March 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Dance: On Your Toes | Focus On

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SLJ1501w-FO-BlackSwan-openerIn an October 22, 2014 New York Times Op-Ed piece, Shael Polakow-Suransky and Nancy Nager wrote about a training session at the Bank Street College of Education for 4,000 New York City pre-K teachers. They concluded with the following statement: “Classrooms that pulse with meaningful play are our smartest investment.” Movement and dance are essential components of play for children. Dance is woven into our human fabric. It starts with finger snapping, hand clapping, knee tapping, and foot stamping. Parents and teachers instinctively sing and dance with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. In turn, these emergent dancers imagine steps or learn variations as instructed by a choreographer. With music in their heads or from a written composition, they perform solo or with an ensemble. They dance in front of no one at all or in a hall filled with thousands. In the last few years, there has been a lovely profusion of titles starring dancing children, dancing animals, dancers on stage, dancers in the woods, and dancers on the ice. A former New York City Ballet dancer, Allegra Kent, has penned a story about, of course, a swan. A current American Ballet Theater dancer, Misty Copeland, has written a love letter of encouragement to a doubtful girl, and a young dancer, Michaela DePrince, has shared her journey from war-ravished Sierra Leone to the ballet stage. Dance titles continue to win awards, with a Sibert Honor for Ballet for Martha and a Caldecott Honor for Flora and the Flamingo. At their best, these books successfully convey the spirit of cooperation that dance fosters. We make connections with cultures and with others when we dance, and what better means can there be to encourage personal growth and empathy?


Preschool/ Early Elementary

DEMPSEY, Kristy. A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream. illus. by Floyd Cooper. Philomel. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399252846; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780698152908.
Gr 1-4–A little girl from 1950s Harlem whose mother sews for the Metropolitan Opera is allowed to take a dance class, albeit while standing in the back. At a performance she sees Janet Collins, their first African American dancer, and her dreams soar. A beautifully written story illustrated with soft shades of browns and yellows illuminating the faces.

FEIFFER, Jules. Rupert Can Dance. illus. by author. Farrar. 2014. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9780374363635; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781466875296.
PreS-Gr 2– Mandy goes jazzy in a bedroom solo. After she falls asleep, Rupert, her ginger cat, performs his own routine. Caught in the act, Rupert will not move a muscle, but Mandy persists, and together they enjoy a free-spirited dance. Energetic lines and splashes of color on a white background match the upbeat mood.

IDLE, Molly. Flora and the Flamingo. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781452110066; ebk. $11.99. ISBN 9781452127934.
––––. Flora and the Penguin. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781452128917; ebk. $11.99. ISBN 9781452132273.
ea. vol: illus. by author. Chronicle.
PreS-Gr 2–A stately flamingo and a softly rounded little girl in bathing cap and flippers perform an exuberant pas de deux. The wordless story, filled with charm and humor, is related seamlessly through delicately flowing lines and page flaps. In her second outing, Flora returns with ice skates for an ice dance with a penguin. Also told wordlessly with lift-the-flaps, the second adventure is equally endearing and memorable.

ISADORA, Rachel. Bea at Ballet. illus. by author. Nancy Paulsen/Penguin. 2012. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9780399254093; Board $7.99. ISBN 9780399168444; ebk. $7.99. ISBN 9781101639702.
PreS-K–Bea and her preschool classmates enjoy learning their first ballet steps and positions. Veteran ballet portrayer Isadora uses black lines on a white background to showcase the diverse children, adding colors for their wardrobe. There’s humor and audience connectivity as the little ones “clap hands to the music!”

KENT, Allegra. Ballerina Swan. illus. by Emily Arnold McCully. Holiday House. 2012. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9780823423736; pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780823429066.
PreS-Gr 2–Despite an initial rejection, Sophie, a very determined swan, joins a class of ballet students and works at her wing and webbed feet movements. In a glorious finale, she flies high in a perfectly appropriate solo. Delicate watercolor illustrations beautifully depict a hard-working swan and her human dance mates.

KOHUTH, Jane. Duck Sock Hop. illus. by Jane Porter. Dial. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780803737129; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781101647110.
PreS-Gr 1–An assortment of ducks adorned in very colorful socks join together for a rollicking and spirited dance. Rhyming text and colorfully detailed sock patterns that pop on a white background will have everyone, tired ducks and listeners alike, eager for more fun.

MACCARONE, Grace. Miss Lina’s Ballerinas. illus. by Christine Davenier. Feiwel & Friends. 2010. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780312382438; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781466809451.
PreS-Gr 1–Eight girls dance in their studio and all about their town of Messina until a ninth girl joins the class. Bafflement over the new numerical pattern happily leads to different formations and more dancing. A rhyming text and lovely watercolor illustrations complement this first title in a series of stories featuring the young ballet dancers.

MANNING, Maurie J. Kitchen Dance. illus. by author. Clarion. 2008. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780618991105.
PreS-Gr 2–A sleepy brother and sister join their parents in the kitchen for a “tango/across the room with the leftover tamales.” A happy family, a sprinkling of Spanish words, and a tender goodnight add up to a good time for all. Watercolor, crayon, and chalk art are a spirited accompaniment.

RAY, Mary Lyn. Deer Dancer. illus. by Lauren Stringer. S. & S./Beach Lane. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781442434219; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781442434226.
PreS-Gr 2–Unsure of her dancing skills in class, a dark-haired girl returns to her quiet spot in the woods, where she is joined by a deer. Gracefully and with growing confidence, they observe each other and then begin joyously spinning and leaping through the woods and across the pages. Beautifully illustrated in intense shades of green.

SCHAEFER, Carole Lexa. Dragon Dancing. illus. by Pierr Morgan. Viking. 2007. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780670060849.
PreS-Gr 1–A nicely diverse class crafts a birthday present for Mei Lin—a Chinese dragon that climbs mountains, swims seas, creeps through forests, and dawdles under cherry blossom trees. The children in the story move and “stomp” along. Listeners can join in the fun with hand and body movements and later draw their own dragons.

SCHUBERT, Leda. Ballet of the Elephants. illus. by Robert Andrew Parker. Roaring Brook/Brodie. 2006. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781596430754.
Gr 1-4–In 1942, a circus owner, a choreographer, and a composer collaborated on a most unusual event—a polka for elephants. Background information and details about the big animals and petite dancers working in concert provide an amusing and very different glimpse into creative cooperation. Watercolor illustrations convey just the right atmosphere.

SIF, Birgitta. Frances Dean Who Loved to Dance and Dance. illus. by the author. Candlewick. 2014. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780763673062.
PreS-Gr 2–Frances loves to dance for birds, swans, and ducks but not for people. When the birds show her a girl who sings, she gradually gains the confidence to perform for others. The dark palette of greens and browns provides an unusual but appealing setting for a host of humans and animals.

SINGER, Marilyn. Tallulah’s Solo. illus. by Alexandra Boiger. Clarion. 2012. lib. ed. $16.99. ISBN 9780547330044; ebk. $10.49. ISBN 9780547822815.
PreS-Gr 2–Tallulah knows that she is destined for ballet stardom. When little brother Beckett gets a better role in a production of “The Frog Prince,” Tallulah sulks, but her mother wisely offers sound advice. Illustrated with appealing watercolors, this is one in a series of stories featuring the future ballerina as she grows in maturity and technique. Audio version available from Recorded Books.

THOMAS, Jan. Is Everyone Ready for Fun? illus. by author. S. & S./Beach Lane. 2011. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9781442423640; ebk. $8.99. ISBN 9781442435742.
PreS-Gr 1–Three antic cows jump, dance, and wiggle on Chicken’s sofa until they collapse in a sleeping heap. Preschoolers will eagerly join in the action in this colorful tale, perfect for storytimes. Digitally illustrated with close-ups of very entertaining cows and a rather irate chicken.

WILLEMS, Mo. Elephants Cannot Dance! illus. by the author. (An Elephant and Piggie Book). Disney-Hyperion. 2009. Tr $8.99. ISBN 9781423114109.
K-Gr 2–Tutu-clad Piggy wants to teach Gerald to dance, but the big guy is quite reluctant. When he finally agrees, he cannot follow directions. In a surprise twist, Gerald choreographs his own dance, “The Elephant,” which demands audience participation. As in other titles in the series, the characters have winning personalities, expressively drawn.

SLJ1501w-FO-MiddleElem-StripMiddle Elementary

BERNIER-GRAND, Carmen T. Alicia Alonso: Prima Ballerina. illus. by Raúl Colón. Marshall Cavendish. 2011. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780761455622.
Gr 4 Up–Despite near blindness, the Cuban ballerina devoted her life to dance and to her homeland. Throughout her long career, she was beloved by audiences for her interpretation of classic ballets. Each episode of her life is presented in free verse on one page and faced by a portrait or scenes from Cuba, all depicted in warm and appealing colors.

COPELAND, Misty. Firebird. illus. by Christopher Myers. Putnam. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780399166150; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780698171602.
Gr 2-6–In a poetic voice, the African American ballerina and soloist with the American Ballet Theater assures a young girl, not unlike herself, that a “dancing dream” can be beautifully and majestically attained. The brilliant colors and sharply angled background design evoke both the quietude and the drama of the Firebird ballet in a superb fashion.

DEPRINCE, Michaela with Elaine DePrince. Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina. Knopf. 2014. lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780385755122; Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780385755115; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780385755139.
Gr 4-8After Michaela’s parents are killed during the civil war in Sierra Leone, she is adopted by an American family. With her new mother, she recounts the journey from dreaming girl to successful ballerina. A wonderful role model, Michaela was one of the featured dancers in the 2012 documentary First Position. Illustrated with an insert of color photographs.

GREENBERG, Jan & Sandra Jordan. Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring. illus. by Brian Floca. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter Bks. 2010. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781596433380; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781466818620.
Gr 2-6–In 1944, at the Library of Congress, the curtain rose on Appalachian Spring, an American modern dance classic. Martha Graham, Aaron Copeland, and Isamu Noguchi collaborated on the choreography, music, and set designs. The process and the dance are superbly detailed step-by-step, and the watercolor illustrations brilliantly capture every movement. Copious back matter provides historical context.

POWELL, Patricia Hruby. Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker. illus. by Christian Robinson. Chronicle. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781452103143; ebk. $12.99. ISBN 9781452129716.
Gr 2-5–A stage performance, from raised curtain to final bow with flowers, provides the book-design backdrop as this title in free verse follows the extraordinary life of a dancer who fled race riots in St. Louis and discrimination in New York City and found phenomenal success in Jazz Age Paris. Expressive acrylic paintings expertly portray her many talents. Audio version available from Recorded Books.

REICH, Susanna. José! Born to Dance: The Story of José Limón. illus. by Raúl Colón. S. & S./Paula Wiseman Bks. 2005. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780689865763.
Gr 2-4–Reich presents brief moments in the 20th-century modern dance choreographer’s life, from his childhood in Mexico to his arrival in New York City and discovery of dance. Fierce, strong, and proud like the man himself, Limón’s work is still performed by many companies. Spanish words provide flavor, and the powerful full-page portraits showcase his enduring talent.

YOLEN, Jane & Heidi E.Y. Stemple. The Barefoot Book of Dance Stories. illus. by Helen Cann. Barefoot Bks. 2010. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781846862191.
Gr 1-5–Visit Germany, Japan, the West Indies, Spain, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Scotland, and Mali, and read about their dances, how to perform them, and what to wear. Eight stories to read aloud and to tell are the perfect accompaniment. Watercolor and mixed-media art decorate the pages and embellish the costumes. Juliet Stevenson reads the accompanying CD.

Susan Pine, a retired New York Public Library children’s librarian, is a member of the Bank Street College of Education Children’s Book Committee.

For Teachers

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation. (Accessed 11/22/14).
In 1958, Alvin Ailey began choreographing the African American dance experience for American and worldwide audiences. Click on “CLASSES—Recreational” for photographs of children performing hip-hop, ballet, and more. Click on “ABOUT—Revelations: 50 Years in Pictures” for a photographic history of the classic dance and audience favorite.
Ballet Hispanico. Ballet Hispanico. (Accessed 11/22/14).
Ballet Hispanico has served its New York City community with classes and cultural enrichment programs on Latino dance since 1970. Click on “CLASSES—Adventures in Dance (Ages 2–5)” for support statements about the importance of dance skills in fostering physical, social, cognitive, and aesthetic growth.
National Dance Institute. NDI Center. (Accessed 11/22/14).
Since 1976, the NDI, founded by Jacques d’Amboise, has been committed to establishing inclusive dance programs in schools, believing that through them “children learn to work together and develop personal standards of excellence, a pride of achievement, and a curiosity about the world….” Click on “About NDI” for excellent supportive statements for school arts programs.

For Students

Jacob’s Pillow Dance Interactive. Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. (Accessed 11/22/14).
Gr 4 Up–Located in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts, Jacob’s Pillow, recipient of a National Medal of Arts, hosted its 82nd dance festival in 2014. Click on “GENRE” for brief clips of ballet, contemporary, cultural, modern, tap, and more. Tap dancer Savion Glover, the American Indian Dance Theater, José Limón, and Alicia Alonso are among the performers and organizations presented.

This article was published in School Library Journal's January 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.