Best Children's Books About Ballet and Ballerinas

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Beautiful Ballerina

Beautiful Ballerina - Children's Book Cover


These four books celebrate the beauty and joy of ballet and ballerinas and the stories that are told through ballet. Several also reflect the fact that ballet is becoming more diverse in its participants.

All About Beautiful Ballerina

Summary: Poet Marilyn Nelson speaks directly to young African American ballerinas and the younger children who seek to be like them, when she writes, "The Ancesters have / produced a swan. / You wear the slaves' genes / with nobility." While her words are compelling, it is the beautiful photographs of the young African American members of Dance Theatre of Harlem that make this an outstanding book.

There is so much joy, grace and movement in the photographs by Susan Kuklin. This is a book that begs to be read aloud and shared. Young ballerinas will want to look carefully at the graceful poses of the dancers pictured. The book is so beautifully designed and laid out that it could be described as a "coffee table book," a book to be displayed for aesthetic reasons. Beautiful Ballerina will have particular appeal for young children already studying ballet or eager to do so.

Author: Award-winning poet Marilyn Nelson was elected in 2013 to a six-year term as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

Illustrator: Photographer Susan Kuklin, author and photographer of a number of books for children and young adults

Length: 32 pages

Format: Hardcover

Recommended for: Ages 7 to 11

Publisher: Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic

Publication Date: 2009

ISBN: 970545089203

Additional Resource: Ballet for Beginners

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to dance: a ballerina's graphic novel - a memoir

to dance: a ballerina's graphic novel cover art
A memoir by Siena Cherson Siegel, illustrated by Mark Siegel. Simon & Schuster

All About to dance: a ballerina's graphic novel

Summary: The cover of to dance refers to the book as a "graphic novel" and as a "memoir." In actuality, it is a graphic memoir (What's a graphic memoir?). To dance is the story of Siena Cherson Siegal's experiences during her years of training at the School of American Ballet.

Siena Cherson, a native of Puerto Rico, first begins dance lessons at the age of six while living in San Juan, Puerto Rico. While living in Boston for a year when she was nine, Siena saw ballerina Maya Plisetskaya perform in the Bolshoi Ballet's production of Swan Lake and knew she wanted to be a ballerina, too.

More classes in Puerto Rico, a summer in the American Ballet Theatre summer program, the book A Very Young Dancer by Jill Krementz and the movie The Children of Theatre Street all further inspired Siena despite the fact that she already knew studying ballet was very hard work.

When 11-year-old Siena was accepted in the School of American Ballet (SAB), her family moved to New York City. Because of the influence of George Balanchine and all of the Russian teachers and pianists, SAB felt more like Little Russia than New York City.

As the years passed, Siena deal had to deal with both the joy and the pain that comes with ballet, and home was no longer a refuge. Her father, who spent a lot of time in Puerto Rico, and her mother fought whenever he was home and ultimately, her parents divorced. After her 12 years of pre-professional ballet training, Siena took a break to attend Brown University. She later returned to ballet.

The format and artwork by Mark Siegal are a great asset. The illustrations are lively and show Siera's hard work and increasing grace, as well as the difficulties, including injuries, as she grows as a dancer. Siegal's muted palette, his use of ribbon banners with lettering to show transitions and his detailed illustrations of the world of ballet, both behind stage and in performance, make the words of Siena Cherson Siegal come to life in an unforgettable way.

Author: Siena Cherson Siegal wrote this memoir about her childhood years studying ballet.

Illustrator: Mark Siegel illustrated the book in the style of a graphic novel using watercolor and ink. Siegal, Siena's husband, is both an illustrator and editorial director of First Second Books.

Awards and Recognition for to dance:

  • ALA Notable Children's Books List
  • Robert F. Sibert Award Honor Book
  • NCTE Notable Children's Books in the Language Arts
  • School Library Journal Best Books of the Year

Length: 64 pages

Format: Graphic memoir in hardcover, paperback and eBook editions

Recommended for: Ages 8 to 14

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

Publication Date: 2006

ISBN: Hardcover ISBN: 9780689867477, Paperback ISBN: 971416926870

Additional Resource: Pre-Professional Ballet Programs

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Firebird by Ballerina Misty Copeland

Firebird by Misty Copeland - Children's Book Cover
Penguin Group (USA)

All About Firebird: Ballerina Misty Copeland Shows a Young Girl How to Dance Like the Firebird

Summary: The wonderfully dramatic cover of Firebird shows ballerina Misty Copeland in a bright red costume performing as Firebird. The focus of the book is as the subtitle states, Misty Copeland Shows a Young Girl How to Dance Like the Firebird.

Misty Copeland's spare, yet lyrical and sympathetic text, is illustrated with the powerful paintings of artist Christopher Myers, which show the ballerina mentoring a young aspiring ballerina who is African American. In her letter to readers at the book's end, Copeland writes about how much ballet means to her and her concern that when she looked at ballet books, she didn't see herself. "I saw an image of what a ballerina should be, and she wasn't me, brown with tendrils sweeping her face. I needed to find ME. This book is you and me."

Author: In June 2015, Misty Copeland, a ballet dancer for American Ballet Theatre (ABT), was named principal (highest ranking dancer) for ABT, becoming the first African American in the company's history to hold the position.

Illustrator: Artist Christopher Myers has won numerous awards for his children's books, several of which, such as Looking Like Me, were written by his father Walter Dean Myers.

Awards and Recognition for Firebird:

  • 2015 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award
  • 2015 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award New Writer Honor

Length: 40 pages

Format: Hardcover and eBook editions

Recommended for: Ages 5 to 12

Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA)

Publication Date: 2014

ISBN: Hardcover ISBN: 9780399166150

Additional Resource: 8 Things You Need to Know About Misty Copeland

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The Barefoot Book of Ballet Stories

The Barefoot Book of Ballet Stories - children's book cover
Barefoot Books

All About The Barefoot Book of Ballet Stories

Summary: The Barefoot Book of Ballet Stories features a brief history of classical ballet in the form of an annotated timeline and seven stories from the ballet. Each of the stories is introduced with a page of information about the ballet version of the story.

Lush and evocative full page illustrations and decorated borders complement the stories, some of which are based on fairy tales and folktales. While your children may be familiar with some of the stories in The Barefoot Book of Ballet Stories, several will probably be new to them. The stories are Coppélia: The Girl with the Enamel Eyes, Swan Lake, Cinderella, The Nutcracker, Shim Chung: The Blind Man's Daughter and The Sleeping Beauty, as well as Daphne and Chloe.

While each story's introduction may be of particular interest to young ballerinas and other young people 8 and older who are interested in the ballet, the well-told stories, with their romantic illustrations, should prove interesting to a broader audience of children in grades 1-7.

Authors: Jane Yolen,who has written several hundred children's books, has also collaborated with her daughter Heidi E. Y. Stemple on a number of children's books.

Illustrator: Rebecca Guay who created her romantic illustrations with watercolor and acryla-gouache on watercolor paper, is a graduate of Pratt Institute in New York City.

Length: 96 pages

Format: Hardcover with a story CD narrated by Juliet Stevenson

Recommended for: Ages 6 to 12

Publisher: Barefoot Books

Publication Date: 2009

ISBN: 9781846862625

Additional Resources: