Sunday, October 24, 2010


The art and tradition of ballet is joyfully celebrated around the world to this day. There are a number of books on the subject appealing to all cross-sections of the audience, ranging from history and discipline to stories and music that make this dance form seem magical.

A Child's Introduction to Ballet laura leeA Child's Introduction to Ballet
The stories, music and magic of classical dance
by Laura Lee
illustrated by Meredith Hamilton

Ages 9-12

Why do ballet dancers stand like ducks? Why do they wear the puffy skirt? Why do they spin and leap and stand on tiptoes so much?

In A Child's Introduction to Ballet, we find answers to these common questions, as well as a child-friendly introduction to the history, the discipline itself, and the classic stories of ballet. The accompanying CD has several tracks showcasing music from the various classic ballet stories we read in the book.
  • Ballet was invented in Italy, though it got shaped in France to become what it is today.
  • In the 1700s, King Louis XIV of France, himself a dancer, performed on stage, thus encouraging the nobles to do the same.
  • Initially, women weren't allowed to perform ballet - men danced the women's part, much like in other theater arts.
  • And, the music wasn't specifically written for ballet recitals back then - dances were performed to the songs that were already popular.
  • When women dancers finally took the stage, they wore full-length skirts in fashion then. But, gradually the skirts got shorter, to allow for the elegant and vigorous leg work and steps to be seen and appreciated, in addition to facilitating movement, of course.
These facts are only a part of this charming compendium, which also tells the stories of the famous ballets - from The Nutcracker to Swan lake, Peter and the Wolf, La Sylphide, Rodeo, and many more, with full-page illustrations for some.

The emotional entanglements of the characters, the racy themes of some of these ballet stories that we take in our stride as adults may not be best suited for children in the 4 to 8 age group. But, some of the universally popular stories like Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, and Cinderella easily appeal to the young and old alike. Especially considering that there is a version of Cinderella story from practically every continent.

Tidbits about famous ballets, the stars and the roles they are most remembered for are strewn throughout the book like: Swan Lake was a flop when it premiered, even though it is one of the most popular classical ballets in the world today; an eight-year-old Anna Pavlova watched a performance of Sleeping Beauty and decided then and there to devote her life to this dance form, going on to become one of the prima ballerinas of her time; when Marie Taglioni, who made dancing en pointe popular, finished her final performance, it saddened many devoted admirers so much that they actually ate her shoes in her honor.

The five basic positions, the various steps and movements like plié, jeté, pirouette, arabesque, entrechats are presented in easily understandable format. Back of the book provides a glossary of terms as well as further reading.

bareoot books ballet storiesBarefoot Book of Ballet Stories
by Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple
illustrated by Rebecca Guay

Ages 9-12

The beautiful illustrations first attracted me to this particular anthology of classic tales from ballet which presents Coppelia, Swan Lake, Cinderella, The Nutcracker, Shim Chung, Sleeping Beauty, and Daphnis and Chloe.

A one-page introduction to each tale provides some information about the history and the making of the ballet itself - the music, choreography, premiere, star dancers who are identified with the main characters to this day and so on.

The stories themselves are told in easy-to-follow text, rich with drama and description. The accompanying illustrations are nothing short of magical. The borders/frames on some of the pages make for an extra visual treat.

ballet school learn how to danceBallet School
Learn How to Dance with the Central School of Ballet
by Naia Bray-Moffat
photographs by David Handley

Ages 4-8

Photo books have a certain appeal that suggests reality much more than illustrations can, naturally. Ballet School is one such photo book that focuses on introducing aspiring ballerinas to an inside look at the dedication and discipline it takes to realize their dreams.

This is Jamie's first day at ballet school. From Getting Ready to Showtime!the book takes us on a journey with Jamie as she learns about posture and positions, practicing on the barre, balancing and leaping, even improvisation, to finally her year-end performance.

The various facial expressions like scared, sad, angry, happy that kids sport on the Improvisation section is one of our favorites at home. It helps convey the fact that even with no talking and mostly instrumental music, the story gets told through the dancer's movements and facial expressions.

We feel a certain sense of accomplishment along with Jamie when she is ready for her pointe shoes, and finally, performs a dance she put together herself - a dance about a fairy princess.!

My First Ballet Recital, by Amy Junor, Ages 4-8

Much like Ballet School, this is a photo book where Jamie and her classmates show off what they have learnt as they get ready for their first recital.

The Nutcraker Ballet
retold by Melissa Hayden
illustrations by Stephen T. Johnson

Winter, for some of us in North America, not only brings chill weather and holiday spirit, but the tradition of... The Nutcracker Ballet! Since its American production in 1954 staged by the legendary George Balanchine, this story about a little girl's adventure on a Christmas Eve has been performed annually, almost ceremoniously, for millions around the world.

The book is retold by prima ballerina Melissa Hayden who has performed in The Nutcracker Ballet countless times.

The text is quite descriptive as the story unfolds, with full-page illustrations complementing the story well.

For the four to five year olds, there are many series books which present adorable characters who are aspiring ballerinas - like Angelina Ballerina (Katharine Holabird), Ballet Sisters (Jan Ormerod), Belinda Begins Ballet (Amy Young), as well as stand-alone picture books that are straight and simple like Time for Ballet (Adele Geras) to the witty and delightful Miss Tutu's Star (Leslea Newman), to name just a few.

Being a much-adored dance form, there is no dearth of books on the subject which help us understand and appreciate the beauty and grace that comes from sheer hard work and perseverance.

[image source(s):, Midlothian Library, Powell's Books]


Choxbox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Choxbox said...

Wow Sheela, thats a super collection for a ballet-crazy little girl! Also Angelina Ballerina has been a favourite here for a while.

And as usual, amazed by the depth of your review.

Subhashree said...

Sheela, that was one awesome review of the books. What a treat to read about so many books at one go!

artnavy said...

We love Nutcracker here as well and of course Angelina Ballerina

Very insightful post

ranjani.sathish said...

Wow Sheela ! It has opened up a whole new world for me. I have never read any books on ballet nor have I seen any book(except may be a children's version of Coppelia) in our library.

I think now I will keep my eyes open for these wonderful books, read them myself and then introduce them to my 4 year old girl, who says she wants to be a dancer when she grows big :-)

the mad momma said...

i'm amazed at so many books being available for kids on ballet. this post has been an eye opener.

Praba Ram said...

A gracefully balanced review - classic Sheela-style!:) The little one in the family will love the picks, I am sure! Will check it out.

utbtkids said...

What a treat for the fairy loving, little angels at home?!
I am looking for the Batefoot book. Thanks Sheela.

sandhya said...

Wow! This post will be much appreciated by the ballet-struck kid at home. We have much enjoyed DVDs of Nutcracker and Swan Lake, and tried to dance like Oddette!

Now if only someone comes up with suggestions for similar books on Bharatnatyam!

Meera Sriram said...

What a treat Sheela, with well-laid out details! R has been learning (French) Ballet for the past 2-3 years now,and at her dance school, they invest a lot of time and effort to teach the terms firstwith tiny bits of history. So, I can see us learning a lot and enjoying the collection you have here. My personal fav is the "A child's intro to ballet" (women did not dance ballet at first?? wow!). But I'm sure the last two will be thoroughly enjoyd by R, I will let you know what we pick up to own. We watched Nutcracker last holiday season, and Swan Lake the year before last. Now you know why this post is precious to us (thanks for the extra comment space:)

Anusha said...

Thanks for this well thought out collection. I think a couple of these picks would be great to introduce ballet, in theory at least, to the boys.

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