Monday, January 22, 2024

A BIG Congratulations to Vashti Harrison!

Today the American Library Association announced the 2024 Youth Media Awards, and author/illustrator Vashti Harrison was a BIG winner!

If you haven't yet read her gorgeous and groundbreaking picture book BIG, I hope you run to your favorite indie bookstore or local library for a copy. It's possible, however, that it will be out of stock or on loan -- not only because Vashti just won a Caldecott Medal, Coretta Scott King Author Honor, and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor for the book but because it is, quite simply, a remarkable book! 

Ballet is part of the backdrop, but BIG is about so much more. It's a beautiful, self-affirming story for anyone who has ever received comments -- words -- that have hurt them, be those words about their size (as in this book) or about any other quality they embody. Vashti's sparse test combined with her ingenious use of size, space, and color infuse the story with so much emotion, reminding readers that self-acceptance and self-love are some of the most powerful gifts we can give to ourselves. 

BIG was published by Little, Brown and Company last May, and I picked up my copy in October while visiting friends in Portland. As I browsed the shelves of Powell's Books, I came upon a display copy with a signed print tucked inside. It was my first time in Powell's (which, by the way, is one of the most amazing bookstores ever), and finding this treasure made it a most magical experience... 

Congratulations, Vashti!

See all the 2024 Youth Media Award winners here.  

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Playful Dance Chants for Moving and Grooving!

One of the reasons I started my blog more than a decade ago was to bring together picture book creators, teachers, librarians, and dance educators who all believe in the power of movement as much as I do. The recent picture book Tap and Rap, Move and Groove by author Connie Bergstein Dow and illustrator Debbie Palen is the perfect example of a book that embodies this sentiment. 

With the holiday season officially in full swing, Tap and Rap, Move and Groove would make an excellent gift for parents, librarians, or early childhood educators -- both those who regularly incorporate movement into their story times or lesson plans and those who would like to incorporate movement but may be a little hesitant. Here are some reasons I think it's great for both groups...

  • There's a lot of variety in the 14 dance chants included in the book, so you're sure to find one that fits into any theme you want to explore through movement. Animals, feelings, nature, counting -- even feet! Here's a peek at the first page of a two-page chant about all the ways you can dance with your feet... 

  • If you're in a pinch and need a last-minute creative movement prompt, look no further! Keep this book handy for any extra time you might have at the end of a dance class or school day, especially if the kids have been sitting for a long time and just need to get their wiggles out!  
  • The back matter is AMAZING if you're looking for some practical support in using the book. It includes guidelines for leading each chant, suggestions for creating boundaries to maintain control in a room full of kinetic kiddos, modifications to make the chants accessible for children with a range of needs and learning styles, and reminders of why creative movement is so beneficial to young children.
  • This peppy, brightly colored book also comes with a free digital download full of ideas for enhancing the chants with music, props, and variations to keep children engaged during many repeated readings!

If you haven't guessed, author Connie Bergstein Dow is also an experienced dance educator. Learn more about her at Moving Is Learning or from my review of her debut picture book From A to Z with Energy! But before you go, as we metaphorically wave goodbye, here is the ending of a chant from Tap and Rap, Move and Groove called "Waving Rap"... 

Wave your arms, way up high.
Reach your fingers to the sky.
Step and clap, step and clap, 
As we do our waving rap!
Jump and hop, twist and bop. 
Wave everything...and now we stop!

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Sing Along to Boogie in the Bronx!

Put on your dancing shoes and get ready to rumba! Boogie in the Bronx hit bookshelves one week ago today! 

I became a huge fan of publisher Barefoot Books when my girls (who are both teenagers now) were very young. This new picture book, written by Jackie Azúa Kramer and illustrated by Jana Glatt, embodies all the qualities that have kept me a fan through the years. The art is bold and bright, with equally engaging rhyming text, full of music and movement. As a bonus, it's a singalong! Sung by Sol y Canto to music written by Brian Amador, the song (which mimics the text) and an accompanying animated video can be accessed through a QR code at the end of the book, or here!

Although not apparent from the title alone, this book is also a counting book (with numbers and some short phrases in both English and Spanish) and an introduction to Latin, Afro-Latin, and African American dance--all set within the walls of a diverse high-rise apartment in New York City...

Once you listen to the song, you'll also realize that it's an introduction to the rhythms that go along with each the 10 featured dances, including salsa, reggaeton, and conga. The spread below, featuring tango, is one of my favorites. I especially love how the paint brushes of the artists are gliding right along with them as they dance in their apartment...

One more thing I've always loved about Barefoot Books is that the characters in their books have been from diverse backgrounds for as long as I've been reading them, which means representation has been important to them for a very long time. 

To that point, I really appreciated the acknowledgment in the back of Boogie in the Bronx thanking a director of diversity education, a disability consultant, a pronunciation consultant, and a dance consultant for their expert advice in creating this book. So, with that...
I hope you've still got your dancing shoes on. Let's dance! Vamos a bailar!

Monday, September 18, 2023

An Interview with Author Rachel S. Hobbs

Congratulations to winner Angela Dose! Although the giveaway is now closed, I hope you will still enjoy the post!

I've always loved a good fractured fairy tale -- a retelling of a classic fairy tale but with a unique twist in one or more elements of the original story. I'm so happy to have author Rachel S. Hobbs here with us today to talk about her debut picture book, a fractured fairy tale Tango Red Riding Hood, illustrated by Carolina Vázquez and just released by Gnome Road Publishing. 

In this fresh, bilingual take on Little Red Riding Hood, a young tango-loving Argentine girl name Moni sets out to deliver some scrumptious alfajores to her Abuela. As she dances through the forest, she encounters a wolf playing tango music on his bandoneón! It might seem like the perfect pairing of two characters passionate about the tango, but hilarity soon ensues once Moni and the wolf start communicating (or trying to communicate) through speech instead of music and dance. 

A blend of two cultures (as 
Rachel was born to a Californian father and Argentine mother), this book would be great
 for English or Spanish learners, or for anyone who just wants to read a fun story with an Argentine twist!

GIVEAWAY ALERT!! Stick around after the interview for a chance to win a crocheted rose (inspired by a scene in the book) and a 20-minute ask-me-anything phone call or Zoom with Rachel! 

So happy to have you here with us today, Rachel! And congratulations on your debut picture book! 

Thank you so much for having me! I feel honored, and I'm excited to share my thoughts with a dance-minded community!

How are you feeling? Have you been doing anything special to celebrate?

I love food, so that's how I've been celebrating! We made some Argentine food recently, and I also plan on making alfajores (the treat mentioned in the book) for my author visits. Don't get me wrong, though. I don't enjoy cooking or baking, but I really wanted to share something I love with others!

As for how I'm feeling, that's a tricky question to answer! I'm extremely grateful that people can have this personal piece of me in their hands to enjoy what I enjoy. I'm so happy when friends show me photos of themselves holding my book. I'm also really anxious, but that's part of my mental health issues. My adrenaline has been really high. I've learning a lot about self-soothing and self-compassion, so I think that will get me back on track!

Yes, self-soothing and self-compassion are so important, and I hope you feel more balanced soon. I also struggle with self-soothing when I am anxious or overwhelmed, and have found that meditation and LOTS of alone time are so helpful, at least for me. Oh, and so is dance!

Speaking of dance, how did you come up with the idea for this tango-themed story?

That's a great question! I was listening to a lot of audiobooks at the time, and I was listening to the last book of Stephanie Garber's Caraval series (young adult). If I remember correctly, the main character was going to a ball, and just as she started dancing with someone, I found myself wishing it was tango. It wasn't! But that made me reflect on my love of tango, and how I grew up with it as part of my culture, but my peers didn't. I wished for a way I could introduce it to kids, and I immediately started coming up with the verses Moni sings in the book, to the tune of "El Choclo."

So dance was really the impetus for writing this book! I originally used more dance words to convey how Moni was moving through the forest. I wanted to show that dancing was always on her mind. Those words didn't make revisions, but I still used words like twirled, whirled, swayed, and of course, tango-specific words, along with actual tango dance steps!

I love the color palette and expressive faces of all the characters in this book. What was it like having Carolina Vázquez as the illustrator? 

I feel like the luckiest person alive that she was the illustrator! Her palette in the book is vibrant and bold, which is absolutely reflective of tango itself. I think the faces are as expressive as the dance! She added such amazing Argentine-specific touches to the illustrations that I didn't imagine, like the half-hood-half poncho, the other Argentine snacks and drinks, and the mixture of a North American and South American wolf. She is so brilliant and talented!

As a debut picture book author, was there anything that surprised you about the publication process?

I have learned so much through the years from SCBWI conferences, books, and classes, so not a lot surprised me, except that I couldn't have dreamed that someone else (the publisher/editor) could envision what I envisioned and loved it the way I had hoped. Finding someone who really understands your manuscript is a more beautiful experience than I had dreamed of. It's hard to get rejections, but those aren't the people you would want to work with on your manuscript. It is worth it to find "the one."

So happy that you found "the one" to share your vision for this amazingly multi-layered book. What are you hoping young readers will take away from it? And what are you working on next?

I'm hoping young readers will learn a new dance and new music. I'm also hoping they will see how they, too, can infuse their culture into new or familiar stories. And I also want them to know that when you learn a new language it's normal to make mistakes! I have made language mistakes -- both using a Spanish word that I didn't understand was Spanish in talking to English-only friends (realizing I said "the wrong thing") and confusing two Spanish words when I was telling someone a recipe, which would have made a non-edible food! It's something I can laugh about now, and I hope that people will accept that mistakes will happen and that it will be ok. That's how we learn!

As for what I'm working on...another way of sharing my culture! It involves food and it may or may not be a retelling...

Thanks again for having me -- this was fun! Now let's dance.

Thank YOU for being here, Rachel, and for offering a very generous giveaway. And yes, let's dance. As Abuela says in Tango Red Riding Hood, "Magical things happen when you dance!"  

GIVEAWAY TIME!! Leave a comment for a chance to win a 20-minute ask-me-anything session with Rachel, plus this BEAUTIFUL rose she crocheted just for you (pattern by @kati.crafts). And don't forget to leave an email address or social media handle so we can reach you if you win. The giveaway will close on Thursday, September 28th, at 11:59 pm EST. Best of luck!

Sunday, July 16, 2023

This Is Rhythm! This Is Tap!

I was three or four years old when I put on my first pair of tap shoes, wearing them at least weekly for the next 15 or so years. Even when I wasn't wearing them, I was tapping. Tapping at the bus stop, under my desk at school, even in the grocery store--relishing in the rhythms I was making and memorizing the steps so I wouldn't have to think about them anymore when the music started playing in class.

Gregory Hines is the tap legend I've always known best, in part from his captivating performances in the 1985 dance film White Nights (which co-starred Mikhail Baryshnikov and was choreographed by Twyla Tharp). If you haven't seen it and have a few minutes, I highly recommend this clip of a Gregory Hines tap solo from the film... 

Gregory Hines was a master of rhythm tap, which is different from what I learned as a child, and different from what you usually see at a traditional dance recital or musical theatre performance. In rhythm tap, the dancer's center of gravity is a little lower, and the emphasis is much more on the feet and the sounds they make than on anything else, including what the dance looks like. It's literally "music" through movement.

The most famous rhythm tapper performing today is Savion Glover, and I can't tell you how excited I am that Holiday House has published a picture book biography about him! 

This Is Tap: Savion Glover Finds His Funk, by Selene Castrovilla and Laura Freeman, not only tells the story of how Savion's natural knack and passion for rhythm propelled him to stardom but also serves as an intuitive introduction to rhythm tap. 

Full of lyrical language and onomatopoeia, the words on the pages--with all their rhythms and sounds--are the perfect embodiment of this dance style. And the illustrations, ranging from a bouncing baby Savion to an adult Savion combining the funk of hip-hop with all those beats in his body, focus on the feet and boost the energy of the already boisterous text...  

Hittin' meant expressin' yourself with your feet  

Makin' a statement  

When the audience picked up on what you were putting' down, you hit  



While preparing to write this post, I learned that Savion Glover was actually a regular on Sesame Street from 1990 to 1995. That means there's probably a whole bunch of lucky 30-something-year-olds out there who grew up with Savion...and tap dancing! That makes me so happy. 

In case you'd like to see Savion Glover in action, or simply feel like reminiscing about Sesame Street, I'm going to leave you with a few videos. The first is of a young Savion playing a rhyming game in which he rhymes/raps while dancing out a bunch of words that rhyme with "tap." It's adorable...and infectious!

The second video, also from Sesame Street, stars both Savion Glover AND Gregory Hines, who was one of Savion's teachers. What a treat to see two generations of tap legends together on--in my humble opinion--the best children's show ever created...

And the final video is a clip of a more mature Savion Glover dancing, in 2002, with the cast of the Tony Award-winning musical Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk during a telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Wowza!

Learn more about This Is Tap: Savion Glover Finds His Funk from publisher Holiday House here. You can also read this blog post from the University of Michigan's University Musical Society for a brief introduction to the very interesting, but complex, history of tap dance in America. 

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