Diversity Defines Dance Picture Books in 2010

Today’s guest article is by Kerry Aradhya. She is behind Picture Books & Pirouettes, a new favorite blog of mine. Kerry combines dance and children’s literature (which compliment like chocolate and peanut butter). If you have or work with kids, be sure to pay her site a visit!

The children’s picture book market is filled with books about ballet—classic titles like Angelina Ballerina newer ones like Miss Lina’s Ballerinas and a myriad of Nutcracker books that have been published over the years. No one can dispute that little girls everywhere love putting on their tutus and ballet shoes every week for dance class—and that they also jump up and down for books about ballet. But, with a growing ethnic population and a range of dance styles being offered at studios around the country, picture books are beginning to more accurately reflect the country’s complex demographics. More and more publishers of children’s books are emphasizing diversity in their lists, and dance picture books are among those benefiting from this trend.

A fair share of the dance picture books published in 2010 still revolved around ballet. (A few of my favorites are Miss Tutu’s Star, Brontorina, and Nutcracker Twinkle Toes.) But just as many picture books about OTHER forms of dance made it onto library shelves, into bookstores, and into the hands of little girls and boys this year. These diverse books are a healthy mix of fiction and nonfiction, poetry and prose, and text and pictures targeting toddlers to tweens. Here is a sampling…

Alphabet of Dance (cover)Alphabet of Dance

Written in rhyme, this alphabet book introduces a variety of dance concepts and styles ranging from A to Z. The poetry is far from stellar in its rhythm and depth, but the concept of teaching the alphabet through dance is appealing. So while it is not the best book from a purely literary standpoint, Alphabet of Dance is educational and could be especially appropriate for teachers who want to integrate more dance and movement into the language arts. The book also comes with a tear-out alphabet poster and a downloadable audio version of the text. Ages 4-8.

Ballet for Martha (cover)Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring

Although the word ballet is in the title of this book, Ballet for Martha is not actually about ballet. Author Jan Greenberg, author Sandra Jordon, and illustrator Brian Floca collaborated to tell the story of another amazing collaboration—that of modern dancer and choreographer Martha Graham, composer Aaron Copland, and artist Isamu Noguchi to create the masterpiece “Appalachian Spring.” The book has received rave reviews from the critics, including starred reviews from Kirkus, Horn Book, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist. Ages 9-12

Dance Stories (cover)The Barefoot Book of Dance Stories

Picture books typically range in length from 24 to 48 pages, but this 99-page book has such gorgeous illustrations integrated throughout the text that I still consider it a true picture book. Famous author Jane Yolen and her daughter Heidi Stemple weave the joy of dance through eight dance folktales from eight different cultures in this charming book for children and adults alike. The book also includes a narrated CD and factual information about the dances from the various cultures. Ages 8 and up.

Dancing Feet! (cover>Dancing Feet!

I haven’t actually read this book by author Lindsey Craig and illustrator Marc Brown, but I would love to get my hands on a copy. It celebrates dance and movement in general, and it looks like so much fun! Here is an excerpt from a starred review by Publishers Weekly: “Spontaneous, onomatopoeic verses ask questions that are answered with a page turn: ‘Tippity! Tippity!/ Little black feet!/ Who is dancing that tippity beat?’ leads into a spread that reveals ladybugs cavorting among leaves and dappled orange flowers…In a satisfying finale, kids wearing clothing that mimics the appearance of the various animals demonstrate their own dancing feet. Fluid repetition and snappy rhythm make this a natural for reading aloud–noisily.” Ages 1-4.

Ole! Flamenco (cover)Ole! Flamenco

This nonfiction book, created by award-winning photographer and author George Ancona, is a dynamic history and portrait of the art form known as flamenco. Readers learn about the Gypsy origins of flamenco and how the various components—song, music, and dance—developed over time. Words and photos also show the intricacies of the dance, including the sharp, strong movements of male dancers and the flair and passion with which women swish their skirts back and forth as they move. Ages 6-9.

Tip-Tap Pop (cover)Tip-Tap Pop

Emma’s Pop taught her to tap dance when she was very small, and the two still love to dance together—back-flapping at the farmer’s market, dig-shuffle-chugging through town, and putting on a special show for the family every year on Emma’s birthday. But when Pop starts to forget things, Emma doesn’t feel like dancing anymore…at least for a little while. Once she realizes that she can use dance as a tool to stay connected to Pop, the hop in her step slowly returns. This book is full of great tap dancing sounds, and the expressive illustrations by Valeria Docampo show the joy in Emma’s face when she is dancing. Ages 4-8.

In the coming year, let’s all embrace the joy dance brings us and the other diverse ways in which dance enriches our lives. Happy dancing!

Headshot of Kerry AradhyaKerry Aradhya is a children’s writer and accomplished dancer. She has poems appearing or forthcoming in Stories for Children Magazine, Ladybug Magazine, and Highlights High Five. After falling head over heels for modern dance in college, she has danced professionally with such groups as the Houston Grand Opera and the Natasha Carlitz Dance Ensemble in the San Francisco Bay Area. When Kerry isn’t writing for children or dancing, she just might be partaking in her newest pastime—blogging. You can read more about dance picture books for kids and other ways to integrate children’s literature and dance at her blog, Picture Books & Pirouettes.