Book: A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina's Dream
Author: Kristy Dempsey
Illustrator: Floyd Cooper
Age Range: 5-8
A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina's Dream, by Kristy Dempsey and Floyd Cooper, is about a little African American girl in the 1950's who hardly dares to dream of being a ballerina. Her mother works as a seamstress for a Harlem ballet school, where the Ballet Master allows the little girl "to join lessons each day from the back of the room, even though (she) can't perform onstage with white girls." But when her mother takes her to see "Miss Janet Collins ... first colored prima ballerina" to perform at the Metropolitan Opera House, the girl feels hope that her own dream might one day come true.
A Dance Like Starlight is a moving story that gives modern children a window into the segregation of African American children in the 1950s. The girl wonders "Could a colored girl like me ever become a prima ballerina?" This seems, until she learns of Miss Collins, more like a wish than something with any reasonable hope of occurring.
This book is fairly text-heavy, and more suited to older children than preschoolers. Here's a snippet (all from one page):
to get where we're going.
I keep checking Mama's watch
and straining my neck to see how far we've gone.
But in this crowded bus from our place in the back
all I can see are sidewalks and storefronts.
It makes it hard to see the tops of high-rises,
landmarks that would let me know we're close,
ones I would recognize
from wishing on a skyline every single night."
Cooper's mixed media illustrations have a sepia tone that reflects both the dark skin of the main characters and what may be a nod to old-fashioned photos from 60+ years ago. The people and settings are depicted realistically. One image, of the girl's anguished face in the hands of the Ballet Master, makes her so real that I felt like I knew her.
A Dance Like Starlight is not going to be for everyone - there's a lot of text, and the illustrations, while lovely, have a serious feel. But for kids who love dance, or who scarcely dare to dream that they can become something big, A Dance Like Starlight will really hit home. And it's of course nice to see a picture book on the new books shelf that shows a brown-skinned girl lost in the joy of dance. Recommended, especially for library purchase.
Publisher: Philomel Books (@PenguinKids)
Publication Date: January 2, 2014
Source of Book: Library copy, checked out for Round 1 Cybils consideration in Fiction Picture Books. All opinions are my own.
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