy in dance and also to understand the dedication it will take to be a success. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Putnam.
A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream by Kristy Dempsey, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
Told in the first person by a young African-American dancer, this book shows how dreams can come true with lots of hard work and plenty of hope. Set in Harlem of the fifties, this young dancer dreams of becoming a ballerina. Her mother works hard to pay for her dance lessons. The ballet master saw her pretending to dance and offered her lessons. She isn’t allowed to dance onstage with the white girls, but can take lessons each day in the back of the room. Then she learns about Janet Collins, the first colored prima ballerina. Now she is going to the Metropolitan Opera House to see Collins dance and feast on the hope that that brings to her.
Dempsey’s picture book is in verse that not only shows what the little girl is feeling but also speaks to the time before Civil Rights and the separation that came with it. It is much more the story of the young girl than of Janet Collins, though it is her inspiration that led a generation of non-white girls to realize that they too could be dancers.
Cooper’s illustrations are gauzy and beautiful. When the young girl is up on the rooftop dreaming, his image is breathtaking with the color of the sky shining upon her face. He unerringly turns her toward light, speaking with pictures of the hope that sustains her. It is beautifully done.
Inspiring and exquisite, this picture book belongs in the hands of all little girls dreaming of pirouettes and tutus. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Philomel.
Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle
There are oh so many ballet books out there for little ballerinas who look for tulle and pointe shoes. So it was with that bias and perhaps a cringe or two that I opened this book. Inside it’s very pink cover is a very pink world that is pure pink fabulousness! In this wordless book, Flora meets the flamingo and immediately imitates its stance and attitude. Then the flamingo launches into a dance that Flora struggles to match in her swimcap and flippers. It all goes well until Flora loses her footing and flops into the water. What happens next speaks to what friends should do when they see someone take a flop. Start again with plenty of support. All this with no words!
Idle has a stunning simplicity in this book. It has the draw of flaps to open, but that is all about the dance and the movement. There is a pleasure in lengthening the dance by having the two of them dance movements again and again by opening and closing the flaps. It turns readers into storytellers in a way that is engaging and free, just as this entire book is throughout.
I love Flora and her lack of tulle and ballet outfit. Instead wearing her swim gear, she is able to mimic the flamingo all the better. It takes the emphasis off of the clothes of ballet and back to the dance itself. Now all children need is a friendly flamingo. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.