Tag: dance

4 Diverse Biographies of Women

Here are four of my top picks for picture book biographies. They just happen to be about exceptional diverse women.

Danza! by Duncan Tonatiuh

Danza!: Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México by Duncan Tonatiuh (9781419725326)

When Amalia saw the dancers in her town square as a child, she knew that she wanted to be a dancer. She studied ballet and modern dance but always remembered those folk dancers from her childhood. Amalia traveled throughout Mexico, watching the different folk dances in different regions. She used her dancing and choreography skills to turn those dances into performances for the stage. Founding her own dance company, she became known throughout the world.

Tonatiuh uses his signature illustration style that is a delightful mix of folk images and modern edge. The illustrations are a match for the topic, each strengthening the other. He writes of the large amount of work and dedication that Hernández had as well as the vision she carried through her entire life of folk dance and its importance. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos by Monica Brown

Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos by Monica Brown, illustrated by John Parra (9780735842694)

This picture book biography focuses on Frida Kahlo’s lifelong relationship with animals. As a child she had a blue parrot, the color of the home she grew up in. She also had a fawn and a cat. But when Frida was six, she got very ill and had to stay in bed for a long time. Her illness caused one of her legs to be different from the other, but once she was better it didn’t slow her down at all. Frida also had an eagle, two monkeys, two turkeys and three dogs. Her animals had a place in their garden to play, designed by Diego Rivera, Frida’s husband. As she painted, her animals stayed around her and appeared in her self portraits.

Brown uses the animals in Kahlo’s life to point out specific characteristics of her personality, each tied to a specific pet. This strengthens Kahlo’s already strong connection to her animals and makes it more clear for the reader as well. Parra’s illustrations are done on board. They have an appealing combination of organic feel, connection to nature and folk images. An appealing and unique look at Frida Kahlo. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (E-galley received from Netgalley and NorthSouth Books.)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Jonah Winter

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Stacy Innerst (9781419725593)

This picture book biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg shows her intelligence from childhood onward. With a mother who loved books and reading, Ruth was raised to go to college in a time when most women did not attend. Ruth’s mother passed away the day she graduated high school and never saw her daughter head to Cornell and then on to law school. Along the way, Ruth noticed all of the inequities around her, towards minorities and women. She experienced some of the directly: having her pay slashed when pregnant and being barred from the Law Library at Harvard because she was a woman. With the fight for equality for women, Ruth became the most important female attorney in the nation as she argued before the Supreme Court. Eventually, she would become the second female court justice and the author of some of the most powerful dissents in the Court’s history.

This picture book starts with Ruth’s childhood and the importance of her mother and also ends that way. Throughout it is a celebration of the power of women and the importance of their roles and their voices. Winter writes with a strong sense of history and shows both the possibilities there are in the world and also what hard work it takes to get there. The illustrations by Innerst have a quirky historical quality to them with watercolor but also a distinct modern twist as well. This is a strong biography of Ginsburg and her importance to the entire country. Appropriate for ages 7-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The World Is Not a Rectangle by Jeanette Winter

The World Is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid by Jeanette Winter (9781481446693)

Growing up in Iraq, Zaha Hadid saw all of the natural features around her: rivers, marches, sand dunes, and more. As a child, she dreamed of creating her own cities. She designed her own clothes. In school in London, Hadid learned more about cities and architecture. She opened her own studio, designing buildings without corners that echoed the natural features of her homeland. Even after winning an architectural contest, her buildings don’t get built. But she refuses to change or stop designing. Eventually, her buildings gain attention and are built around the world. Her studio grows and gets busier. Even after she passes away, her ideas and designs and the work of her studio continue.

Winter has a gorgeous way with biographies, keeping them brief enough for even preschool audiences but detailed enough to intrigue and to speak to the individual and their life. Look in the back of the book for information on where her buildings are located in the world. The illustrations, also by Winters, capture the soaring spirit of Hadid’s designs and their unique vision. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Review copy provided by Beach Lane.)

Review: Firebird by Misty Copeland

firebird

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.

Review: A Dance Like Starlight by Kristy Dempsey

dance like starlight

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.

Review: Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle

flora and the flamingo

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.