Wednesday, March 23, 2011

On Your Toes: A Ballet ABC, by Rachel Isadora (2003)

On Your Toes: A Ballet ABCPrior to stumbling across this volume in our local library, I had associated Rachel Isadora primarily with her African-inspired picture book adaptations of fairy and folk tales.  As it turns out, though, Isadora's first career was as a professional ballet dancer who had studied with the School of American Ballet.  And fortunately for us, she has produced a number of ballet-themed picture books ranging from adaptations of The Nutcracker and Swan Lake to Max, her revolutionary 1976 story of a boy who joins his sister's ballet class, to her Lili series.  In the near future, Miss E and I will no doubt track these down, because Miss E loves ballet, we both admire Isadora's lovely paintings, and I've had my fill of gooey pink-tulle books.

Certainly the highlight of this book is Isadora's gorgeous pastels of child dancers (a multiracial cast of boys and girls).  But I also appreciate the difficulty of making an alphabet book on this theme.  While a few of her word choices initially seem too general and forced (like "Sleep"and "Yarn"), most of them work very well, and even the few that don't are convincingly accounted for in the glossary, which also offers phonetic spellings of French terms.   Many of the images depict costumes and set designs from real ballets, not only the more familiar Nutcracker and Swan Lake but also bolder choices like Firebird and A Midsummer Night's Dream; these, too, are explained in the glossary in an interesting and age-appropriate way.  Ultimately, this deceptively simple book is both enjoyable for young dancers and sophisticated enough to engage grownups.

Miss E's Read: Two enthusiastic thumbs up for the "X Marks the Spot" page, which features her favorite ballet character Clara.  Two fierce thumbs down for the "Pas de Chat" page.  Because you can't look at the picture and not want to try it.  But if you're a beginner trying it alone without a teacher, you are bound to land squarely on your butt.  Repeatedly.  On hardwood floors.  And even if you're four, this kind of hurts.

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