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Posts Tagged ‘ballet’

When I read biographies of women, I am often flabbergasted by the variety of activities once considered off-limits to females.  Such perverse undertakings as riding a bicycle, voting, being a nurse, were scandalous not so very long ago.

1967 -- Women were not allowed to run the Boston Marathon.

1967 — Women were not allowed to run the Boston Marathon.

What a concerted effort there has been to convince us that women are simply not apt to be strong, athletic, brave, scientific, reliable, level-headed, smart, capable.

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I am grateful for the determined courage of so many women who buck the constraints of gender and racial restrictions to pursue their dreams, gifts, and callings, opening the door for all of us who follow.

Mary Jane Patterson, the first African American woman to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree!

Thankful for women and men who choose to expand opportunity rather than hinder, honor rather than degrade, spotlight rather than ignore, listen rather than silence, empower rather than oppress.

Today I’ve got a dozen+ biographies of women whose stories inspire us. There are lots more in my Subjects index under Biography which I encourage you to seek out. Plus, I’ve put links to last year’s Women’s History posts at the end of today’s blog.

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Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 Miles, written by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Hadley Hooper
published in 2016 by Candlewick Press

Roaring with lemon-yellow verve, this is the account of Nell Richardson and Alice Burke, who in 1916 set out in their jaunty yellow car to drive around America. That was a skyscraper-tall order in those days of “bumpy, muddy, unmapped miles” when automobiles were still newfangled contraptions.

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Their purpose was to campaign for the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment giving the vote to women. This creative, lively telling is plum full of optimism and joy in both text and Hadley’s retro prints. Afterwords tell more about early automobiles and the women’s suffrage movement. Fantastic for ages 5 and up.

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Miss Paul and the President: The Creative Campaign for Women’s Right to Vote, written by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Nancy Zhang
published in 2016 by Alfred A. Knopf

Convincing Woodrow Wilson and the U.S. Congress to support women’s suffrage required dogged determination and out-of-the-box creativity so good thing Alice Paul owned copious amounts of both qualities.

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Planning lavish parades, plunking herself down across the president’s grand desk for a chat, unfurling scrolls down the marble steps of the Capitol with banner-large lettering, organizing massive letter-writing campaigns. Check, check, check, and check. This spirited account of a spirited woman will bolster a can-do attitude in all its readers, ages 5 and up!

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark, written by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley
published in 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

This fabulous biography of Justice Ginsburg pulses with strength and determination. Text, typography, and illustrations work together masterfully to present a portrait of one who faced down stinging discrimination based on both her gender and her Jewish heritage.

I loved learning more about how Ruth’s early resistance to narrowly-drawn boundaries prepared her for a career of profound objecting and dissenting.

And, at this moment in our culture, I am especially glad Debbie Levy includes Ginsburg’s dear friendship with one whose ideas were so often adamantly opposed to her’s, Justice Scalia. Oh, for more friendships across the divides. Excellent, lengthy Author’s Note. This is a strong choice for ages 7 and up.

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Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer, written by Diane Stanley, illustrated by Jessie Hartland
published in 2016; a Paula Wiseman Book from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

The daughter of Lord Byron, Ada was an irrepressibly curious tinkerer, an imaginative, out-of-the-box thinker, from childhood on. Her friendship with Charles Babbage, the designer of what was essentially the first computer, led to her brilliant collaboration with him and her writing of the first computer program in 1843.

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Ada’s story has recently been told in two wonderful books. This one, written by Diane Stanley, reads beautifully, effortlessly, and is illustrated in Jessie Hartland’s delightful, colorful, sunny, style, full of quirk and bustle. Largely accessible to ages 6 and up.

Another equally great choice is:

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Ada’s Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer, written and illustrated by Fiona Robinson
published in 2016 by Abrams Books for Young Readers

The text in this book delves a bit more into the mathematics of what Ada worked out and has just a slightly more elevated feel — more technical, more sophisticated language. It’s better suited to slightly older children, I’d say.

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Robinson’s artwork is fantastic, mirroring the creativity and inventiveness of Ada with its cut-paper designs, mechanical and mathematical references; even the end-papers launch us into the story with their spread of hole-punched programming cards. Ages 8 and up.

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Caroline’s Comets: A True Story, written and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully
published in 2017 by Holiday House

Caroline Herschel was another early female scientist. In fact, she was “the first professional woman scientist,” who teamed up with her brother William in the 1700s to make groundbreaking discoveries in the field of astronomy.

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Such obstacles she overcame as a woman in that society to pursue science! Such perseverance, attention to detail, wonder over the skies, and love of learning were hers to enjoy and employ, making her mark on the world. McCully is one of the best of the best in children’s nonfiction. Her beautiful account of Herschel’s life and legacy is a joy to read, easily accessible to ages 6 and up.

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Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse, by Catherine Reef
published in 2017 by Clarion Books
161 pages

This lengthy biography of the groundbreaking nurse, Florence Nightingale, might put you off with its serious look and bulk, but for girls ages 12 and up who are interested in her life or in a medical career, it’s a fabulous, absorbing read. Excellent choice for adults as well.

For me, the images of The Lady with the Lamp somehow reduced Florence Nightingale to a kindly little helper in the soldiers’ wards when in reality she was an incredibly stalwart person who agonized in her struggle against her family’s and society’s small-minded ideas of what was suitable for a woman to do. Nursing the sick certainly wasn’t one of the proper occupations of a lady, but Nightingale felt called to it and would not relent.

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“Why, oh my God, cannot I be satisfied with the life which satisfies so many people?” she asks. The journey was lonely and difficult. Her courage, fearlessness, iron strength and will turned the field of nursing upside down. I loved bumping into others in this account whose stories I’ve included in my blog previously, including Elizabeth Blackwell, Alexis Soyer, and John Snow.

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Joan of Arc, written and illustrated by Demi
published in 2011 by Marshall Cavendish Children

Demi’s regal, detailed, gold-leaf illustration work is perfectly suited to this story of the unlikely medieval French warrior.

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From her childhood in France with her sensitive heart and early devotion to God, we watch stunned as Joan’s teen-age visions propel her to undertake dangerous journeys, deliver messages that appeared crazy, and lead the French army to dumbfounding victories. Her tragic downfall, burning at the stake, and canonization complete this thought-provoking biography. Ages 7 and up.

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Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education, written by Raphaële Frier, illustrated by Aurélia Fronty, translated by Julie Cormier
first published in France, 2015; first US edition 2017 by Charlesbridge

Aurélia Fronty’s stunning artwork zooms this account of Malala straight past previous children’s biographies about her. Wow. Gorgeous pages, exploding with brilliant color and gorgeous textile patterns make it irresistible!

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Frier unreels a lucid, strong narration of Malala’s life, her relentless pursuit of education for girls. Journey from her childhood, past her attack, through the Nobel Prize, before dipping briefly into her current activism. 8 pages of back matter provide lots more information about Pakistan, the Pashtun people, worldwide education for girls, Islam, other historical peacemakers, and Malala’s ideas. Inspirational and eye-opening for ages 7 and up.

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Tallchief: America’s Prima Ballerina, written by Maria Tallchief with Rosemary Wells, illustrated by Gary Kelley
published in 1999 by Viking

Maria Tallchief was born on an Osage Indian Reservation in 1925 and went on to become one of the greatest American-born ballerinas.

Music and dance coursed through her from the time she was a little girl. Maria was fortunate enough to have parents who supported her dreams. Against all odds, with a fierce work ethic, years of relentless practice, and a love of the dance-music language of ballet, Maria rose to the top.

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Rosemary Wells sat down with Tallchief before her death and helped record her life experiences through her joining the Ballets Russe at age 17. It’s a lovely, fascinating narrative, handsomely illustrated. Ages 7 and up.

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Night Flight: Amelia Earhart Crosses the Atlantic, written by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Wendell Minor
published in 2011; a Paula Wiseman Book by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

When I was a little girl, Amelia Earhart was one of my great heroines. I loved reading about her.

This poetic account of her solo night flight across the Atlantic in May, 1932, illustrates the grit and marvel that mark Earhart’s life. Terrible storms. Broken instruments. Iced-over wings. Seemingly certain disaster. Freezing cold. Toxic fumes.

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With skill and tenacity, Earhart manages to pull through this tremendously difficult adventure. Taut, gripping text from an award-winning author and images from Wendell Minor that strap us right in the cockpit make this a winner for ages 7 and up.

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Nothing by Trouble: The Story of Althea Gibson, written by Sue Stauffacher, illustrated by Greg Couch
published in 2007 by Alfred A. Knopf

Althea Gibson broke the color line in international tennis, winning the Grand Slam in 1956 and the Wimbledon in 1957-58.

All that strength and energy had to be channeled in the right direction, however. As a child, she was “the tallest, wildest tomboy in the history of Harlem,” so they say, who ran right into trouble every way she turned. Sport was just what Althea needed, yet even there, learning to reign in her high emotions and carry herself like a true champion — those were tough lessons.

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Stauffacher spins a vivid account and Couch’s meaningful, vibrant illustrations swirl with the mad energy and spirit of Gibson. Great read about an athlete I knew nothing about. Ages 6 and up.

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America’s Champion Swimmer: Gertrude Ederle, written by David A. Adler, illustrated by Terry Widener
published in 2000 by Gulliver Books, Harcourt Inc.

Gertrude “Trudy” Ederle didn’t learn to swim until she was seven years old. At that time, immediately following her near-drowning in a pond, her father tied a rope around her waist, plunked her in the river and told her to “paddle like a dog.”

Turned out Trudy was a masterful swimmer who loved competition! She began long-distance swimming when she was just 16 years old, swam on the 1924 Olympic team, and then began work on the ultimate challenge — the English Channel. When a newspaper chided her, saying that she and other women ought to forget such things and admit they would “remain forever the weaker sex” it spurred Ederle on all the more.

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But what a formidable challenge! Read her harrowing experiences and triumphs in this riveting biography. Handsome illustrations capture the tumultuous swim and the 20’s era. Ages 6 and up.

Here are links to last year’s Women’s History posts. There are many more bios in the Subject listing as well so don’t miss out!

Baby, we’ve done a lot for the world

Frailty, thy name is not woman!

Marching to our own heartbeats

Embracing a worldful of callings

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The 2016 books are making their way into our libraries and bookshops. 

Here are ten new titles I found irresistible! I’ve blogged a lot of titles recently for slightly older picture-book readers. Today’s batch is perfect for the smallest of allest.

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Tree, illustrated by Britta Teckentrup, text by Patricia Hegarty
published in 2015 by Doubleday Books for Young Readers

Vivid, arresting artwork by Britta Teckentrup walks us through the seasons surrounding one tree standing in the forest. Just. So. Beautiful!

tree illustration detail britta teckentrup

The juiciest part of this book, though, are the clever die-cuts revealing just who lives in that tree. First an owl peers out from his nest in the trunk. As the seasons roll on, more and more forest folk can be spotted through the little peep holes. An immensely-satisfying offering for children ages One and up.

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Emma and Julia Love Ballet, written and illustrated by Barbara McClintock
published in 2016 by Scholastic Press

Emma is a small girl who loves to get up early, eat her breakfast, and head to the dance studio for ballet class.

Julia is a grown-up girl with the same routine. She is a ballerina. 

emma and julia love ballet interior barbara mcclintock

In Barbara McClintock’s graceful, winsome artwork, we follow Emma and Julia through their parallel days, culminating in a performance by Julia which Emma attends. McClintock’s dozens and dozens of figures are astounding. It’s a lovely, insightful look into the world of ballet, sure to warm hearts and charm dancers, ages Two and up.

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Little One, written and illustrated by Jo Weaver
published in 2016 by Peachtree Publishers

Shaggy, galumptious bears and darling prickly hedgehogs. Chill autumnal skies and dazzling, leaping salmon. This stunningly handsome book walks us through one year in the life of a mama bear and her cub.

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I could go on and on about the beauty of every charcoal drawing on every oversized, luxurious page in this book. Quiet text narrates the changes of the seasons, but mostly we’re left in awe of the richness and vastness and glory of the wilderness lives of these bears. A sumptuous treat for ages 2 and up.

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I Hear a Pickle (and Smell, See, Touch, and Taste It, Too!), written and illustrated by Rachel Isadora
published in 2016 by Nancy Paulsen Books

Rachel Isadora’s supreme understanding of the child is on full display in this delightful catalogue of the senses. 

i hear a pickle interior rachel isadora

What kinds of things do you hear? A seagull. The ocean in a shell. Not a worm. And what can you smell? Stinky things. Sweet things. Comforting things. Cheery vignettes polka-dot the pages of this highly-engaging book where a beautiful array of multiracial children explore their world. This is a read it over-and-over-and-over again title, for ages One and up.

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Cat Nap, written and illustrated by Toni Yuly
published in 2016 by Feiwel and Friends

Cat is….yawn……sleepy, and thinks a nap is a dandy idea.

Kitten has far too much pep and wants to play. With Cat.

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Such a funny, tender, and familiar quandary amongst littles and their elders. Giggle along as kitten confounds cat’s attempts to snooze until she herself is plum tuckered out. Toni Yuly’s bold, stylish graphics will grab the attention of even those Under One.

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Henry Wants More!, by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Brooke Boynton Hughes
published in 2016 by Random House

When Henry’s papa swings him high above his head, Papa tires out. But Henry wants more!

When Lucy plays pat-a-cake with Henry, she wearies of it after a time. But Henry wants more!

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The “do-it-again!” syndrome hits every member of Henry’s family as they creatively care for him. Henry’s delight always outlasts everyone else’s interest, until the very last moment of the day. Then it’s someone else who wants more. Who could it be? And what might she want? A loving, multiracial family shines in this immensely-relatable book. Hughes’ illustrations are charming and welcoming. Ages 2 and up. 

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The Night Gardener, written and illustrated by Terry Fan and Eric Fan
published in 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Ooh la la! This magical, stunning book comes to us from two extraordinarily talented brothers. From the handsome end papers, right on through every page of this enchanting story, we are engulfed in their highly-imaginative, exquisite drawings.

The story takes place on Grimloch Lane, a lane which at the outset comprises a drab, nondescript set of shabby, seedy houses, and equally drab, plodding, unapproachable people.

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But! Then the night gardener arrives. He with his smart bowler hat and suit, his selection of pruning shears, his sturdy ladder. And the night gardener works his magic, shaping the Grimloch trees into exotic topiaries, one by one.

When the folks on the lane are touched by this piece of beauty, it becomes a bit contagious. Watch the community’s transformation in this spectacular book. Don’t miss this one, for ages 4 and up. I predict it will land on my Juicies Award list this year!

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Big Friends, by Linda Sarah, illustrated by Benji Davies
originally published 2014 in Great Britain; first U.S. edition 2016 by Henry Holt and Company

Birt and Etho are two friends. And you know what they say:  Two’s company…three’s a crowd. Well. These two Big Friends are great company for one another, playing brave, imaginative games out in the wild fresh air, and building keen forts from cast off boxes.

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But then a little fellow called Shu arrives on the scene.  Suddenly, it’s a crowd. And it’s Birt who’s left feeling a bit crowded out. How can things be right in the world again? Read this book — so squeezed full of heart. I adore Benji Davies’ striking, eminently-human, illustration work. A gem of kindness for ages 3 and up.

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The Brownstone, by Paula Scher, illustrations by Stan Mack
originally published in 1973; reprinted by Princeton Architectural Press in 2015

One brownstone. Three floors.  Six apartments. Six households with very different living patterns. Sleepy bears. Rackety kangaroos. Yowling cat. Snoozy owl. Timid mice. And a family of pigs who are very busy in the kitchen.

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How on earth can all these folks be arranged so they don’t drive one another crazy?! They try many options, bumbling their belongings up and down the tall, narrow stairwell time after time. I bet your kids will come up with the prime configuration long before this clan gets their act together. Ridiculousness and lots of forehead-slapping in this vintage charmer for ages 4 and up.

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Fabulous Frogs, by Martin Jenkins, illustrated by Tim Hopgood
published in 2016 by Candlewick Press

Frogs can be ginormous or itsy-bitsy. They can leap or burrow. They can be tomato red or splotchy blue. They can lounge in the water or withstand drought. They can poison predators or leap huge distances to escape predators.

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All around, they’re just a fabulous group of creatures. Martin Jenkins and Tim Hopgood introduce us to a few amazing frogs in a book packed with intriguing information, yet accessible to children ages 2 or 3 and up. Hopgood’s boingy-bright colors and creative page lay-outs eliminate the tiniest possibility of yawning! 

The best part of the whole book, though, is that they choose the plain old, garden variety, greeny-brown frog poised in a backyard pond for their favorite. Yay for keeping it real! Brilliant nonfiction, and just in time for those springtime nature walks.

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Are you going to a Nutcracker performance this year?

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I have such fond memories of taking my children to the ballet — the magical sets, enchanting costumes, sparkling celeste, scampering mice.

Today, I’ve got six books starring the Nutcracker, none of which tells the original story. There are dozens of books that do that, illustrated by everyone under the sun it seems, so you can choose your own favorite version. Meanwhile, we’ll meander around the story looking at if from different angles, starting with:

the nutcracker comes to america cover imageThe Nutcracker Comes to America: How Three Ballet-Loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition, by Chris Barton, illustrated by Cathy Gendron
published in 2015 by Millbrook Press

I never stopped to think about why the Nutcracker is such a huge holiday tradition. I guess it’s such a fixture, it never occurred to me that it had to start sometime, somewhere.

Here comes Chris Barton, though, to carry us back to the early 1900s, to an obscure town in Utah where three Christensen The Nutcracker Comes to America: How Three-Ballet Loving Brotherbrothers grow up in a family that loves to dance.

A potent mixture of showmanship, ballet, Russian symphony conductors, world war, mad sewing skills, endless practice and years of patience culminate in a 1949 Christmas performance that launches this spectacular annual treat. Who knew?

It’s an unusual slice of history and an intriguing story of perseverance that will be of special interest to children ages 5 and up who are familiar with the ballet.

duke ellington's nutcracker suite cover imageDuke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite, by Anna Harwell Celenza, illustrated by Don Tate
published in 2011 by Charlesbridge

If you’ve never heard the swingin’, bluesy sounds of Duke Ellington’s jazzed-up Nutcracker Suite, do yourself a favor and listen now!

There’s a CD tucked into this book that will allow you to do just that while you read the backstory of how Ellington came to write it in 1960.

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As we know now, courtesy of Chris Barton, the tradition of a holiday Nutcracker performance had just taken off when the idea surfaced for Ellington to give it his own signature spin. Working with his good friend Billy Strayhorn, the reimagined music was composed in less than three months.

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Settle in with the CD, read the story a bit at a time, and listen to each snazzy tune as the band records it in that Los Angeles studio. Perhaps a box of peanut brittle is in order as well. Knowing the original Tchaikovsky music will sharpen a child’s appreciation for these variations and this story. Ages 6 and up.

the new nutcracker suite and other innocent verses cover imageThe New Nutcracker Suite and Other Innocent Verses, by Ogden Nash, designed and illustrated by Ivan Chermayeff
published in 1962 by Little, Brown and Company

At the same time as Ellington was riffing, poet Ogden Nash was commissioned to pen some verses for use as narration to the original music. He wrote them in 1961 and ’62.

This book contains those typically witty and highly-original poems. the new nutcracker suite and other innocent verses illustration ivan chermayeffThere’s a collection called “Between Birthdays” which were written to accompany Tchaikovsky’s Children’s Album, a few miscellaneous poems, and then seven poems correlated to various Nutcracker pieces.

Here is his Russian Dance poem:

The Russian moujik is mad for music,
For music the moujik is most enthusic.
Whenever an instrument twangs or toots
He tucks his trousers into his boots,
He squats on his heels, but his knees don’t crack,
And he kicks like a frenzied jumping jack.
My knees would make this performance tragic,
But his have special moujik magic.

Apparently Peter Ustinov read these poems for a Columbia recording with music conducted by André Kostelanetz. Wouldn’t that be a joy to hear?

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The masterful design of Ivan Chermayeff is the cherry on the top of all of this.  His bold, playful 1960’s colors and sensibilities completely own the pages.

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Why on earth is this book out of print?! Ages 4 and up if you can find it.

the toymaker's apprentice cover imageThe Toymaker’s Apprentice, by Sherri L. Smith
published in 2015 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

E.T.A. Hoffman’s original story has been pared down here and trimmed up there to create the ballet production most of us are familiar with.

This new holiday novel does just the opposite. Sherri L. Smith takes the kernel of Hoffman’s original story and spins out an elaborate tale of sparring kingdoms. There’s the empire of Boldavia with their new Princess Pirlipat; the Drosselmeyer family, whose fantastical mechanisms win them both friends and enemies; the mouse kingdom and its Queen mad for power and revenge; and the rats, whose scarred memories of a Pied Piper still inform their philosophy of life.

Mythical nuts, clever inventions, German Christmas markets, scholarly squirrels, life-and-death gambits, cogs, clocks, plus a dash of romance — swirl in this enjoyable, fast-paced fantasy. 385 pages. Ages 9 and up.

bea in the nutcracker cover imageBea in the Nutcracker, written and illustrated by Rachel Isadora
published in 2015 by Nancy Paulsen Books

If you’re looking to introduce the delights of the Nutcracker to the very youngest of revelers, look no further.

Rachel Isadora’s book is a charming, pint-sized peek into the Land of Sweets. Bea’s toddler ballet class is putting on the Nutcracker and lucky Bea has the part of Clara. See their costumes, watch the show, celebrate the success. 

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Darling illustrations and the bare minimum of a story line here will tantalize very young children’s imaginations and prepare them for an outing to a performance.

Perfectly-pitched for ages Under-Two and up.

talullah's nutcracker cover imageTallulah’s Nutcracker, by Marilyn Singer, illustrations by Alexandra Boiger
published in 2013 by Clarion Books

And finally, a darling story about little Tallulah, whose stars align at just the right moment bringing her a golden chance to play the part of a mouse in the Nutcracker. Thrilling does not even begin to cover it!

tallulah's nutcracker illustration2 alexandra boiger

Tallulah’s enthusiasm for her part is as soaring as a grand jeté, and dreams of stardom and sugar plum roles in the future dance in her head. The one thing she doesn’t count on is a mussed-up stumble on stage. Oh dear.

tallulah's nutcracker illustration alexandra boiger

A lovely outpouring of empathy and kindness from the dance master and the Sugar Plum Fairy herself, gives renewed hope and happiness to Tallulah. It’s a sweet story, with charming, delicate illustrations, for ages 3 and up. There are a number of other Tallulah stories if you wish.

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Mr. Postmouse's Rounds cover imageMr. Postman’s Rounds, written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc, translated from the French by Yvette Ghione
English edition published in 2015 by Kids Can Press

This one scores a perfect 10 on the Adorability Scale.

Tag along with plucky Mr. Postmouse on his rounds as he tugs his wagonload of cheery parcels to the many animal households along his route.

Mr. Postmouse's Rounds interior2 Marianne Dubuc

Every one of these homes is so darling and clever, from Mr. Bear with his honey-funneling-system conveying that amber sweetness straight from the hive into the honeypot on his shelf, to the Penguins’ icy, triple-decker igloo, and Mrs. Mole’s collection of digging tools in one wing of her elaborate tunnels.

Mr. Postmouse's Rounds illustration Marianne Dubuc

There are oodles of cheerful details to pore over in Dubuc’s happiness-inducing illustrations and tale. These images don’t do it justice. A perfectly lovely day-brightener for ages 3 and up.

Swan the life and dance of Anna Pavlova cover imageSwan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova, by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Julie Morstad
published in 2015 by Chronicle Books

The elegance of word and art in this graceful biography are apropos for the life of this famous Russian ballerina. Still — Snyder’s and Morstad’s collaboration soars above any expectations. So, so beautiful.

Follow the life story of Anna from her cold and snowy, horse-drawn outing to see her first ballet, through years of training…

Swan interior Laurel Snyder and Julie Morstad

…until finally she takes the stage as a swan, “a whim of wind and water” startling her audience with such breathtaking artistry.

Anna interior2 by Laurel Snyder and Julie Morstad

Pavlova went on to perform for wealthy and royal audiences around the world, yet she is also known for her insistence on performing in the most unusual places imaginable in order to bring the art of ballet within reach of the poor.

Sadly, her life was cut short by pneumonia when she was just 50.

Do yourself a favor and feast your eyes and soul on this exquisite book. Ages 4 and up.

Sonya's Chickens cover imageSonya’s Chickens, written and illustrated by Phoebe Wahl
published in 2015 by Tundra Books

From the ethereal we move to this robust, earthy, warm-as-toast story of little Sonya and three downy balls of fluff.

Sonya is given these chicks by her dad to raise and she dives into her task with earnest zeal, rising early to release them from the coop, scattering corn, laying down fresh straw, until those chicks have grown into plump hens laying smooth, speckly-brown eggs.

Sonya's Chickens interior Phoebe Wahl

But one night — the sounds of rumpussing and squawking disrupt her sleep and when she investigates Sonya is heartbroken to discover one of her dear chickens is missing.

Sonya's Chickens illustration2 Phoebe Wahl

How Sonya’s monumentally-wonderful father guides her to an acceptance of the fox’s position in all of this and how Sonya carries on with her tiny flock — well, it’s just as tender and wise and heartwarming as it gets.

An extraordinarily pleasing book to share with children ages 3 and up.

Finders Keepers cover imageFinders Keepers, written and illustrated by Keiko Kasza
published in 2015 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

The most lighthearted and funny story of the day is this little round-robin tale.

An exuberant squirrel finds an acorn at the outset of the book and promptly buries it for safekeeping. He is a careful squirrel and marks the hiding spot with his cherry-red hat.Finders Keepers illustration Keiko Kasza

By our story’s end the following day, that hat is indeed right where the squirrel put it and he smugly digs up his acorn to munch for lunch.

It’s what happens in-between time that’s so surprising, as unbeknownst to Squirrel his hat makes quite a whirlwind trip. One woodland animal after another finds it and discovers a new use for it. Just how does it land back at the starting place?

Cheery and funny and fast-paced. Just right for ages Two and up.

Full Moon at the Napping House cover imageFull Moon at the Napping House, by Audrey and Don Wood
published in 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

It’s been over 30 years (!!!) since Audrey and Don Wood gave us the marvelous tale of The Napping House. If you have not read the original — just get that remedied immediately. It’s one of the best of the best.

full moon at the napping house interior audrey and don wood

Now they’ve brought us a delightful sequel, satisfying as can be to those of use who have known and loved that first story. All the best-loved elements are back — the same set of characters, the creamy illustrations dramatically lit this time by moonlight, the step-by-step changes in perspective, the House-that-Jack-Built style sequence of events.

Last time, we made our way from a snoozing, rainy day to a wide-awake burst of sunshine. This time, we’re working at settling down to sleep as the silvery light of the moon shines through the very same window.

Full Moon at the Napping House illustration Audrey and Don Wood

Even if you have no wee ones, you’ll probably want to revisit this for old time’s sake. A sweet, nostalgic reprise for ages under-Two and up.

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a dance like starlight cover imageA Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream, by Kristy Dempsey, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
published in 2014 by Philomel Books

“On November 13, 1951, four years before singer Marian Anderson’s Metropolitan Opera debut, dancer Janet Collins became the first African American hired to perform under contract with the Metropolitan Opera.”

This  fictional story tells of a little girl who was in the audience that night, who was inspired to dream big by Miss Collins’ soaring achievement.

She’s the daughter of a seamstress who cleans and stitches costumes for a ballet school. Long days spent near the dancers during fittings and rehearsals have sparked a dream to dance. When the Dance Master notices her talent he arranges for her to join the lessons.

But the color-barrier means she has to practice in the back of the room; can’t perform onstage with the white girls. It’s hard to keep hope alive when the barriers are so high and ugly. Little wonder, then, that while watching Janet Collins perform, “hope puffs up [her] chest just a bit.”

a dance like starlight dempsey and cooper interior

It’s a lyrical, optimistic story, with a strong mama helping her daughter find wings to fly. Floyd Cooper’s tender paintings combine the softness and dazzle of a dream with the retro-realities of 1950s New York City.  Great story for all girls and their mamas, ages 5 and up.

benny goodman and teddy wilson cover imageBenny Goodman and Teddy Wilson: Taking the Stage as the First Black-and-White Jazz Band in History, by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome
published in 2014 by Holiday House

Two boys, growing up in parallel universes:

On Chicago’s West Side, Benny Goodman plays his clarinet in the synagogue marching band, practices long hours, listens to jazz.

In Tuskegee, Alabama, Teddy Wilson plays violin, oboe, clarinet and piano, practices long hours, listens to jazz.

As young men, the two make their way to New York, and there they meet up. Now their clarinet and piano swing together with the cool, mellow jazz sounds they both love. Along with their drummer, they begin recording as The Benny Goodman Trio. People love them!

But they can’t play on stage together. Black and white bands have never done such a thing. Until one evening in 1936, when they went onstage together in Chicago, and made history.

benny goodman and teddy wilson illustration james ransome

The text of this story is as snappy and jazzy and swingin’ as the music it describes. James Ransome’s vivid paintings also dance and blare with motion and color and hip 1930s crowds. It’s a stylish, energetic read for ages 6 or 7 and up.

More complete bios of Goodman and Wilson are included in the end pages, written for 12 and up, as well as a time line and 11 mini bios in a Who’s Who of Jazz.

the great migration cover imageThe Great Migration: Journey to the North, by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist
published in 2011 by Amistad

Decades before the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, more than a million African Americans left the South and moved North in the Great Migration.

Award-winning author Eloise Greenfield’s father boarded a train for Washington, D.C. in 1929, sending for baby Eloise and the rest of his family a month later when he’d saved enough money for their train fare.

In a series of emotive, free verse, poems, Greenfield explores the process of the great migration greenfield and gilchrist interioruprooting and journeying north towards hope and unknown. Written in various voices, we hear of the threat of the KKK that prompts people to say goodbye to loved lands; hear from grown ups and children, men and women, each with her own perspective. We ride with them on the long trip and experience the doubts, newness, dreams, weariness, hope and courage they felt.

Striking collage art by Jan Spivey Gilchrist contributes enormous strength and poignancy to the page. Combining snatches of historical photo with grainy textures, warm faces, color schemes that enhance the nostalgia, determination, and even the alone-ness of this journey, she nails the mood of each stage. Great read for ages 6 and up.

sugar hill cover imageSugar Hill: Harlem’s Historic Neighborhood, by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrations by R. Gregory Christie
published in 2014 by Albert Whitman & Company

One result of the Great Migration, was that Harlem, in New York City, became a hub of new black culture and the Harlem Renaissance.

The Sugar Hill neighborhood within Harlem pulsed with the optimism, creativity, jazz and pride of its newest residents. Folks like Duke Ellington and W.E.B. Dubois, Thurgood Marshall and Lena Horne, were singing and dancing and writing and discussing  — who knew who you might encounter on a sunny stroll in Sugar Hill!

This book fairly sings with the toe-tapping rhythms of life and hope. The rhyming text surges along, just a short line on each page, before repeating a catchy refrain: Sugar Hill, Sugar Hill, Where Life is Sweet!

sugar hill weatherford and christie interior

And sweet are the illustrations! Tangy! Gorgeous, vibrant color; bold lines and shapes that zigzag with motion; people alive with exuberance; cool fonts that accentuate the pizzazz of this star-studded neighborhood.

An Author’s Note tells about the Harlem Renaissance, and a Who’s Who of Sugar Hill provides mini-bios of a dozen of its most famous residents. Awesome book. Brief enough for a two-year-old, but the history in here will sail over their heads. Consider using this to whet the appetites of older elementary students (and yourself) to explore the Harlem Renaissance in more detail.

freedom summer cover imageFreedom Summer: Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Freedom Summer, by Deborah Wiles, illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue
published in 2001; updated with a foreword in 2014 by Atheneum

John Henry Waddell and Young Joe are best buddies.

They shell butter beans together. Swim in Fiddler’s Creek together. Slurp ice pops together. Shoot marbles together.

But they don’t go to the picture show together. Or to the Dairy Dip. Or to the town swimming pool. Because John Henry is black, and he’s not welcome in any of those places.

When a new law is passed, and Mississippi is ordered to desegregate such things as the town pool, John and Joe are elated, racing to the pool together that first morning. Joe is jazzed to be able to swim with his friend. John can hardly imagine diving into the deep, clear water.

Their hopes are crushed, however, when town officials fill the pool with asphalt rather than adhere to the law. The sting of racism strikes both boys — white and black — in this compelling cameo of Mississippi 1964.

Deborah Wiles has written a full-length novel about Freedom Summer which I’ll be featuring later this week. Having grown up in the Deep South, she experienced Jim Crow laws as a white child. The tumultuous feelings and thoughts she had at the time were hard to sort out, but she has returned to freedom summer illustration jerome lagarrigue 001Mississippi 1964 as an adult and award-winning author, and both this picture book and her novel are powerful, well-crafted pieces growing out of her research and experience.

Gorgeous acrylic paintings by Jerome Lagarrigue add immense warmth and power to the story. His palette of sun-drenched greens, summer-sky blues, nostalgic golds saturate the pages with warm camaraderie and Southern heat. Handsome figures and faces communicate dignity, glee, dejection, solidarity. Love this guy’s work.

Excellent choice for ages 4 or 5 and older. A foreword to this anniversary edition tells more about Freedom Summer for older readers.

You can find more Black History via my Subject Index. Look under History — Civil War/Slavery, and History — Black American History/Civil Rights. 

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Three extraordinary Russian artists today –a composer, a dancer, a painter — in two marvelous books.

When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky: Two Artists, Their Ballet, and One Extraordinary Riot, written and illustrated by Lauren Stringer
published in 2013 by Harcourt Children’s Books

when stravinsky met nijinsky cover image

Igor Stravinsky is our composer — a guy who revolutionized music. He took familiar old Russian melodies and “squared them and flattened them, twisted and cubed them” to come up with some loud and previously-unheard-of sounds!

Vaslav Nijinsky is our dancer — a guy who was leaping to fame across the stages of Russia and Europe before he met up with Stravinsky; who choreographed such novel movements, he was accused of when stravinsky met nijinsky illustration lauren stringer“crimes against beauty and grace.”

When these two explosively talented artists put their heads together, the result was a Parisian riot!

Lauren Stringer’s dynamic story reads like a pas de deux as she gracefully introduces these two individuals, then whirls them together for their famous collaboration, The Rite of Spring.

Her glowing illustrations dance as well. So much movement! I love how the abundant white space on the early pages gives way to dramatic color and jam-packed compositions as this potent piece of art emerges. 

Extensive Author’s Notes tell more about each of the artists, The Rite of Spring, and some fascinating bits of art history which Stringer has tucked into her paintings. I love her work, and I love that she’s from my home, Minneapolis! Early elementary and up.

the noisy paint box cover imageThe Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art, by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary Grandpré
published in 2014 by Alfred A. Knopf

And here is our painter, Vasily Kandinsky.

A guy who heard colors.

Who saw musical sounds.

And who yearned to paint in such a way as to capture passions and emotions in his art, the same way music could. The explosions of color on his canvases were like nothing anyone had ever seen before.

Barb Rosenstock’s text is a fantastic contrast between the stifled moments of Kandinsky’s life — doomed to paint flowers and houses like every other Joe Schmo –and his wildly exuberant expressions when he painted his the noisy paint box illustration mary grandpreown way. She captures beautifully the unique way he experienced color and sound.

Mary Grandpré’s art – ahhhhh! — so masterfully evokes the outer and inner worlds of Kandinsky. Just brilliant. 

It’s a book that soars, and it will grab the attention of kids ages 5 and up. An Author’s Note includes information about synesthesia, a sensory condition it is supposed Kandinsky had. 

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Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring, by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illustrated by Brian Floca

Appalachian Spring is an American classic.  Most of us know it as a moving orchestral piece.  But it was born as a ballet, with accompaniment by a small chamber group.  To bring it into being required the efforts of three brilliant artists — a dancer/choreographer; a composer; a set artist.   Those three Americans were Martha Graham, Aaron Copland, and Isama Noguchi, and their amazing talents and collaborative efforts are the subject of this beautiful book.

It began with a dream of Martha Graham, to write a wordless story, a story told in dance, about America’s pioneers.  As she wrote the script, revising it over and over again, she asked Aaron Copland to compose the music for her ballet.  Her story had evolved into the tale of a young Pennsylvania farmer and his bride on their wedding day.  Aaron Copland discovered a Shaker hymn, Simple Gifts, as he worked, and wove the poignant melody throughout his music.  Artist Isamu Noguchi designed a set to transform the stage into the spare outlines of a tidy farmhouse, while Martha choreographed the storytelling dance movements.

It premiered in Washington, D.C., in October, 1944.

This book is written as gracefully as the motion of a dancer.  It’s simplicity reflects the mood of the art it describes.  Although the subject matter is complex, this sparsely-worded telling is quite accessible to young elementary children.  Brian Floca’s gorgeous watercolors bring alive the elegant simplicity of the ballet, as well as the particular, intriguing aspects of each artist’s contribution.  Ahhhh…he does such nice work!!    Short biographical sketches of Graham, Copland and Noguchi are included.  The book was awarded a 2010 Sibert Honor for excellence in informational children’s books, and I very much agree!

Happy Feet: The Savoy Ballroom Lindy Hoppers and Me, by Richard Michelson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis

The Savoy Ballroom in Harlem opened its doors in 1926 and danced its way into history over the next 30 years.  This “Home of Happy Feet” brought about a new dance called the Lindy Hop, heard the smooth jazz vocals of a new talent named Ella Fitzgerald, stepped and spun non-stop with band leaders like Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie.  In an era when blacks and whites were barred from mingling together, the Savoy was one of the first integrated dance halls. 

Experience the heady days of the Savoy as a young boy nicknamed “Happy Feet” tells of all he sees and hears at his pop’s Shoeshine Shop located right next door.  Meet such famous Lindy Hoppers as “Musclehead” Manning, “Whitey,” “Twistmouth George,” and Big Bea as they spin and dip and flip in a swirl of energetic jive!  The story is told with hep cat, twenties-era lingo, full of its own cool beat and smooth swing.  It’s a happy, warm story of a father and son, woven in with the sparkle and sensation of the Harlem Renaissance.

The watercolor illustrations are superb!  The fab fashions of the dancers in their crisp white shirts, suspenders and snappy fedoras, high heels and swishy dresses, the classy interior of Pop’s shoeshine shop, the cool purple night and the bouyant excitement of the dance floor, all done in gorgeous, light-soaked paintings.  Lewis is a multiple-award winning illustrator and I am anxious to enjoy more of his work.  You can view some of his paintings at his website and an assortment of his illustrations at this gallery.

Barn Dance, by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault, illustrated by Ted Rand

Full moon shinin’, shinin’ big and bright,
Pushin’ back the shadows, holdin’ back the night.
Not a thing stirrin’, quiet as could be,
Just the whisper of the leaves on the cottonwood tree.

Not a thing is stirring…except one curious, gangly boy, gazing out his farmhouse window at the moonlit yard…beckoned by some far-off music drifting his way on the sweet breeze.  When he follows those enchanting notes from the fiddle he finds himself in the midst of a hummin’, yeein’ , rockin’ , sockin’ good time in the barn, with the scarecrow on the fiddle, and cows and pigs whirling about; a grand bustle of do-si-do-ing field mice and flappin’ chickens!  There’s nothing to do but join right in!  A rollicking good time is had by all until the sky warms up for the coming of a new day, and everyone tiptoes his way back to his proper place.

This was a grand favorite of my kids; I cannot tell you how many times we read it.  Enough to memorize it, that’s for certain!  In my daughters’ Very Official Babysitting Trials, this book has also come out on top every time.  Rhythmic text, the magic of a midnight barn dance, Rand’s delightful, bright, exuberant pictures…plus apparently a je-ne-sais-quoi quality that pops this book to the top of kids’ lists!  Test it out on your own family.

Knockin’ On Wood: Starring Peg Leg Bates, written and illustrated by Lynne Barasch

Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates was a legendary tap dancer who entertained audiences around the world with his amazing skill…despite having only one leg. 

When Bates was just 12 he lost his leg in a cotton gin accident, but he did not lose his tenacious will to dance and to live life to the full.  Beginning with a roughly-hewn peg leg made by his uncle, Bates not only became as adept at tap dance as any two-legged dancer alive, he invented showstopping moves of his own.  Bates performed on TV, toured with the USO, and was even invited to dance for the king and queen of England.  He endured decades of racial prejudice on his tours, until he finally had the means to build his own resort in the Catskill Mountains where Black Americans were welcomed.

This story of a man who never gave up, a dancer who excelled at his art,  is told in an optimistic, pleasant style which matches Bates’ temperament.  The ink and watercolor illustrations are sunny and colorful, easily accessible to young children.  A black-and-white photo of Bates displaying one of his acrobatic moves makes a nice addition.  Intriguing, inspiring story.  You can watch historical footage of Bates’ amazing dancing on You Tube.

Footwork: The Story of Fred and Adele Astaire, by Roxane Orgill, illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch

Long black coat-tails and spiffy top hat; crisp white shirt and black-and-white spats.  A cane.  An umbrella.  And the fluid sway and swish and tap and shuffle of an impeccable dance routine.  That’s our picture of Fred Astaire.  How did he get his start?

Turns out it was his sister who led the way into dancing.  The Astaire family’s hopes were pinned on Adele, who at age seven was already a talented dancer.   Five-year-old Fred was more of a tag-along.  Yet he loved to dance.  Their first dance number together was as a miniature bride and groom, tap dancing on fancy wooden wedding cakes, followed by a costume change into a lobster (Fred) and champagne glass (Adele) for some more wedding cake topper dancing!  Oh my.

This brother-sister team worked hard and danced for a living through many long, difficult years.  When Adele opted to marry, at age 34,  Fred launched off into partnerships with others, including of course, Ginger Rogers, and plunged into the film industry where his tirelessly perfected dance moves have been preserved for us to enjoy.

Really interesting story, including a great list of suggestions for further reading, listening, and viewing.  Jorisch’s striking illustrations capture the fashions, architecture and ambience of vaudeville and the Roaring Twenties as well as the irrepressible grace of Fred Astaire.  Delightful!

Amazon links for these books:
Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring
Happy Feet: The Savoy Ballroom Lindy Hoppers and Me
Barn Dance! (Reading Rainbow)
Knockin’ on Wood: Starring Peg Leg Bates
Footwork: The Story of Fred and Adele Astaire

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