Aug 12, 2012

Bea At Ballet... and Beyond!

Recent posts have focused on just a few of the incredible picture book portraits of performers from the past. (Read that sentence aloud, fast, but not after snacking on crackers, please.) When the Olympics opened just two weeks ago, the elaborate productions featured an homage to children and children's literature. The closing ceremony is another extravaganza of music, song and dance for all ages. After turning to thoughts and books about the place of arts in young lives in my last post, I'm eager to share a remarkable recent release. 

BEA AT BALLET, by Rachel Isadora,  is much more than a ballet primer for the preschool set. True, it includes clearly labeled items, from clothing to equipment to positions,  simply but appealingly portrayed on wide white spaces with accurate terminology. Etiquette and expectations during lessons are conveyed as are a genuine fascination and love of ballet. But it is much more. This is a lovingly told story of how Bea and her friends view ballet.

Isadora blends her Caldecott Honor-winning black lines from BEN'S TRUMPET and pastel palette from ON YOUR TOES: A Ballet ABC in this story of a ballet class with young Bea. Mocha the well-mannered dog observes Mr. Paul and Ms. Nancy teaching a diverse troupe of toddlers who engage, body and spirit, in a life of ballet. The gently curved lines, expressive features, subtle gestures and shading, delicate patterns and soft edges all create impressively competent round-bellied dancers floating in an almost magical white space. Their earnest efforts include pointed toes, graceful hand extensions, and utterly believable spins and stumbles. From cover to cover it is evident: Bea and her friends LOVE to dance.

Add this to your collection of alphabet books!

Bea's class includes young boys whose enthusiastic efforts show great promise. Here's hoping the current popularity of dance in mass media will provide cultural acceptance of that interest, rather than resulting in the teasing depicted in OLIVER BUTTON IS A SISSY, by Tomie dePaulo, a reaction more typical in the past.
A review of OLIVER BUTTON can be found , along with an annotated list of children's literature, at Social Justice Literature for the Elementary Classroom.

So, should we be fostering decathletes or dancers, ball players or ballerinas? Bet you've already guessed my take on the question. Let's just say that each child's life holds possibilities as expansive as an Olympic stadium or a concert stage and beyond. Today's plugged-in preferences tend to tether the natural impulses of childhood, and educational imperatives further restrict exposure and opportunities for arts and athletics in their daily lives. More than ever we need to foster interests and activities that allow kids to see themselves in those arenas, to discover and explore their passions. Picture books like these are fine first steps.

(While I await your comments, I'll be seeking treatment for my recently acquired  alliteration addiction.)

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