Monday, November 9, 2015

Bear Can Dance -- and Why You Should, Too!

I was browsing through posts on Facebook this morning and read this wonderful quote by a dancer from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater...

I wish more people knew what it felt like to actually dance. I'm not referring to the difficulty of learning a technique or a combination. I mean the part that comes after everything clicks. When your most focused mind, your most moldable body, and your truest spirit all intertwine at their highest level. That point will look different for everyone, of course, but I wish everyone could attempt to reach it at least once. It can literally feel like flying.  -- Ailey dancer Fana Tesfagiorgis to the NYC Dance Project

I let this quote seep into my soul, "liked" it, and went on with my day. Little did I know it would creep back into my head later in the day when I was reading the new picture book Bear Can Dance! by Suzanne Bloom.

Bear Can Dance! is the seventh in a series of books by Bloom about Bear and his friend Goose. In this book, Bear wishes he could fly! Another character, Fox, comes up with a few clever ideas to help Bear, but none of them work very well. Goose isn't much help, either, insisting that Bear cannot fly. Or can he?

Bear can dance?
It's like flying, but with your feet on the ground. Mostly. 
Ohhhh. Bear can dance!

The only reason Bear wanted to fly was because he wanted to "swoop and glide and feel the wind" in his fur. Flying can do that, but so can dancing! After reading the book, I frantically searched Facebook until I found the quote from Fana Tesfagiorgis again, only realizing then how truly magical it was for today.

I love it when fate steps in to bring people, objects, ideas together. In this case it brought together a beautiful quote from Fana Tesfagiorgis, a beautiful book by Suzanne Bloom, and me!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Nutcracker Season Is Here!

It's only September, but ballet schools across the country are already holding auditions for the holiday favorite The Nutcracker. I finally convinced my 8-year-old and 10-year-old daughters to try out for a local production this year. Luckily, as with many recreational ballet schools, this one tries to cast everyone who auditions. The girls auditioned last Saturday, and we have just a few days left before we find out their parts!

While we're waiting, I thought I would do a little research to see what Nutcracker-themed picture books have just been published or will be coming out soon. As I expected, I found quite a few! Here are the four I'm most looking forward to reading...

Written in verse by Kristyn Crow with illustrations by Molly Idle, Zombelina Dances The Nutcracker is a follow-up to Zombelina, which introduced readers to a young Zombie who loves to dance. In the new book, Zombelina and her friend Lizzie need to figure out how to save The Nutcracker production they're supposed to dance in at the local opera house.

Rachel Isadora's Bea in The Nutcracker is another sequel -- to Bea at Ballet. The first book was a concept book, introducing young children to the components of a ballet class. Bea in The Nutcracker breaks down the components of a classical ballet, using The Nutcracker as an example.

I don't know too much about this version of The Nutcracker by Stephanie Spinner and Peter Malone, except that it comes with a CD of the Tchaikovsky score. But the cover really draws me in, and I'd love to see more of the illustrations!

The Nutcracker Comes to America: How Three Ballet-loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition also piqued my interested. Written by Chris Barton with illustrations by Cathy Gendron, this book tells the story of how The Nutcracker, which is a Russian ballet, became such a special tradition in the United States.

A few years ago I wrote a post on the blog Dance Advantage about some of my favorite Nutcracker books at that time. You can read the post here, in case you are looking for more dance books this holiday season.

Do you have a favorite Nutcracker picture book? Or do any of the new ones look interesting to you? I'd love to hear!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Booking Across the USA: Maryland!

About five years ago, I was at a Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) conference in Maryland and attended a breakout session on blogging, presented by local children's authors Wendie Old and Mary Bowman-Kruhm. I went into the session with a vague curiosity about blogging -- but definitely no desire to start doing it myself -- and left with the confidence to try it out, plus the specific idea of blogging about picture books and dance. So in many ways, Wendie Old and Mary Bowman-Kruhm were the impetus for the creation of Picture Books & Pirouettes!

When Jodie from Growing Book by Book asked me to join the third annual Booking Across the USA project this year -- with the theme of celebrating authors or illustrators from each state -- I knew exactly what I had to do...feature Wendie Old and Mary Bowman-Kruhm! They actually collaborated to co-write a couple picture books for very young readers, which I'll feature a little later. But first, here's a bit more about Wendie and Mary as individual authors...

About the Authors

Wendie Old has been a storyteller and children's librarian in Maryland for more than 30 years, during which time she has published numerous short stories and magazine articles, four picture books, and seven middle-grade biographies. Among her picture books are To Fly, which is a biography of the Wright brothers for elementary readers, and Stacy Had a Little Sister, which deals with the serious subject of the death of a sibling. You can read more about Wendie and her books here on her website.

Mary Bowman-Kruhm has written more than 30 books for children and teens, including many educational texts. Her latest book is The Leakeys: A Biography, which explores the lives and scientific discoveries of the famous paleontologists Louis and Mary Leakey. In addition to writing, Mary works part-time at the Center for Technology in Education at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. You can read more about Mary here on her website.

Picture Book Collaborations

Remember how I mentioned that Wendy and Mary collaborated on a couple picture books for very young readers? The first, called Busy Toes, has quite an interesting story behind it. It was actually a collaboration among three writers -- Wendy, Mary, and a freelance writer named Claudine C. Wirth. Rather than having all three of their names on the cover of the book, they decided to write under the pen name C.W. Bowie, and they wrote and polished much of the manuscript over email rather than in person!

The simple text, with illustrations by Fred Willingham, portrays young girls and boys using their toes in many creative ways. "Tippy toes and dancing toes" is my favorite line in the book, but there are many others, such as "BIG TOES, little toes. / Open toes and closed toes / Waving toes / Tickling toes / Doggy tummy rubbing toes."

The creative team of C.W. Bowie and Fred Willingham also went on to write a sequel -- Busy Fingers. Similar to its predecessor, the book is about all the many things that little fingers can do: "Fingers high / Fingers low. / Fingers reach to touch a toe. / Fingers say, 'I love you.' / Fingers wave good-bye, too." 

Movement Activity

Part of the Booking Across the USA project is to share an activity to go with a featured book. Not surprisingly, I chose a movement activity -- and I created it to go with Busy Fingers. The book actually contains 23 different movements that can be done by little fingers, but I picked out the eight ones that seemed easiest to incorporate into an activity.

After reading the book out loud one time, I suggest going through the following phrases from the book and doing the accompanying movements together with your little ones:

  • High: Stretch your arms and fingers up high in the air. This can be done either standing up or sitting down.
  • Low: Stretch your arms and fingers low to the ground. This can also be done in any position.
  • Reach to touch a toe: If you are standing up, bend over and try to touch your feet with your fingertips. If you are sitting down, stretch your legs out in front of you and try to reach your toes.
  • Say 'I love you': Practice saying "I love you" in sign language (see photo below). 

  • Wave good-bye: Ask the children to think of different ways you can wave hello or goodbye. You can wave your fingers so that they open and close, or wave them so all the fingers move together from side to side. You can also try using big movements and small movements to wave. Feel free to explore this concept even more and get creative with how you can wave!
  • Count: Practice counting to ten using one finger at a time. If this is too easy, you can practice counting by twos with your fingers, or adding numbers with sums of 10 or less.
  • Shadows on the wall: Experiment with making shadow puppets with your fingers. If you need some ideas, this YouTube video by professional puppeteer Corina Bona explains how to make some simple shapes like a rabbit, a dog, and a face.
  • Blow a kiss goodnight: You and the little ones can blow kisses to each other and practice catching them different ways with your fingers or whole hand. This is a good way to end the main activity.

And finally, if you want to incorporate art into your exploration of this book, there is a perfect stanza that you can re-read to set the children up for some finger painting and cleanup...

Fingers red, fingers green
Fingers soapy
Fingers clean

You can put red paint on one hand and green paint on the other and explore how different finger movements -- pressing, smearing, drawing -- can create different designs. Throughout the activity, be creative, have fun, and discover all the amazing things that your fingers can do!

Click here to access all the posts from the third annual Booking Across the USA project.

Friday, February 27, 2015

An Interview with Monica Wellington

Today I have a special treat, especially if you love ballet or know young boys or girls who love going to ballet class every week. Author/illustrator Monica Wellington is here to talk about her newest creation -- My Ballet Journal. Published in 2014 by Dover Publications, this 32-page journal and coloring book is a perfect keepsake for young dancers who want to record their dance memories throughout the year!

Although Monica took the lead in creating the book, she didn't do it alone. Her daughter Lydia, who is a professional ballet dancer, was a co-author. As you might expect, Lydia had lots to say about what went into the book, given that she knows firsthand what it's like to be a ballet dancer from a young age. You can read more about this wonderful mother-daughter collaboration in my interview with Monica. Here we go!

Who is the target audience for My Ballet Journal?

We think the journal is probably best for children ages 6 and up, for children once they start taking formal ballet classes. Ages 8-10 would probably be ideal, when training tends to get more serious and kids start to do small performances. I know Lydia would have loved to keep a journal like this herself at that age. It also seems to appeal to older kids too. Some of Lydia’s adult colleagues at New York City Ballet saw the journal and wanted to write and draw in it themselves!

I had the same reaction! My two daughters are really enjoying the journal, and I bought an extra copy just so I could have one for myself! The first few pages include space for a child to write his or her name and age and to either draw or paste a picture of himself or herself. The last few pages include a ballet dictionary and space for students to write their future goals. And the large middle section of the book is where all the fun is! Students can decorate a ballet bag, learn how to make a bun, write down the ballet steps they are learning, color dancers and costumes, and so much more! Here's a sample page, courtesy of Monica

How did you come up with the idea for the journal?

I have written and illustrated over 30 picture books, but none of them are about dance. I have wanted to do a book project about ballet for a long time, and at last this is my first one! Lydia was the inspiration for this project. I was remembering when she was a young ballet student and all the things that she first loved about studying ballet. Ballet was hard but she kept at it year after year. There were big milestones, like her first pair of pointe shoes and her first time performing on stage in the Nutcracker. It would have been fun to have been able to keep a record in some way, and to have a memento years later.

Here is a recent photo of Lydia. She was cast to perform the Arabian dance in the New York City Ballet's 2014 production of the Nutcracker. Wow!

Can you tell us more about your collaboration with Lydia?

When Lydia was about 11, she designed a card that was printed up for an event at her ballet school. We modeled the style of the illustrated dancers in the journal after this image. To begin the project, I made an outline for the journal, including rough sketches. I showed all of this to Lydia and she made suggestions and corrections. When she looked at some of my sketches of ballet positions, for example, she said, “What is this?!” She took her pencil and redrew the little dancer, straightening the leg or pointing the toes...making all kinds of adjustments, just as if she was a teacher with her students in the studio! Lydia went to a high school for the arts here in New York City, LaGuardia High School, and she was in the visual arts department. (She did all her dance classes at the School of American Ballet.) Lydia is a really good artist and she still enjoys going to figure-drawing classes whenever she has the time. She contributed a lot to the drawings for the journal.

That's really neat. It sounds like a really special experience working with Lydia on this book. Do you have any other children's book projects in the works -- dance-related or otherwise?

I am working right now on a picture book about autumn leaves that will be out in fall 2015. I’m also hoping to do more projects about dance. Maybe Lydia will write a story that I can illustrate!

How are you and Dover Publications getting the word out about this book? How can readers of Picture Books & Pirouettes help?

We are trying to get the word out to dance students, teachers, and schools. Thank you for having us do a Q&A on your blog. Lydia is always so busy with dancing, but I hope she can do a few things with me. It would be fun to do a book-signing event where she could show how to put on pointe shoes, how to put on stage make-up, and demonstrate various ballet steps, for example. 

Oh, that sounds like fun. Let me know if you end up hosting an event like that, and we can post some photos on Picture Books & Pirouettes. And thanks again for taking part in this interview. I just know your journal is going to be a big hit!

To learn more about Monica, visit her website here. You can also link to Dover Publications to see all 19 of her projects with this particular publisher. And finally, you can read more about Lydia and her dancing career here. Also, feel free to leave a comment to let Monica and Lydia know what you think of their journal. I'm sure they would love to hear your thoughts!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Book and Boogie in 2015!

Hope it's not too late in the month for an enthusiastic…..Happy New Year! Thanks for hanging in here with me, as I know my posts are sometimes few and far between. I'm happy to report, though, that I already have a couple fun posts lined up for the coming months. So stay tuned!

In the meantime, I wanted to highlight Book to Boogie -- a feature on The Library as Incubator Project website that I help curate. It's a monthly series that pairs picture books with dance and movement activities for preschool story time. The series already includes 19 posts, which means 19 great ideas for bringing movement into libraries, classrooms, dance studios, and homes!

I always try to feature the latest Book to Boogie posts in my Read & Romp Roundups, but you can also follow the series at The Library as Incubator Project itself. The mission of this wonderful project is "to promote and facilitate creative collaboration between libraries and artists of all types, and to advocate for libraries as incubators of the arts." This mission really comes out in Book to Boogie and the many other features on the site.

To entice you even more, here is a list of the talented guest bloggers who make the Book to Boogie series possible. Click on their names, and you'll see just how passionate they all are about integrating movement and the arts. Wow!

Jayne Gammons (kindergarten teacher)
Julie Dietzel-Glair (freelance writer and library consultant)
Maria Hanley (early childhood dance educator)
Amy Musser (children's librarian)
Jill Homan Randall (modern dancer and teaching artist)
Liz Vacco (dance, yoga, theater, and early childhood educator)
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