kellyrfineman (kellyrfineman) wrote,

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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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Tags: book reviews, dancers, holidays

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