Of the many books that arrive on my doorstep, few fall into the "sit down and read it immediately" category. The second Hunger Games book comes to mind, and not much else. But when I received an advance copy of Giant Dance Party, written by Betsy Bird and illustrated by Brandon Dorman, I set everything aside and opened it up.
If you don't know why, you haven't been following Betsy's blog, A Fuse #8 Production. Betsy is a tremendous force in the field of children's literature. Her lengthy, in-depth reviews are humorous and insightful. Her Top 100 Picture Books and Top 100 Children's Novels poll results are widely used and highly regarded. She was the primary host for last year's Kidlitosphere conference (and is a regular host for other NYC kidlit events). Giant Dance Party is Betsy's first published picture book. Much attention will be paid.
But let's talk about the book, shall we? Giant Dance Party is about a little girl, Lexy, who loves to dance, but is afraid to perform in front of an audience. Instead of performing herself, Lexy decides to start offering dance lessons. She'll let her students perform, while she basks in the joy of dance from behind the scenes. When the only ones to take Lexy up on her offer are a group of fuzzy blue giants, however, things get a bit more complex. And a lot more fun.
Giant Dance Party features a breezy voice, with short sentences and fun words to read aloud. Like this:
"So she tried hypnotism.
She tried pretending Moore and Caroll and Anne were people.
She practiced for her parents every night while they tried to watch TV.
And every time she was sure her stage fright was gone, along came another recital, and blammo! Ice pop."
Those who have read Betsy's reviews for years will recognize her voice, particularly in that last paragraph. Giant Dance Party also reveals a surprisingly subtle humor (surprising given the over-the-top nature of the plot). For example, when the giants are waiting for Lexy to agree to teach them, we have:
"They folded their arms, crossed their legs, and sat down.
They stuck out their lower lips. Birds perched on them."
I love "birds perched on them." I also laughed at:
"When the big night arrived, Lexy felt the familiar butterflies in her stomach. But at least she wouldn't have to dance. Instead, she gave her giants a big smile, patted them on the heels, and said, "You can do it!""
Get it? She patted them on the heels, because they were too tall for her to pat on the head. Just a little gem tossed in there for the alert reader.
Brandon Dorman's exuberant illustrations add to the humor, and the general bouncy feel, of Giant Dance Party. When Lexy is practising for her parents as they try to watch TV, we see her leaping across the television set, ribbons flying, clearly blocking the parents' view. When she stands there on stage, frozen with stage fright, she looks rather like a wide-eyed, tutu-wearing ice pop, if such a thing is possible.
I think my favorite illustration is a little vignette from when Lexy is trying to interest people in her dance lessons, and blasts "snap-happy mambo music from the porch." Her posture, eyes, and clothing all match up perfectly with "mambo." In general, her huge brown eyes capture her many moods, windows to her trials and tribulations. Dorman also makes nice use of perspective to show Lexy's tiny size relative to that of the blue giants.
Giant Dance Party is told in a mix of short and long paragraphs, and of small vignettes and full-page illustrations. While there are quite a lot of words in the book overall, there is also plenty of white space, making the book a good, unintimidating fit for individual readers or library storytimes. I do think it's more of a book for the 4 to 8 crowd than for the youngest readers (who won't understand stage fright, and might find the movement conveyed in the illustrations a bit overwhelming).
Giant Dance Party is eminently read-aloud-able, the perfect mix of the practical (overcoming stage fright, solving problems) and the absurd (umm, furry blue giants dancing). Lexy, as conveyed in both words and pictures, is a delight. I am expecting Giant Dance Party to fly off the shelves. Highly recommended.
Publisher: Greenwillow Books (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: April 23, 2013
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher
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