This past Saturday, September 21st, was declared Boston Ballet Day in honor of the first-ever outdoor (and free!) presentation of the company’s annual Night of Stars showcase that evening. Several friends and I packed up a delicious picnic and camped out on the Boston Common — only a few of an estimated 55,000 attendees — to watch two glorious hours of classical and contemporary ballet.
As a lifelong reader and a lifelong dancer, I love reading about dance almost as much as I love watching it. Here are some of my favorite recent ballet-centric books to share with a young dancer or dance fan.
Naturally, I was thrilled when Flora and the Flamingo (Chronicle, 2013) received a starred review in our July/August issue. This wordless picture book about a bathing-suited little girl’s duet with her avian friend makes excellent use of white space, flaps, and physical comedy to portray a dance that’s both funny and graceful. (Read author/illustrator Molly Idle’s thoughts on the symphonic score to their performance.)
Also recommended by The Horn Book Magazine:
For the youngest dance enthusiasts, Rachel Isadora’s Bea at Ballet (Penguin/Paulsen, 2012) is a pitch-perfect introduction to ballet. Preschooler Bea attends class with four girls and two boys. They demonstrate the five ballet positions and show four ways dancers move their feet as well as a split, an arabesque, and an attitude. The illustrations’ understated style keeps the focus on the children, each of whom is a distinctive character.
In Anne Marie Pace’s Vampirina Ballerina (Disney-Hyperion, 2012), a young vampire begins dance lessons (at night), works hard, perseveres through doubts and missteps, and eventually makes a successful debut performance. Aside from a few vampire-student-specific tips (watch the fangs; don’t trip on your cape), Pace’s encouraging text reads like an advice book for any young dancer. LeUyen Pham’s illustrations steal the show, offering plenty of visual jokes for both vampire fans and balletomanes. Look for the review of sequel Vampirina Ballerina Hosts a Sleepover in the November/December 2013 Horn Book Magazine.
Ballerina Swan (Holiday, 2012), written by retired New York City Ballet dancer Allegra Kent, stars Sophie the swan, who tries to join a class of young ballet dancers but is shooed away. Later, a more open-minded teacher welcomes her to class; eventually Sophie earns a part in Swan Lake. Emily Arnold McCully’s illustrations capture Sophie’s yearning to dance in this satisfying success story. Readers will appreciate the tale’s acknowledgment that while some things come easily to Sophie, others do not.
Lise Friedman’s Becoming a Ballerina: A Nutcracker Story (Viking, 2012) follows young Boston Ballet student Fiona as she auditions for the role of Clara in The Nutcracker, wins the part, and prepares for her performance. Mary Dowdle’s crisp color photographs document the ballet company onstage and behind the scenes. Young dancers will be entranced by the rehearsal, costuming, and staging details. Nutcracker fans will treasure this intimate view of a holiday tradition all year round. (For more nonfiction on dance, see Jill Homan Randall’s article “What Makes a Good Book about Dance?” from the January/February 2013 Horn Book Magazine.)
What are your favorite performing arts — and your favorite books about them?