Misty Copeland’s 2014 debut picture book, “Firebird,” featured an adult Misty encouraging a young ballerina to soar the heights of the stage as she did. Gorgeously illustrated by the venerable Christopher Myers, the book told the story of a young dancer who lacked confidence and needed to hear the words of wisdom and guidance whispered to her by the prima ballerina.
Copeland’s second picture book, however, tells a tale more similar to the author’s own story. “Bunheads” begins with young Misty’s very first day of ballet class. In “Firebird” she had mastered the art form but here, she doesn’t know a plié from a degagé. This book is also a first for Ghanian artist Setor Fiadzigbey; “newcomer” is the theme for author, illustrator, and reader.
Many fans of Copeland are familiar with her personal journey of finding ballet at the relatively late age of 13 and studying with Cynthia Bradley at the San Pedro Dance Center in San Pedro, California. Under Bradley’s wing, she became a ballet prodigy and by the time she was eighteen – just five years later! – she was a professional ballerina with American Ballet Theatre, where she is now a principal dancer.
In “Bunheads,” Misty’s first day is filled with wonder as Miss Bradley spins the tale of Coppelia, a doll so lifelike that young Franz falls in love with it and spurns his own sweetheart, Swanhilde. As soon as she hears this story, Misty knows instantly that she wants to play the role of Swanhilde. She throws herself into class, soaking up as much as she can from her teacher and her fellow dancers, and when it comes time to audition, she wins the role! Fortunately, her new friend Cat gets the role she wants too so both dancers are happy and not in the least bit competitive.
As Misty takes us through her lessons, young dancers are introduced to ballet vocabulary like rond de jambe and pas de bourrée. They see that she has trouble with certain steps but works that much harder because she has a goal in sight. By the time we get to the end of the book, Misty has learned enough to perform on stage with her classmates, even if she is a bit nervous.
This is not so different from Copeland’s own life, as fans and readers of her memoir, “Life in Motion,” (reviewed for Dance Advantage in 2014), will recall. Copeland was propelled into the dance spotlight as Clara in Debbie Allen’s “The Chocolate Nutcracker,” when she had been dancing for less than a year.
One of the delightful discoveries in “Bunheads” is the artwork by Setor Fiadzigbey. The striking illustrations dance across the pages; two-dimensional images seem to move with the characters, from Miss Bradley’s swinging blunt-cut bob to Misty’s mother sweeping her into an embrace. Inspirational rather than instructional, the pictures of the various ballet steps imply motion and circularity – and joy! We can see in each image a true love of dance.
With holidays just around the corner, this is a perfect gift to pick up for your young dancer. For ages 6 and up, although the youngest readers will likely need assistance with the French vocabulary.
About the author:
Misty Copeland made history in 2015 when she was the first black woman to be promoted to principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre, one of the most prominent classical ballet companies in the world. She is also the author of the award-winning picture book, “Firebird.” You can visit Misty Copeland at mistycopeland.com.
About the illustrator:
Setor Fiadzigbey was born and raised in Accra, Ghana. Since his childhood he has loved drawing and is grateful to be doing it professionally as a freelance artist now that he is all grown up. He loves stories- hearing, watching, reading, and creating them. He currently lives in Ghana with his lovely wife and daughter.
Leigh Purtill is a ballet instructor and choreographer in Los Angeles where she lives with her husband. She received her master’s degree in Film Production from Boston University and her bachelor’s in Anthropology and Dance from Mount Holyoke College. She is the author of four young adult novels from Penguin and HarperCollins. She currently teaches all levels of ballet to adults. Zombie ballet is her passion. She is the artistic director of the Leigh Purtill Ballet Company, a nonprofit amateur ballet company for adults. Read Leigh’s posts.