Black Ballerinas: My Journey to Our Legacy (Misty Copeland)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Black Ballerinas: My Journey to Our Legacy, written by Misty Copeland and illustrated by Salena Barnes, a striking celebration of women of color in the world of dance, past and present.

Historically, dancers of color have often been marginalized in, if not outright excluded from, the world of ballet, both in the performance and recorded history of. As author and famed ballerina Misty Copeland explains, seeing another black ballerina – Lauren Anderson – changed her conception of her own place in dance, and with this in mind, she brings the history, biography, and artistic contributions of twenty-seven other black ballerinas. Readers can get to know dancers like Marion Cuyjet, Debra Austin, Francesca Hayward, and many more – their struggles, their triumphs, and the legacy they are creating for future ballet dancers.

Gorgeous. With each dancer being introduced to the reader through a page of biography, Copeland’s personal thoughts or anecdotes (especially interesting for her contemporaries, whom she has often formed friendships with), a quotation, and a stunning watercolor-inspired portrait of the dancer in action. Copeland fairly acknowledges the issue of colorism within dance, yet presents this volume as an inspiration for future ballerinas to have to courage to change the dancing world, just as their (and her) predecessors did. The art is simply stunning, celebrating the beauty of ballet AND of the black women performing it. The subject matter and tone of the writing make this title better for slightly older bookworms – older elementary to middle grade – but younger readers like JJ can still enjoy the art and the inspirational quotes. A lovely book that shines a light on a collection of graceful and gorgeous women who are more than deserving of their spotlight. Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

I Will Dance (Nancy Bo Flood)

Hello, friends! Our book today is the stunning I Will Dance, written by Nancy Bo Flood and illustrated by Julianna Swaney, an inspiring tale of a young girl’s love of dance.

When Eva was born, she could barely breathe; the doctors said she would not survive more than a few minutes. Yet Eva defied the odds and, ten years of minutes later, she has one dream: to dance. Confined to a motorized wheelchair with very limited mobility, her moms and teachers encourage her to “imagine” or “pretend” that she is dancing, but this simply isn’t enough. Eva wishes she could swirl, glide, leap, and twirl like dancers do, and she will not give up this dream. Yet when one of her moms finds an audition notice for dancers of “all abilities, all ages”, Eva is nervous: what if the others laugh at her, or stare, or tell her she doesn’t belong? Eva must face her fears, but she may find that the ability to dance was actually hers all along.

Incredible. This beautifully inclusive and affirming tale, based on a real-life Eva and the Young Dance Company, uses a singular balance of lyrical text and soft, graceful illustrations to tell a powerful story. Eva’s dance company features children of all sizes, genders, and abilities – other dancers use crutches, walkers, prosthetics, and so on – who work together to rehearse and choreograph a dance that features each person’s unique abilities, culminating in a breathtakingly-illustrated performance sequence. It’s a rare story about disability from the perspective of a physically-disabled person, voiced in a way that invites readers of all abilities to identify and empathize with Eva, sharing both her frustrations and eventual triumph. This one is a little longer than other picture books, but JJ was rapt throughout; she was particularly taken with the visual theme of movement expressed as winding, sweeping lines, and enjoyed tracing them across the pages. This one is simply a must-read; Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Brave Ballerina: The Story Of Janet Collins (Michelle Meadows)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Brave Ballerina: The Story Of Janet Collins, written by Michelle Meadows and illustrated by Ebony Glenn, the true story of the remarkable dancer who became the Metropolitan Opera’s first black prima ballerina in 1951.

Born in 1917 in New Orleans, Janet Collins found a passion for dance at an early age. Her tradesmen parents paid for her ballet lessons by making costumes for recitals, and Janet worked hard to improve her craft each day. Yet despite her obvious talent, each ballet academy turned her away at the door, refusing to accept a black student. Continuing to train, mastering new styles and learning from any instructor who would teach her, Janet was finally accepted to a ballet company – only to be told that she would need to paint her skin white to match the other dancers. Janet refused, continuing to work and train and perform where she could until finally, a company saw her skill and talent. Earning her place as prima ballerina at the Met in 1951, Janet Collins was able to step out on stage as herself and do what she was born to – dance.

Powerful. I admit to never having heard Collins’ story before, and it’s a testament to Meadows’s rhyming text and Glenn’s artwork that, by the time the story was through, the reader feels as though they have joined Collins in her journey. The passion for dance bursts from her face and form in each illustration of her in motion; the frustration and shame of the prejudice leveled against her is palpable; the glorious final spread of her beaming onstage before a cheering audience is triumphant. The text is succinct enough to keep the story moving at a brisk pace, yet never glosses over or rushes – each beat feels important and necessary. A beautiful story of perseverance, determination, and pride, and we loved it. Baby Bookworm approved.

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Danza!: Amalia Hernández And El Ballet Folklórico de México (Duncan Tonatiuh)

Hola amigos, y feliz Cinco de Mayo! In celebration, our book today is Danza!: Amalia Hernández And El Ballet Folklórico de México by Duncan Tonatiuh, a picture book history of Mexico’s celebrated dance company and the woman behind it.

Amalia – or Ami – Hernández grew up watching traditional local danzas, and immediately fell in love with dance. Her family supported her passion, and she studied ballet and modern dance, often choreographing numbers that incorporated the styles of traditional dance she had grown up loving as a child. Ami had a vision: she wanted to create a dance company that performed traditional danzas and bailes from across her beloved Mexico, using live musicians, elaborate costumes, and colorful sets. Hernández often combined the traditional dances with modern styles or music, creating a new style that honored Mexican tradition. Eventually, she opened her own dance school, and her Ballet Folklórico is a world-renowned dance company that performs internationally to this day.

Wonderful! If you’ve never seen a performance of baile folkórico, the dance style that Hernández created, you should absolutely take the opportunity to do so. Tonatiuh’s story and art pays lovely homage to both Amalia and her work, with a story that is told with excitement and appreciation, but never feels slow. The folk-art-inspired illustrations that are Tonatiuh’s signature shine especially bright here, bringing to life the shapes, colors, and energy of the dancers. The length is very manageable for little bookworms, and JJ adored it. A wonderful way to celebrate a mainstay of Mexican culture and art, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

Dancing In The Wings (Debbie Allen)


Hello, friends! Today’s book is Dancing In The Wings, written by Debbie Allen and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, a story about a young girl finding the self-confidence to achieve her dreams.

Since she was very little, Sassy has always longed to dance. She works hard in her ballet class, but there is one problem: Sassy is a head taller than all the other pupils, with long legs and large feet. Because of her size, she rarely gets to perform, having to dance in the wings offstage instead. When an opportunity to audition for a special ballet program comes up, Sassy is eager to try out. That is, until she overhears two girls making fun of her size. Crestfallen, she begins to lose her nerve, until her Uncle Red convinces her that standing out is nothing to be ashamed of. Determined, Sassy decides to embrace her uniqueness: rather than try to blend in, she finds the confidence to stand out.

We had a mostly positive experience with this one. First, as a tall woman with a daughter who may grow be tall herself, I’m happy to find a book that celebrates tall girls. Sassy’s revelation that being different or being noticed can often help us toward our goals is a fantastic lesson for girls, inside and out. Being confident, self-assured and having positive body-image is always something that young girls should be encouraged to do. Two sticking points for me, though: a lot of premium was placed on Sassy’s looks, but far less on her non-physical attributes. I was also slightly disappointed that when another character would insult Sassy’s appearance, she would often retort by insulting the other person’s appearance in turn. Sinking to a bully’s level of being petty or cruel isn’t the best lesson. Still, this was a mostly positive story, with some lovely art to boot. The length was a bit long for babies, but JJ enjoyed it. So we’re calling this one Baby Bookworm approved!