Do you know any young dancers who are interested in ballet? Today we have four nonfiction picture books about ballet and ballerinas that are sure to inspire them.
First up is Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder and illustrated by Julie Morstad. Nominated for a 2015 Cybils award in the Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction category, Swan is an beautiful glimpse into the life of the famous ballet dancer, Anna Pavlova.
Anna Pavlova’s life story could have been very different except for one pivotal event. Growing up in Russia in the 1880s as the daughter of a woman who did laundry to make ends meet, Anna was destined to lead a life of drudgery. One night, however, Anna’s mother took her to see the ballet Sleeping Beauty. Anna was so passionate about what she saw on the stage that she auditioned for the Imperial Ballet School at eight years old and was eventually accepted two years later. Soon she was a famous ballerina.
Swan is as exquisite and elegant as an actual ballet. The text is sparse and dances around the page as if to music. The illustrations are imaginative and capture the beauty of Pavlova’s movements. It is charming for the most part.
The only low spot for this book is that the ending about her last illness and death flutters around the topic, probably to keep the young readers from being too sad about it. Rather than being comforting, however, the lack of specifics and flowery language frankly left me somewhat confused. It was only after I read the explanation in the author’s note did I realize what had really happened. Depending on the sensitivity of the young reader, the ending may be appropriate or not. At the very least adults should probably read the book first, including the author’s note, to be ready to answer questions as they arise.
Public domain image of Anna Pavlova from Wikimedia.
In any case, Swan is an excellent introduction to the life of a woman who succeeded in finding and living out her passion against the greatest of odds. It might be an appropriate story for youngsters who are interested in other arts, or even sports, as well.
Age Range: 6 – 9 years
Publisher: Chronicle Books (August 18, 2015)
In contrast is an older picture book, I Dreamed I Was a Ballerina by Anna Pavlova and illustrated by Edgar Degas.
The text of this book features Pavlova’s actual words (transcribed from her memoirs), and it is written in the first person. The story ends when she dances in Sleeping Beauty, the ballet she watched as a child. It is an appropriate story arc.
The book is illustrated with paintings by the French Impressionist, Edgar Degas. Although Degas’s paintings are magnificent, they do not pair well with the text on many pages and do little to move the story forward.
Overall, I Dreamed I Was a Ballerina brings Pavlova to life through her own writing. It would be wonderful to read aloud and to pair with Swan.
Age Range: 8 – 12 years
Publisher: Atheneum; First Edition edition (October 1, 2001)
The Nutcracker Comes to America: How Three Ballet-loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition (Millbrook Picture Books) by Chris Barton and illustrated by Cathy Gendron also has been nominated for a 2015 Cybils award in the Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction category.
If you love ballet like I do, you have seen The Nutcracker more than once. Somehow I always thought it must have come the the U.S. via Russian dancers and choreographers who brought the dance with them. It turns out The Nutcracker tradition has very different roots. It was started by three brothers from Utah. Surprise!
To be clear, this book is the biography of the three men, Harold, Willam and Lew Christensen, and establishes their roles in developing an American version of the ballet. It does not explain the story of The Nutcracker, although the basics are summarized in a paragraph in the end of the book.
How did three men from Utah end up introducing the now-famous ballet? It turns out their uncle was a trained ballet dancer and he taught them to dance when they were young. Still, what they were able to accomplish in the end is impressive.
The tone of the book is conversational and matter of fact, as down-to-earth as the men themselves. The clean, stylish illustrations give the appropriate flavor of the times the events occurred. The back matter includes an Author’s Note, Illustrator’s Note, and an extensive Timeline for those who want to find out more.
This book is a must have for any family that has a tradition of going to see The Nutcracker ballet, or even better, for any dancers who want to be part of a production. It would also be a fascinating read for history buffs, particularly those interested in the history of dance.
Series: Millbrook Picture Books
Publisher: Millbrook Pr Trade (September 1, 2015)
We have had ballet fever this year. We recently reviewed the Little Golden Book® I’m a Ballerina! (Little Golden Book) by Sue Fliess and illustrated by Joey Chou here (link to review). It is a delightful introduction to ballet for 2- to 5-year olds.
Age Range: 2 – 5 years
Publisher: Golden Books (July 14, 2015)
Want more? Check out our whole week of great books about African-American ballerinas.
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