Author: Lauren Thompson
Photographer: James Estrin
Publisher: New York, Feiwel and Friends, 2007.
Genre: Picture book, nonfiction
Audience Age: 4 to 8 years
Themes/topics: ballet, dreams, goals, disabilities, cerebral palsy, challenges, achievement
Opening Sentences: Ballet class is about to start, and the girls are hurrying to get ready. They pull off their coats and shoes, and pull on their ballet slippers and tutus. They look forward to class all week long.
Synopsis: From that beginning, which could be about any child’s ballet class anywhere, the reader is taken into the very special world of Joann Ferrara’s ballet class for children with physical challenges (mainly cerebral palsy), where Joann helps little girls who struggle with balance, walking, moving their arms, movement in general, “to feel like a ballerina princess.”
The book tells the story of a dance recital in which these girls get a chance to show not just their joy in being able to do ballet like their friends, but also just how much they have achieved physically. As part of the text says, “Week after week, they have practiced positions and moves that were difficult for them until they weren’t so difficult anymore. Their bodies have gotten stronger. They have learned to reach farther and stand taller than ever.” One of the girls could hardly lift her left arm at all, now she lifts it above shoulder level. One little girl is eager to show her father that she can stand by herself with the use of her cane.
Each child has a helper, who is with them through their ballet classes, and is with them on stage giving them the physical support they need to be able to dance to the best of their ability.
To see a couple of the photographic spreads from this book, and to get a better idea of what these little girls contend with in the pursuit of their dream of being ballerinas, click this link to the publisher’s website.
This is an inspiring, empowering book. Since it is a nonfiction book, there is more text than children may be used to, but it is written in an accessible manner, with enough narrative about the recital to engage young listeners. There are captions for the photos, as well – unfortunately they are in white typeface on pink pages, so they aren’t as easy to see. The book can encourage children who have physical limitations to see that they can work toward their dreams, and it can teach able children to see that differently-abled children have the same desires, dreams, hopes as they do.
Activities/Resources: Besides enrolling children in ballet or other dance classes, teachers or parents can encourage informal dance activities, simply putting on music and asking the children to express with their bodies what the music sounds like to them, what story they think the music is saying.
Familiar games can be altered to suit a dance or ballet theme, such as this suggestion for a Ballet Freeze game from Kidspot in Australia.
The KidsHealth website gives children information about cerebral palsy.
To learn more about giving kids with physical challenges a chance to dance, check out the Dancing Dreams website.
Availability: Readily available in hardcover.
Every Friday, bloggers join together to share picture book reviews and resources, thanks to author Susanna Leonard Hill’s brainchild, “Perfect Picture Book Fridays.” Susanna then adds the books (and links to the reviews) to a comprehensive listing by subject on her blog. Find the entire listing at her “Perfect Picture Books.”