My Story, My Dance: Robert Battle’s Journey to Alvin Ailey by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome (InfoSoup)
Starting from his birth through his rise to Artistic Director at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, this picture book celebrates Robert Battle’s life. Born with bowed legs, he was taken in by his aunt and uncle and then raised by his cousin Dessie. It was with Dessie that he discovered a love of music and words. He sang in the church choir and after he got his leg braces off, he began to take karate. At age 13, he started dance late in life for a dancer. Soon Robert was noticed by his high school dance instructor and then auditioned for The New World School of Arts. As he grew, he got to see the Alvin Ailey dance troupe perform and was awed by them. Moving to New York City to attend Julliard, his dancing reached another level and progressively he moved to work with Alvin Ailey. This story of talent and determination celebrates dance and the power it has to communicate.
The prose by Cline-Ransome is spry and fast moving. She shows the importance of family in Robert’s upbringing, even if his mother was not in the picture. The theme of the warmth of family plays throughout the book, from the early pages to the very end where Robert Battle is speaking to the Alvin Ailey audience. The author makes sure to not only talk about the facts of Battle’s life but also shows how his early disability and his willingness to work exceedingly hard played into his later success.
Ransome has done the illustrations in this picture book biography in pastels. The rich colors are gorgeous on the page. He uses them to show the richness of Battle’s life and then when the book shows the movement of dance, he uses them to create the moves from one position to another fluidly across the page in a rainbow of sketches.
A lovely biography on a contemporary figure in American and African-American dance, this picture book is rich and powerful. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
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.
When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky: Two Artists, Their Ballet and One Extraordinary Riot by Lauren Stringer
This is the story of how two Russian artists collaborated to create a revolutionary new ballet, The Rite of Spring. When the two artists met one another, each of them started to change. Stravinsky’s music changed and Nijinsky’s dance changed. They inspired one another to try something entirely new and created a ballet based on Russian folk dances and folk songs. Even at rehearsal, some of the musicians walked out, but enough stayed so that the show could go on. When the ballet was first performed, the crowd was split. Some people loved the new music and dancing, others were shocked and hated it. The crowd took to the streets to continue to express their anger and appreciation. This is a great picture book biography that captures the magic of creativity that results when two masters collaborate on something brave and new.
Stringer’s writing takes a complicated story and distills it to the most important points. Young readers will quickly understand that the two men brought new ideas out of one another, finding each other inspiring. Her art also speaks to the collaboration of these two men, using flowing lines and deep yet soft colors. She inserts elements from the art of the time, referencing movements like cubism in both her text and art. The end of the book has photographs of the two artists and dancers in the ballet. It also has a longer look at their collaboration.
A great choice for art and music classes, I’d recommend listening to The Rite of Spring with the group too. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from library copy.