October’s Birthday Pick (Anyone Can Learn to Dance)

October 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

Calling all wannabe ballerinas! If you’re headed to a girl’s birthday party this month, you must give this irresistibly charming (and seasonally appropriate) new book, Vampirina Ballerina (Ages 3-7), by Anne Marie Pace, with pictures by LeUyen Pham. This book has everything ballerinas-in-the-making (and their supportive parents) would want in a book: tutus, pirouettes, a Swan Lake-inspired recital, encouragements about practice and effort (as opposed to perfection), and a subtle but poignant message about accepting someone who looks different.

In addition, this book has something most people don’t associate with ballet: a family of vampires. That’s right, Pace’s text reads like a “how to succeed in ballet” handbook, only it’s directed at a young vampire girl, who is eager and nervous to begin her ballet education alongside a troupe of human girls and their instructing Madame. Along with some predictable directives about form and style (“a true ballerina is always on pointe” and “always move with your head held high”), our young Vampirina is given some important life lessons: “Whatever happens, don’t be discouraged. The road to ballerinadom can be bumpy.”

LeUyen’s whimsical drawings—packed with visual gags—show us the “bumps” that the text only hints at: we watch as a goth-styled Vampirina encounters strange looks from her human classmates (her fangs and unusual choice of pets make everyone a bit nervous at first); fumbles her early attempts at curtsies (that darn cape); and tries to suppress her instinctual habit of turning into a bat whenever she’s afraid. We are told, “It doesn’t matter if you take one giant leap or many tiny steps, as long as you are moving toward your goal.”

With the support of her vampire family, who helps sew her costume for the recital and feeds her “healthy meals” (read: bloody looking soup), our intrepid heroine never gives up. By the time the curtain goes up—via a dramatic fold-out double spread—the children are leaping in unison and sporting genuinely identical smiles. And the best news: Vampirina doesn’t turn into a bat, not once. It seems she has internalized the book’s very best advice, for vampires and our own human little ones alike: “Even without wings, you can leap higher than you think.”

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