If you know any stagestruck youngsters begging for ballet lessons, a trio of new dance books will get them off on the right foot. As these stories demonstrate, everyone has a special sort of grace, an inner vision that’s worth expressing through movement. Share these inspiring books with aspiring Sugar Plum Fairies, and they’ll be demanding an encore.
Authors Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan have collaborated on several award-winning art books for young readers, including Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Through the Gates and Beyond. They have a gift for distilling multilayered historical incidents into appealing, easy-to-understand narratives. Their new book, Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring, is a fascinating account of the history-making collaboration that occurred in the 1940s between composer Aaron Copland, sculptor Isamu Noguchi and modern-dance choreographer Martha Graham. Re-imagining the give-and-take that transpired between the trio as they completed the legendary dance piece Appalachian Spring, Greenberg and Jordan offer readers a unique glimpse of creative minds at work.
The story takes place in the studio and on the stage, as Martha develops movement for the dance, which features a cast of American archetypes: The Pioneer Woman, the Preacher, the Bride and her Husbandman. Noguchi, meanwhile, creates minimalist sets to suit Martha’s aesthetic, and Copland composes “rarin’ to go rhythms” that synthesize traditional American musical genres—a blend of reels, ballads and hymns that provide the perfect melodic backdrop for the piece. The dance’s triumphant premiere takes place on October 30, 1944, with Martha herself performing as the Bride. Brian Floca’s detailed watercolors deliver a sense of the choreographic style—athletic, angular and somewhat primitive, with none of ballet’s gentle refinement—that would make Martha famous. For young readers unfamiliar with modern dance, this is a magical introduction to an important artist. Source notes, biographies and a bibliography supplement this accessible story.
Brontorina, a winning picture book by James Howe, shows that the spirit of dance can strike any species. When Brontorina Apatosaurus, an orange dinosaur of planetary proportions, appears at Madame Lucille’s Dance Academy for Girls and Boys, she’s dying to unleash her inner ballerina. Madame is initially confounded by her would-be pupil, but the children persuade her to let Brontorina take the class, where she proves surprisingly graceful—although a flip of her tail nearly flattens the students, and with every jeté, her head scuffs the ceiling.
Brontorina feels more at ease in the studio after Clara, a fellow student, comes to class with a surprise: a pair of ballet slippers in Brontorina’s size (that’s extra-, extra-, extra-large). When all is said and done, Brontorina’s large-scale talent exceeds the limits of the Dance Academy, and a search for an adequate performance space ensues—with unexpected results. “I want to dance,” Brontorina insists from the start. By the end of this amusing book, her dream has come true. Brought charmingly to life by Randy Cecil’s ebullient illustrations, Brontorina’s story will please ballet lovers of all ages.
The author of more than 50 books for young readers, Lesléa Newman presents an inspiring story about the importance of perseverance with Miss Tutu’s Star. Selena is a girl who lives to dance. It’s how she moves through the world. It’s what she does instead of socializing. Inevitable, then, is the trip she and her mother make to Miss Tutu’s Dance Academy so she can enroll in ballet class. At the studio, the lithe, limber Miss Tutu teaches an assemblage of adorable students—bewildered-looking boys and prim girls, all clumsy and uncertain as they struggle with new steps.
In class Selena is discouraged by ballet’s challenges, but her teacher provides encouragement: “Even when Selena fell, / Miss Tutu said, ‘You’re doing well. / What matters most is from the start, / My dear, you’ve always danced with heart.’” With patience and practice, Selena becomes more accomplished, and she makes a surprising stage debut that brings the audience to its feet. Delivered in delightful rhymed verse, her story is sure to strike a chord with little ballerinas. Carey Armstrong-Ellis’ colorful paintings convey Selena’s love of movement—the sheer joy she experiences through dance. A fun, frolicsome tale, Miss Tutu’s Star proves that practice pays off.