Working as a Youth Services Librarian in the public sector, my colleagues and I often spent hours fleshing out programming details: storytime themes, the horrific number of crafts we could make with toilet paper rolls, etc. Although storytime at our library was, of course, centered around books, they were also a very aerobic experience. Let’s face it: babies, toddlers, and preschoolers don’t have the ability to sit for long periods of time, so music and dance come in to enhance the experience. How many times have I danced to “I Know a Chicken”, by preschool superstar Laurie Berkner? Too many to count! There will never be anything as adorable as a 2-year-old coming to storytime excited to get a shaky egg and dance and sing. We evolved to doing periodic preschool dance parties, where we would just spin our favorite kid hits and dance for a half hour. This is such a fun, easy, and, more importantly, cost effective program to provide, with the bonus that everyone leaves ready for naptime. This trip down memory lane, for me, was inspired by all the great new picture books on the topic of dance that have been published recently.
Often, picture books on dance involve fitting into a mold of a girl who wants to try ballet. Make no mistake: ballet dancers are awesome, and tutus will always be beautiful! Until recently, many dance books were aimed at white girls, leaving out many boys, non-binary children, BIPOC, and children with disabilities. If you were a child in a larger body, dancing didn’t seem to be for you either. Looking back at the joy that children feel while dancing, how happy and free it makes them (and all of us), I am happy to see books reaffirm that dancing is for everyone.
I am really excited about Traci Sorell’s upcoming book Powwow Day. River is a Native American girl who is so excited to dance at powwow as she does every year, but this year she cannot participate as she is recovering from an illness. She is forced to watch the festivities while dancing from the sidelines, but even though she cannot dance, she is reinvigorated by the healing power of her community and knows she will dance again. Author Traci Sorrell is an active member of the Cherokee Nation and provides insightful information on powwows. The illustrations of the jingle dresses and dance are lovely and vibrant.
For a different take on ballet, check out Bharatanatyam in Ballet Shoes by Mahak Jain. Paro is a girl who comes from a family of dancing: she always has danced Bharatanatyam with her mom, but she wants to learn ballet. She notices how differently the dancers move in each discipline and wonders if she will be able to do both. They talk about classical ballet heroes like Anna Pavlova, but Paro talks about her dance hero Rukmini Devi. After some frustration, Paro learns she can live in both worlds as her mother and dance teacher collaborate to teach students moves. Paro learns ballet, but also inspires her new ballet friends to pick up some of the dance moves from Bharatanatyam. Can she dance Bharatanatyam in a tutu? of course!
Dancing with Daddy by debut author Anitra Rowe Schulte features Elsie, a nonverbal girl who uses a wheelchair, who is excited to go to her first father-daughter dance. She gets nervous as winter weather threatens to postpone this anticipated dance. We follow Elsie as she decides what dress to wear, and her supportive sisters practice dancing with her. Elsie communicates through a book of pictures and gestures; her family is very warm and loving and her disability is just another aspect of her family life, not an obstacle to overcome. Elsie is inspired by Schulte’s daughter who has Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome. You will cheer as Elsie fully enjoys her first dance.
Now that you are ready to bust a move, don’t forget to check out many other titles I have compiled to add joy and diversity to your dance picture book collection.