Monday, January 10, 2011

An 'Alphabet of Dance' From Arabesque to Zouk

Zouk? What's Zouk? If you read the title of this post, you may be wondering. Well, I hadn't heard of zouk either until I read Alphabet of Danceby Barbie Heit Schwaeber (author) and Damian Ward (illustrator), published in 2010 by Soundprints in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution. But here's the answer, straight from the book:  
Z is for Zouk.
A zouk dance is Caribbean.
It's performed in Martinique, 
where this dance that's done by couples 
is quite stylish and chic.

I have to admit that I am so used to reading picture books from trade publishers that I wasn't quite sure what to think of this rhyming educational book at first, as the rhythm and quality of the rhyme were not the best I had seen. But after reading the book several times and exploring the free listen-and-learn download that comes with it, I changed my mind. Since I am a professional science writer, I also reflected on how difficult it can be to write accurately about a new or complex topic. I can't imaging paying attention to that level of accuracy and fitting a whole explanation of a topic into just one short stanza that actually rhymes. So kudos to author Barbie Heit Schwaeber for accomplishing that 26 times in this book!

Alphabet of Dance is very broad in its scope, introducing a wide range of dance concepts, steps, and styles. I personally learned a lot from the book, so I can only guess that younger readers would have a similar experience. Here are a few of the dance styles I learned about:

  • Gavotte: A French folk dance popular in the sixteenth century
  • Kagura: A Japanese dance thanking the spirits for a good harvest
  • Quadrille: The first form of square dancing, originating from France
  • Ungkulatem: A Siberian dance in which the dancers perform in a circle
  • Xtoles: A Mayan warrior dance praising the god of the sun

Although the book is being marketed for preschoolers, I think it might be more appropriate in some respects for a slightly older bunch who would appreciate the full text, including the glossary at the back of the book. But when you consider that the book comes with a pull-out alphabet poster and a free audio download that includes a fun and bouncy song geared toward little ones, I can see why it is being marketed for ages 3 to 5. Either way, if you put all the components of the book and download together, Alphabet of Dance is quite the educational package.

Soundprints and the Smithsonian Institution actually have a whole series of alphabet picture books for preschoolers, covering bears, dinosaurs, insects, music, sports, and many more topics. You can read about the full series here

If you want to read more about nonfiction books for kids, drop by the Nonfiction Monday round-up, held today at Tales from the Rushmore Kid. And finally, thanks to Soundprints for my review copy of Alphabet of Dance.


  1. Oh and Kerry, don't know if you know British author/illustrator James Mayhew - but he has a lovely ballet series with its own blog:
    I reviewed one of his Ella Bella books here:

  2. Hi, Zoe. Thanks for stopping by. I have heard of Ella Bella Ballerina but haven't read any of the books yet. Thanks for pointing me to James Mahew's beautiful site/blog. I also enjoyed reading your review and love your "Stories in Tune" idea. Happy reading!


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