Children’s Books About African-American Ballerinas: Debbie Allen

Debbie Allen is a dancer, choreographer and actress who got her start as a ballerina. To that end, she wrote the picture book Dancing in the Wings (illustrated by the sublime Kadir Nelson).

This older book complements the others featured this week nicely. In this case the main character, Sassy, finds herself watching from the wings as others dance on stage because she is too tall and her feet are too big. When a man comes to audition the dancers for a chance to participate in a summer dance festival in Washington D.C., Sassy knows she wants to try out. Will she succeed?

Allen may be known for her dancing, but she also has writing cred because, after all, her mother was Pulitzer-winning poet Vivian Ayers. Written in the first person, Sassy has a humorous and realistic tone. “I took off like Jackie Joyner-Kersee in the long jump at the Olympics.” Of course, Kadir Nelson’s oil paintings capture perfectly the longing and awkwardness of young Sassy. and then her emerging grace and beauty.

Allen writes that Dancing in the Wings incorporates her own experiences as a struggling dancer, but was inspired by her daughter, who also studied ballet.

This video gives a brief overview of Allen’s lifetime accomplishments.

Dancing in the Wings is a delightful book that will enthrall young dancers and non-dancers alike. Who hasn’t felt left out and wanted to shine? This book will light the way.

Age Range: 4 – 8 years
Publisher: Puffin Books; Reprint edition (December 1, 2003)
ISBN-10: 0142501417
ISBN-13: 978-0142501412

Disclosure: This book was from the library. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.


Visit our other posts about Children’s Books Celebrating African-American Ballerinas:

Monday:  Michaela DePrince

Tuesday:  Misty Copeland

Wednesday:  Debbie Allen

Thursday:  Janet Collins

Friday:  Beautiful (African-American) Ballerina


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