Friday, March 6, 2020

Let's Celebrate Dance and Diversity!


Happy book birthday -- on March 3, 2020, to be exact -- to the new picture book Let's Dance! by author Valerie Bolling and illustrator Maine DiazI've been in contact with Valerie and am excited to both tell you and show you more about her lively new book and how it came to be!

Author Valerie Bolling

In only about 60 words of rhyming text, Let's Dance! manages to introduce readers to 10 types of dance and spread the messages that dance is fun and dance is for everyone. Valerie says she knew from the very beginning that she wanted this book to celebrate diversity and wanted her words "to promote a world in which marginalized and/or underrepresented children can see themselves and feel valued and heard." 

Luckily Valerie's editor Jes Negron agreed and expanded on her vision by making the theme more global. "Where I saw Tappity-Tap/Fingers Snap as tap dance, she imagined flamenco from Spain," says Valerie. "I envisioned the electric slide for Glide and Slide/Side to Side, but Jes suggested long-sleeve dancing from China. I was thrilled with her ideas!"



As you can see from the two images above, Maine Diaz really delivered on Valerie's vision of diversity and the global theme. Her 20 amazingly vibrant illustrations, including images of a boy in a wheelchair and a child in a tutu whose gender is not discernible, really pop off the page.

Maine also weaves different shapes into her illustrations -- like large and small circles and curls in the two images above and triangles, stars, and more in many others. When the smaller shapes scattered throughout the book are combined, they add a celebratory feel, acting like confetti!

Let's Dance! is Valerie's debut picture book, and she's busy writing more. You can keep up with her on Twitter and Instagram, and of course you can celebrate dance and diversity by reading her book!

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Art and Heart by Dow Phumiruk

Valentine's Day has passed, but it's always a good time to share a poem about love. Here's a short verse about loving yourself by artist Dow Phumiruk, accompanied by adorable ballerinas holding hearts. You can see more of Dow's beautiful portfolio of art and creativity at Art by Dow. Enjoy!

Maybe you'd like to share your heart.
Love yourself first. That's the best place to start!


Thursday, June 6, 2019

An Alphabet of Learning, Movement, and Fun!


Time to play and have some fun, 
trying new things one by one.
Are you ready? Are you set? 
Let's explore the alphabet!

As a lover of both writing and movement, I am always looking for children's books that truly integrate the two. The new picture book From A to Z with Energy by Connie Bergstein Dow and Gareth Llewhellin does exactly that, introducing young children to the alphabet while teaching them about the importance of movement and encouraging them to make movement part of their regular routine.

Image courtesy of Free Spirit Publishing

As the book goes through each letter of the alphabet, a group of children experiment with movements ranging from climbing, wading, and hiking to dribbling, kicking, and passing. Interspersed between all the movements are some equally important lessons on healthy living in general.

L is for a healthy lunch
that gives you fuel to grow.
M is for your muscles, 
from your head to your big toe.

As you can tell from the images above, the illustrations by Gareth Llewhellin only add to the exuberance emanating from this book. What a diverse and friendly bunch of children included on each and every page! From camping trips to sled rides to baseball games, the settings that Gareth created only highlight the point that movements can be done everywhere!

It might come as no surprise that the mastermind behind this book, author Connie Bergstein Dow, is both a writer and a mover herself. After receiving an MFA in dance from the University of Michigan, Connie danced professionally in both the United States and South America, and she has also been a dance educator for many years. She has written two books on integrating movement into early childhood classrooms and has published poetry in Highlights High Five and Highlights Hello magazines. From A to Z with Energy is her debut picture book, and what a perfect fit for her background!

Something that sets this book apart from many others is that it includes a six-page guide at the back explaining the physical and social-emotional benefits of movement and providing parents, teachers, and caregivers with a variety of movement activities to supplement those mentioned in the book. Half of the movement activities use prompts from the book, and half can be used alongside the book or independently. All of the activities are designed to use movement to explore the letters of the alphabet.

Now that I know more about Connie, the inspiration for this unique book and guide makes a whole lot of sense! Learn more about Connie, her books, and her ideas at her website, Moving Is Learning!

Connie leading a movement activity during a
recent school visit for A to Z with Energy.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Giveaway: Dear Ballerina by Monica Wellington!

I'm hosting a giveaway for the new picture book Dear Ballerina, written and illustrated by the generous and talented Monica Wellington and published by Holiday House. But that's not all! Monica's daughter Lydia Wellington is a member of the New York City Ballet, and the winner of the giveaway will also receive a signed pair of Lydia's pointe shoes -- perfect for a special ballet-themed story time! Leave a comment at the end of this post by 11:59 PM EST on Saturday, June 8, 2019, to enter. Please leave contact information if I won't otherwise know how to reach you. 


My two girls are growing up so quickly, and I've been thinking a lot about mentors and role models lately. The girls are both in middle school, and I'm always hoping that new, inspiring people will enter their lives to encourage them and support them in pursuing their still-developing interests and talents. Dear Ballerina struck a chord with me, as I see it playing a similar role of inspiring and encouraging children -- in this case, young girls who are fond of ballet.

The book starts as a simple letter that a little ballerina might write to an older ballerina who had trained at the same dance studio. You can see the opening spread below, along with some of Monica's earlier sketches of the spread.


The text continues from the perspective of the little girl, as she explains how much she loves to dance, how she is preparing for a performance, and how she dreams of following in the older ballerina's footsteps. It is clear from the writing and pictures throughout the book that the young dancer truly idolizes the older ballerina.


When Monica's daughter Lydia was studying ballet as a child, she also used to write letters to ballerinas she admired. Today, the tables are turned, and Lydia frequently receives letters from ballerinas who admire her. In fact, Monica said that's what sparked the idea for this book!

Dear Ballerina ends with a short reply from the older ballerina to the young ballerina, encouraging her to follow her dreams and enjoy every moment of it. At the New York City Ballet, there's a tradition for the professional dancers to send their used pointe shoes to the children who send them letters. It's not unheard of for a professional ballerina to go through 100 or more pairs of pointe shoes a season, so giving away shoes -- as Lydia and the other dancers do -- seems like a great way to reduce waste and make many young dancers giddy with excitement. Below are a few of the letters Lydia has received lately, both asking for and thanking her for her point shoes!


Don't forget to leave a comment on this post, and you could win a copy of Dear Ballerina and receive a pair of Lydia's pointe shoes as well. Also check out this interview with Monica about My Ballet Journal -- a charming journal and coloring book she also created with inspiration from her daughter Lydia. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Raven Wilkinson: A True Inspiration

Misty Copeland, the first female black principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre, has been in the news and mentioned on social media again and again over the past few years. She's also become quite well known in the world of children's literature. For young readers, she's been featured in You Should Meet Misty CopelandWhen I Grow Up: Misty Copelandand A Girl Named Misty: The True Story of Misty CopelandMisty is obviously a role model for many young girls and has even written a picture book of her own -- Firebird -- that uses her story to inspire girls everywhere to reach for their dreams. But who inspired Misty Copeland?


The answer is someone you may or may not have heard of -- someone featured in the picture book Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, written by Leda Schubert and illustrated by Theodore Taylor III. I feel very privileged to have learned about Ms. Wilkinson's powerful story through this book, which is full of details and sometimes sobering illustrations that really help the reader settle into the story's historical time and setting.

"When I was twenty-three years old, I watched a documentary called Ballets Russes. This was the day my life and my purpose changed," Misty Copeland writes in the foreword of the book. "I discovered a black ballerina named Raven Wilkinson, and it was in her that I saw myself and what was possible." Misty was already a professional ballerina when she learned about Ms. Wilkinson, and now is honored to call her both a mentor and a friend.

Trailblazer begins with a young and passionate Raven seeing the famous Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo perform when she was just five years old. It then takes readers through Raven's childhood and difficult journey to become the first black ballerina to dance with the very same company. After Raven first auditioned for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, a friend told her that she wouldn't be able to join because she was black. That didn't stop Raven, who auditioned again, and again, until the director asked her to join the company in 1955, when she was just 20 years old.

As the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo toured the country, Raven faced many challenges. The Ku Klux Klan was active, it was illegal in some states for black dancers to perform alongside white dancers, and men even rushed the stage once during a performance to object to Raven's presence.

One of the last straws for Raven was when she was told by a ballet mistress that she would never be able to dance the lead role in Swan Lake because she was black. She left the Ballet Russe in 1963, though she did later dance and act with other groups in Europe and the United States, and she led the way for many black ballet dancers who came after her. She was a trailblazer!

The book ends with an intersection of Raven's life with that of Misty Copeland. In 2015, Misty Copeland became the first black ballerina in a prominent American ballet company to dance the lead role in Swan Lake, and Raven Wilkinson was there to celebrate with her!


Thanks to publisher little bee books for a review copy of Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, which was released in 2018.
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