February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

A Dancer’s Dozen | Great Books for Wannabe Hoofers

Launched in 2010 by the Dizzy Feet Foundation to encourage Americans to dive into dance for fun and exercise, National Dance Day takes place on Saturday, July 27. Featuring wiggle-inducing picture books, eye-dazzling nonfiction, and even a graphic-novel autobiography, this list provides a sampling of the wealth of materials available to inspire and inform young dancers and celebrate the joy of movement. Don’t forget standbys by impresarios such as Katharine Holabird (Angelina Ballerina), Rachel Isadora, and Adele Geras, and go ahead and chime in with your own favorites to round out a dance program.

Ballerina DreamsBallerina Dreams: A True Story. By Lauren Thompson. photos by James Estrin. Feiwel & Friends. 2007. Trade $16.95. ISBN 978-0-312-37029-9.

PreS-Gr 2–In this affecting photo-essay, five girls, all of whom have cerebral palsy or other muscle disorders, present a much-anticipated recital. Engaging pictures depict the youngsters rehearsing with their teacher; applying glittery makeup on performance day; and, with the aid of teenage helpers, moving gracefully to sparkle on stage. The text highlights the emotions of any would-be ballerina love of tiaras and tutus, backstage butterflies and onstage exuberance, and pride of accomplishment–while underscoring each girl’s personal challenges, hard work, and amazing gains. An uplifting and heartwarming story.

Ballet for MarthaBallet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring. By Jan Greenberg & Sandra Jordan. illus. by Brian Floca. Roaring Brook/Flash Point. 2010. Trade $17.99. ISBN 978-1-59643-338-0.

Gr 2-6–From inspiration to standing ovation, this handsome picture book describes a collaboration among three artists–choreographer and dancer Martha Graham, composer Aaron Copland, and artist/set-designer Isamu Noguchi–that resulted in a beloved masterpiece. The lyrical text and lissome watercolor paintings place readers in a front-row seat to witness ideas being shared, dancers rehearsing, and the production’s sensational 1944 premiere. Well-chosen quotes provide insight into each artist’s creative process, and the illustrations dramatically convey Graham’s innovative style. Accessible, lovely, and engaging, this offering will have youngsters eager to experience this American classic.

Barefoot Book Dance StoriesThe Barefoot Book of Dance Stories. By Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple. illus. by Helen Cann. Barefoot. 2010. Trade w/ CD. $23.99. ISBN 978-1-84686-219-9.

Gr 1-5–Eight folktales from around the world commemorate the age-old enchantment of dance, from Germany’s midnight-waltzing “Twelve Dancing Princesses,” to the ever-clever Anansi, who limbos past an impossible challenge to win the hand of a West Indian king’s daughter, to a young Spanish shepherd whose magic flute compels anyone who hears it to flamenco. Filled with sprightly motion, the mixed-media illustrations add detail and charm. Information about each dance, costumes, and easy-to-learn tips are appended. A tantalizing invitation to the world of dance.

Cock a doodle danceCock-a-Doodle Dance! By Christine Tricarico. illus. by Rich Deas. Feiwel & Friends. 2012. Trade $16.99. ISBN 978-0-312-38251-3.

PreS-Gr 2–Things are “Cock-a-Doodle Dull!” for the tired animals on a Texas farm until Rooster catches a jitterbug and boogie fever spreads to each and every critter: turkeys tango, chickens cha-cha, sheep shimmy, and cows clog day and night. However, soon everyone is tuckered out, the barnyard transformed into a pig sty, and the animals realize that they must strike a balance between work and play. Cartoon artwork and a text filled with rhythmic rhymes and bouncy bon mots make for a rollicking read-aloud.

DK DanceDance. By Lorrie Mack. DK. 2012. Trade $19.99. ISBN 978-0-7566-9797-6.

Gr 4-8–From traditional folk dance to modern dance, ballroom tangos to Bollywood, classical ballet to b-boy breakin’, this lushly illustrated overview spans the world of dance. Jam-packed with sumptuous photographs and well-chosen reproductions, the lively text traces each form’s history and evolution, cultural significance, music and technique, costumes, and famous personalities, while conveying the razzle-dazzle of performance. Spreads featuring young dancers showcase the steps and movements of particular styles and you-can-do-it accessibility. An informative and fun-to-browse resource.

Dumpy La RueDumpy La Rue. By Elizabeth Winthrop. illus. by Betsy Lewin. Holt. 2001. Trade $16.95. ISBN 978-0-8050-6385-1; pap. $7.95. ISBN 978-0-8050-7535-9.

K-Gr 2–Despite being told by family and friends that pigs don’t dance, a free-thinking porker persists in marching to the beat of his own drummer and his smooth moves and high-kicking high spirits soon have all of the farmyard critters hoofing it up. Winthrop’s frolicsome rhymes make for a musical read-aloud, while Lewin’s color-splashed artwork depicts characters with humor and supple style.

Flora and the FlamingoFlora and the Flamingo. By Molly Idle. illus. by author. Chronicle. 2013. Trade $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4521-1006-6.

PreS-Gr 2–In this wordless picture book, a little girl wearing a pink swimsuit, flippers, and a daisy-covered bathing cap imitates the graceful movements of a flamingo, her rounded body and animated expressions providing an amusing variation on the bird’s straight-faced long-limbed poses. When they finally end up nose to beak, the flamingo squawks and sends Flora into a tearful tumble, but amends are made and the two dance their way Swan Lake-style to friendship and a smile-inducing ending. The pale pink artwork provides plenty of punch, and cleverly designed fold-down flaps emphasize the kinetic action. An absolute delight.

Jazz Age JosephineJazz Age Josephine. By Jonah Winter. illus. by Marjorie Priceman. S & S/Atheneum. 2012. Trade $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-6123-9; ebook.  $11.76. ISBN 978-1-4424-4710-3.

Gr 3-6–Born in St. Louis in 1906 into a childhood marked by poverty and racism, Josephine Baker “grew up singin’ nothin’ but the blues,” but her unique dance moves and indomitable spirit eventually led her to the Paris stage, instant fame, and a “Boh doh doh-dee-oh!” ending to her “jazz fairy tale.” From the despair of “worn-out old shoes” and “nothin’ to eat” to the jubilance of performing “…the Shake,/the Shimmy,/and the Mess Around!,” Winter’s syncopated narrative toe-taps through tragedies and triumphs. Lithe lines and bursts of bright color trumpet Baker’s effervescence and the sizzle of the Jazz Age.

Knockin on WoodKnockin’ on Wood: Starring Peg Leg Bates. By Lynne Barasch. illus. by author. Lee & Low. 2004. pap. $8.95. ISBN 978-1-60060-980-0.

Gr 1-4–This rousing picture-book biography introduces Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates, the rhythm-loving son of a South Carolina sharecropper in 1907, who lost his leg in a factory accident at age 12 and went on to become one of the most famous tap dancers of the 20th century. Whether creating a beat with hands and feet at age five, testing out his rubber-and-leather-tipped wooden leg, putting his own “riffs” on traditional steps, or performing his signature American Jet Plane before a cheering audience, the upbeat text and jaunty ink and watercolor illustrations depict an inspiring individual whose perseverance and talent knew no bounds.

Ole Flamenco¡Olé! Flamenco. By George Ancona. photos by author. Lee & Low. 2010. Trade $19.95. ISBN 978-1-60060-361-7.

Gr 3-5–Spotlighting the youngest member of a performance group in Sante Fe, New Mexico, this book introduces an exhilarating and expressive art form that fuses song, dance, and music. Flamenco’s Roma roots and evolution in southern Spain are traced, and the beautifully composed photographs and descriptive text depict the style’s techniques, movements, and costumes while expressing its intrinsic drama and emotional power. Often passed down from generation to generation, the dance’s modern-day role in celebrating Hispanic heritage shines brightly through. Ancona’s Capoeira: Game! Dance! Martial Art! (Lee & Low, 2007) provides a similarly intriguing look at a born-in-Brazil blend of dance, acrobatics, and martial arts.

To DanceTo Dance: A Ballerina’s Graphic Novel. By Siena Cherson Siegel. illus. by Mark Siegel. S & S/Atheneum/Richard Jackson Bks. 2006. Trade $19.99. ISBN978-0-689-86747-7; pap. $9.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-2687-0.

Gr 4-7–Siegel recounts the early influences that fueled her passion for ballet, years of training at the prestigious School of American Ballet, and, after a serious ankle injury at age 18 caused her to stop dancing, her eventual return to the barre (“Dancing fills a space in me”). The accessible narrative and fluid watercolor-and-ink illustrations form a pleasing pas de deux that conveys the exacting demands and captivating magic of ballet.

Vamperina BallerinaVampirina Ballerina. By Anne Marie Pace. illus. by LeUyen Pham. Hyperion/Disney. 2012. Trade $14.99. ISBN 978-1-4231-5753-3.

PreS-Gr 2–With dreams as big as those of any wannabe dancer, a winsome young vampire (wearing gray gauze cape and bat-ear bow) enrolls in ballet school (one that offers evening classes, of course), learns to plié and relevé with the other girls (when she doesn’t frighten them away with her tiny fangs), practices endlessly (accompanied by a Frankenstein monster on double bass), and jetés to breathtaking heights on opening night (even without turning into a bat). The deadpan text never misses a beat, and the message that hard work and perseverance pay off is delivered with a light touch. Enchantingly eerie and amiably expressive, the artwork abounds with clever details that expand the story’s humor–and its heart.

 See also: Librarian, Blogger, Author: Betsy Bird Talks About Giant Dance Party

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Joy Fleishhacker About Joy Fleishhacker

Joy Fleishhacker is a librarian, former SLJ staffer, and freelance editor and writer who works at the Pikes Peak Library District in southern Colorado.

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  1. Sherrie Rosnick says:

    You forgot Steven Gambel’s Caldecott Medal book: The Song and Dance Man by Karen Ackerman!
    Tap Dancin….Vaudeville style!!

    • Sherrie Rosnick says:

      Steven Gammell…oops…sorry! Love this book, I’ve actually borrowed tap shoes from a dance studio and had first graders tapping in the shoes as a follow up activity.