I Will Dance by Nancy Bo Flood

Cover image for I Will Dance

I Will Dance by Nancy Bo Flood, illustrated by Julianna Swaney (9781534430617)

A little girl with cerebral palsy makes a birthday wish that she gets a pink tutu and can dance. When Eva was born, she wasn’t expected to survive more than a short while, but she is now ten years old. She wants to dance but can’t move more than her head and her arms and fingers. Eva can’t use her legs to run and move like other children can. Then her mother discovers a new dance program for people of all ages and all abilities. Still, will they let her join in even though she is in a wheelchair? Yes! When Eva arrives there are children of all sorts of ages, sizes, and who have a variety of assistive devices they use. Soon they are not only dancing but creating a performance where they do more than pretend and imagine. They dance!

At the end of the book, the author explains that a program called Young Dance inspired this picture book. The Executive Director of the Young Dance program also shares information on the program and its opportunities for children of all abilities. This picture book is inspiring on a variety of levels, for children who may think their limitations would prevent them from dancing, certainly. Plus it also shows everyone else not to make assumptions about what is possible and whether a dream can come true. Still, it is based firmly in reality, and as the book points out takes imagination and makes it real.

Swaney’s illustrations are lovely, showing both Eva’s physical limitations and also the beauty and freedom she first sees and then discovers herself in dancing. The use of sparkling energy to show the movement and magic of dance works particularly well.

A book that is inspiring and breaks stereotypes through dance. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.

Grandparents by Chema Heras

Grandparents by Chema Heras

Grandparents by Chema Heras, illustrated by Rosa Osuna (9781771645669)

When Grandfather hears an announcement of a party in the main square, he knows just who to invite. He rushes home to ask his wife, Manuela, to join him. But Manuela isn’t quite as eager as he is to head to a party. Grandfather picks Grandmother a flower and tells her how beautiful she is. Grandmother heads inside to put on eyeliner, then mascara, then skin cream, but each time Grandfather tells her that she is lovely just the way she is and to hurry up so they can go dancing! Lipstick, hair dye and a change of clothes are the next delays, but Grandfather is ready to cajole Grandmother along. Finally, the two of them go dancing together, and Grandmother realizes that Grandfather is just as beautiful as the moon too.

First published in Portuguese, this charming picture book explores the power of love and of being oneself. Heras uses a series of metaphors to describe Grandmother’s beauty. Her eyes are “as sad and beautiful as stars at night.” Her white hair is like “a midsummer cloud” and her skin is wrinkly like “nuts in a pie.” Grandmother herself uses negative metaphors to describe herself, but those are all countered by Grandfather’s love and adoration for her.

The illustrations are quirky and interesting, filled with surreal combinations of spaces and objects. As they are together in the house, the couple sometimes appear sideways or upside down as well as right-side-up nearby.

A warm and lovely look at love and self-esteem. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greystone Kids.

Review: Brave Ballerina by Michelle Meadows

brave ballerina the story of janet collins by michelle meadows

Brave Ballerina: The Story of Janet Collins by Michelle Meadows, illustrated by Ebony Glenn (9781250127730)

This biographical picture book shares the story of Janet Collins, the first African-American principal dancer at the Metropolitan Opera House. Growing up in the 1930s, Collins ran into segregation and racism as she followed her dream to be a dancer. Though she was excluded from some dance schools and also asked to lighten her skin, she found her way to a school that accepted her thanks to her immense work ethic and talent. Collins became a principal dancer in 1951 after being noticed by the ballet master from the Met when he saw her perform.

Meadows has written a picture book biography that reads like a story book. She uses a repetitive structure that echoes that of folklore tales to make the book very readable and approachable for young children. Each new stanza in the book starts with “This is…” and shows a point in Collins’ life. Within each stanza there are also rhyming couplets that add to the spirit of the book. The structure works to make a book that shares aloud well and invites readers fully into this historical tale.

The illustrations by Glenn are digitally rendered. They range from dramatic images of Collins on stage or streetcars at night to more ethereal images of dancers and times with her family. The illustrations place the story firmly in mid-century America.

A well-written nonfiction picture book that tells the story of one remarkable artist. Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Henry Holt.

3 New Picture Books to Get You Moving

Dance, Dance, Dance!

Dance, Dance, Dance! By Ethan Long (9780823438594)

A great mix of picture book and beginning reader, this story features Horse who loves to dance. Buggy is a little concerned though because there isn’t any music, so is Horse really dancing? Horse invites Buggy to join him, but Buggy just isn’t sure. When Horse tries to make Buggy feel better about not being able to dance, he manages to insult her. So Buggy starts dancing too. They add some great music. Soon Buggy is dancing but now Horse is doing something else: resting.

Long has a great touch with humor in picture books. He makes it broad enough for children to immediately relate to it but not so much as to lose the appeal of discovering the humor for yourself. Horse and Buggy make a strong pair, with the exuberant Horse doing his own thing and Buggy reflecting more of what the reader’s reaction is. The illustrations are large and vibrant filled with bright-colored backgrounds and the gyrations of Horse and Buggy’s dances. One to get the wiggles out! Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from copy provided by Holiday House.)

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The Field by Baptiste Paul, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcantara (9780735843127)

Told in both Creole and English, this picture book tells the story of a group of children who want to play soccer together, but they have all sorts of obstacles to overcome. They have to move the cows and goats out of the field and then start to play. Once the game really gets going, the rain starts. They quickly decide to keep right on playing even in the wet and the mud. At the end of the day, they go home dirty and happy.

Set on the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia, the book invites readers to see connections between Creole and other languages. The text is simple and bold, poetic with its short lines. The entire book is filled with energy and action as the children take the initiative to create a field and play together. The illustrations convey this energy with deep colors that shine on the page. The green grass is nearly neon, the sunlight almost glows, and the color of the children’s clothes completes the rainbow-like palette. A great read that will appeal to young sports fans of any culture. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

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A Hippy-Hoppy Toad by Peggy Archer, illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf (9780399556760)

A teeny-tiny toad sits on a twig above a little puddle on the road. His adventure begins when the twig snaps and sends him flying upwards into a tree. A bird tries to peck him, so he jumps down landing on a flower where he has to escape a buzzing bee. He hops down into the safety of the grass on the side of the road, where the toad spots a cricket worth chasing. The cricket escapes thanks to a dog and a lizard. The toad is then picked up with the leaves by the wind and blown into a shoe that takes him on a wild run along the road, right back to his very own twig above the little puddle.

Told in rollicking rhyme, this picture books is a galloping read that begs to be read aloud, giggled at together and shared. There is a wonderful rhythm to the book, a structure that is familiar and yet played with just enough to not be predictable. The nod to traditional songs is appreciated as are the modern touches. The illustrations are filled with small touches of nature with wildflowers blooming and snails and ants climbing around. They also capture the wild journey of our little toad as he adventures through the habitat.

Share this one at your next story time focused on frogs, toads or if you just want kids to jump around a bit. Appropriate for ages 2-5. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade Books and Edelweiss.)

Review: Swan by Laurel Snyder

Swan by Laurel Snyder

Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Julie Morstad

This is a poetic and radiant look at the life of Anna Pavlova, prima ballerina. It begins with her childhood where she grew up poor, the daughter of a laundress in Russia. Then her mother takes her to the ballet one night and Anna’s life is transformed by a desire to dance. She auditioned twice for the Imperial Ballet School, turned down the first time because she was too young. At age 10, she was admitted and studied dance. Her body was considered all wrong for ballet, since she was so thin and not athletically built. She became the most famous ballerina of all time, helped by her tireless work to bring dance and music to those who had never experienced it. The book goes all the way through to her death, where she still longed to perform and dance until the very end.

Snyder’s poetry is just as delicate and strong as Pavlova herself. Through the words you can feel the tremble of desire, the longing for a different life and then the drive to learn and perform. As Pavlova’s story continues, Snyder captures the way that she created a home for herself when Russia changed and the importance of her performing around the world. Her performance as the swan is particularly beautifully captured in words, allowing her grace and particular style to be understood by young readers.

Morstad’s illustrations help with this as well. They highlight her beauty and grace, allow her to shine on the page and dance across it. Her pale beauty and black hair captivate on the page. Other pages show how hard she worked both in learning to dance and then again in a repeating format how hard she worked as a prima ballerina as well.

Beautifully written and illustrated, this picture book in poetry offers a glimpse at the wonder that was Anna Pavlova. Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

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.

Cat’s Night Out

Cats’ Night Out by Caroline Stutson, illustrated by J. Klassen

A clowder of cats fill the pages here, counted up one by one all the way to twenty.  (Don’t you love the term “clowder" for a group of cats?  It’s very appropriate here because it sounds so much like “louder.”)  On each page, the cats appear in different dance costumes and a different type of dance is shown.  Line dancing with rhinestones, tangoing in red capes, and polkaing in flip-flops are just some of the great matchups of costume and dance.  The cats dance until the people in the apartment buildings can’t take the noise anymore. Readers will love dancing to dawn with these delightful felines.

Stutson has created a counting book that is a pleasure to read aloud.  Her rhymes are unforced and natural, with the vowels rhyming but rarely the full word, creating a more flowing verse.  The illustrations take this book to another level.  Done in subtle browns and grays, the setting is clearly urban and has the feel of an intimate club that morphs into an almost Broadway show effect as the cats become more numerous.  Klassen evokes a timeless feel with her illustrations but they are definitely modern with a hip, suave tone perfect for these confident dancers. 

Highly recommended, this book is one of the hippest counting books to come along.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.

Dancing Feet

Dancing Feet by Lindsey Craig, illustrated by Marc Brown

This bright, fun book is sure to have toddler toes tapping in no time.  In alternating double-page spreads, children see the feet of an animal and then get to guess what it is.  When the page is turned, the answer is revealed.  The rhyme and rhythm here are great, adding to the dancing theme.  Each set of animal feet make a noise from Tippity! Tippity! to Thumpity! Thumpity!  This engaging picture book is ideal for toddler story time where children need to get their wiggles out.

Craig’s verses are filled with infectious rhythms.  The sound words she has selected make for book that will get kids moving and enjoying the guessing game.  Brown’s collage is filled with vibrant color made even more interesting with textures.  The illustrations are large and will project well to a group of children.

Toddlers who are wiggly will enjoy doing movements to this book, making animal noises and even using instruments to follow the rhythm of each type of foot step.  With so many animals inside, it is sure to find a place on your go-to shelf for toddler storytimes.  Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from copy received from Knopf.

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