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Holidy gifts for little dancers

Today's post is all about gift ideas and is devoted, astonishingly enough, to ideas for young dancers. (It's astonishing to me, at any rate, because I quit ballet at age 5 because I was not only knock-kneed, but couldn't get my feet into first position, and neither M nor S has ever shown any interest in dance. Although we've been to see quite a number of ballets over the years, so it's not like we don't love to watch dance.)

For the Easy Reader crowd: I’ve never found anything to beat Nina, Nina, Ballerina by Jane O’Connor, illustrated by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan. Although there are two sequels, Nina, Nina, Star Ballerina and Nina, Nina, and the Copycat Ballerina, so fun needn’t end after just one title. And yes, it’s the same Jane O’Connor who wrote the Fancy Nancy books. Can you keep a secret? I like Nina better.

Candlewick Press presents The Sleeping Beauty Ballet Theatre. Inside the pretty blue and pink box, which is tied shut with blue and pink satin ribbons, is something magical. There’s a drawer containing a CD with some of Tchaikovsky’s music, nine twirling dancers (plus a few figures that are meant to "stand" on the stage, like the baby Aurora and the King and Queen), changes for the scenery and backdrops, plus a sort of "director’s book", which tells the story of the ballet and gives suggestions as to how to "stage" the production there in your teeny-tiny cardboard theatre. The ballerinas are served on sticks which allow them to be manipulated from above (if they need to move), and are what allow them to twirl. Plus, once you untie the pretty ribbons, the box unfolds, pop-up like, into a sturdy cardboard theatre, complete with a stage and various slots for scenery. The reading level on the box says ages 4-8, but I’d imagine dancers as old as 12 would like this one (and perhaps even teens and adults, particularly those that are into classical ballet and/or paper dolls - I have a 43-year old friend who would literally flip for this).

Interested in the ever-popular Nutcracker Ballet instead? You could try The Nutcracker Ballet: A Book, Theater, and Paper Doll Fold-Out Play Set, which is new this year from Peter Pauper Press. It includes a booklet with text written by Mara Conlon and illustrations by Jo Gershman, plus three pop-out stages (Clara’s living room, the Enchanted Forest, and the Land of Sweets) and a whole bunch of paper dolls on cardstock which can be assembled and put on the "stages." The story is well-done by Conlon and the illustrations (and paper dolls, taken from the illustrations) are really beautiful. Great for a child (or adult) who likes really quiet imaginative play, but it would have been tremendously enhanced by a CD with some of Tchaikovsky’s score on it. Suggested retail is $14.99 US. Or, for $22.99 US, you could get the The Nutcracker Ballet Theatre from Candlewick Press, which is more like the Sleeping Beauty version, and includes twirling dancers and a CD.

It’s from last year, but by all means, pick up the award-winning graphic novel, To Dance: A Ballerina’s Graphic Novel written by Siena Cherson Siegel and illustrated by Mark Siegel. I reviewed this one earlier this year. In a nutshell, it’s a memoir in graphic novel form which relates Siena Siegel’s experience of being a young ballerina. To quote myself, "it is both an homage to the world of ballet (and to some of the major players in it, including Mr. Ballanchine) and a true-to-life informative essay on what the life of a serious dancer is like. And the illustrations are truly lovely and evocative, perfectly targeted for the middle grade female readers at whom the book is aimed (inside the cover reads ‘Ages 8-14')."

Ballerina Dreams by Lauren Thompson, with photographs by James Estrin, is a nonfiction book about five young girls from Queens (ages 3 through 7) who want be ballerina princesses despite having muscular disorders (cerebral palsy and Erb’s palsy). The book follows them from their dress rehearsal with physical therapist and ballet instructor, Joann Ferrara to their recital the next day, where they dance to the Nutcracker, Swan Lake, and "When you wish upon a star". Miss Joann’s advice to her young dancers, concerned lest they make a mistake: "Just smile and keep going. That’s what ballerinas do." Ballerina Dreams has been nominated for a 2007 CYBILS award in the nonfiction picture book category. Part of the proceeds from sales of the book go to Joann Ferrara’s Dancing Dreams ballet project.

The text is written in present tense using very simple words, and I must say I wish it were in past tense and with a smoother story-telling style, but I can’t quarrel with the awesomeness that is the true story of a program for young girls with disabilities who are able (with help) to accomplish personal dreams while also improving their general abilities. Another quibble is that the book can’t seem to decide if it’s telling the story of the girls, the story of the program, or the story of the program’s director. It certainly doesn’t talk about the girls’ lives outside of class, nor does it start early enough in the story if it’s really the story of these girls, since it only covers a two-day span (in my opinion). Had the author started earlier (the way a documentary director would have), readers would have connected more to the girls on a personal level, and would have come away with a far more satisfying emotional response to the book. That said, my nitpicking shouldn’t keep you from picking this one up, because at the end of the day, it’s still a powerfully motivating story about what work combined with hope and support can accomplish. It includes a nice tribute to the volunteers (age 11-16) who assist the dancers (one assistant per dancer), plus a brief description of the program and an easy-to-understand description of what cerebral palsy is.

Finally, and available next week only (and only to one buyer), consider purchasing "L'Hommage a Degas – Little Ballerina – la Petite Danseuse" by Chris Demarest from the Robert's Snow auction.

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( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 29th, 2007 02:06 pm (UTC)
THANK YOU! THANK YOU! Now I have even more books to buy my little dancers! Dang though, I bought a different Nutcracker book yesterday. I like the looks of the one you show here better :-(
Nov. 29th, 2007 02:15 pm (UTC)
As a book, the one I show here isn't really a book - it's a fold-out series of stages with paper dolls and a small paperback booklet. As a book, my personal favorite version is still Vladimir Vagin's book, although I must say that George Ballanchine's The Nutcracker by Joel Meyerowitz looks wonderful (photo stills from the NYCB) and the one by Janet Schulman looks really pretty too.
Nov. 29th, 2007 02:40 pm (UTC)
Thank you! My little one loves ballet. These are great ideas for her!
Nov. 29th, 2007 06:10 pm (UTC)
I'm sure you'll enjoy shopping for her!
Nov. 29th, 2007 03:29 pm (UTC)
Having read an article about the Ballerina Dreams project a year or so ago--even stole a pic from the article for an icon--Merry and I were thrilled to find the story in a book form. Having read your thoughts--I agree, but I think what they covered was good for the target audience. I think following one girl might have been better , but how could the author choose who to focus on as the story is really still happening? It really is a big story--perhaps too big for a pb to fully cover so they had to simplify it and we were satisfied with it. I wish I still had the book to reread--it's been a couple of weeks.

Anyway, having my own CP kid, well, I had to hand the book over to Merry because I kept choking up. The only beef after reading Merry had was that she wished the program was near us.
Nov. 29th, 2007 06:14 pm (UTC)
I agree that it's fine for 4-8 year olds, which is (I believe) the target audience. But if they'd made it a slightly longer book, and kept the word choices similar, but in a more lyrical style, this book could have been 100% magic, instead of only 90% or so.

I hope other therapists think to start something similar, so that girls outside of Queens can reap the same sorts of benefits, not just physical but self-esteem as well. (The physical results for some of the kids were nearly miraculous - the girl with Erb's palsy improved her arm use tremendously, and one of the girls learned to stand with just a crutch).

Edited at 2007-11-29 06:16 pm (UTC)
Nov. 29th, 2007 03:37 pm (UTC)
have you read this one . . .
Dancing in the Wings -- by Debbie Allen illustrated by Kadir Nelson

From Publishers Weekly
The creators of Brothers of the Knight here offer an inspirational story of a hopeful young ballet dancer who complains of her too-big feet and too-long legs: "I was too big for the boys to pick up, and too tall to be in line with the other girls. So I watched from backstage, dancing in the wings, hoping that if I just kept dancing and trying, it would be my turn to dance in the spotlight."
Nov. 29th, 2007 06:16 pm (UTC)
Re: have you read this one . . .
Nope - I hadn't seen it. In part because I was only looking at newer books and products, and the book is from 2000. But it's illustrated by Kadir Nelson, so I will be SURE to check it out. (I heart Kadir Nelson, big-time!)
Nov. 29th, 2007 04:20 pm (UTC)
Holiday Gifts for Little Dancers
From Elaine M.of Wild Rose Reader

Nice list, Kelly. There's one other book I'd like to recommend: The Nutcracker Doll. It was written and illustrated by Mary Newell DePalma--and published this year. Mary wrote it about her daughter's experience with the Boston ballet when she was eight years old.
Nov. 29th, 2007 06:17 pm (UTC)
Re: Holiday Gifts for Little Dancers
It sounds marvelous, Elaine. I'll be sure to have a look at it next time I'm at the store.
Nov. 29th, 2007 05:59 pm (UTC)
Oh, and for boy dancers who might not be so into all that pink frilly stuff, (or girls who need a little perspective,) there's "The Only Boy in Ballet Class" by Denise Gruska. It's very cute. I even got to take a peek in LA before it came out when I found myself sitting by the author during a session.
Nov. 29th, 2007 06:20 pm (UTC)
Thanks for mentioning it. It must be tough being a boy who's into ballet sometimes (depending on the kid and his family, etc.).
Nov. 30th, 2007 05:31 am (UTC)
I have no little dancers to buy books for, boo hoo!, but I wanted to say, I love that song Tiny Dancer and it always makes me think of that incredible scene in Almost Famous. :)
Dec. 3rd, 2007 02:19 pm (UTC)
Well, there's always the chance that you'll need a present for a birthday party for one of your kids' friends or something. And I love the song (and the bus scene) too!
Dec. 3rd, 2007 01:53 pm (UTC)
Hurrah for dancers!
Dec. 3rd, 2007 02:18 pm (UTC)
Dec. 19th, 2007 04:46 pm (UTC)
Great suggestions for ballet lovers. I have one at home myself. I'd also add in the picture book category, Angelina Ballerina books by Helen Craig for a light look at ballet and Rachel Isadora's books, Lili at Ballet and On Your Toes: A Ballet ABC, for a look at the more serious student of ballet.

( 17 comments — Leave a comment )

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