Thursday, April 29, 2010

Beautiful Ballerina, by Marilyn Nelson (ages 3 - 12)

My daughters love ballet - the idea of it, the images of it. When they were little, we read book after book about ballerinas, ranging from Angelina Ballerina to Ballet School. So I was thrilled to see the cover of Marilyn Nelson and Susan Kuklin's new book, Beautiful Ballerina. The pictures capture the grace, strength and allure of young ballet dancers, and the book draws flocks of little girls to it. But open it up, and it is so much more.

Beautiful Ballerina
by Marilyn Nelson
photographs by Susan Kuklin
NY: Scholastic Press, 2009
ages 3-12
available on Amazon and at your public library
"Beautiful ballerina, / you are the dance." This heartfelt picture book celebrates the strength, spirit and grace of four young African American girls who are learning to dance with the Dance Theater of Harlem. Kuklin's photographs capture them in a variety of poses, some reflective, others full of movement. The girls range in age from preschool through high school, and so the photographs will allow girls of all ages to relate and dream.

Marilyn Nelson's poetry is inspiring as she describes the dancers. "You are poised,/ graceful,/ flexible,/ elegant./ Your beauty invites/ bravissimos." She speaks directly to young African American dancers: "The Ancestors have/ produced a swan./ You wear the slaves' genes/ with nobility." The rhythm and grace of the text will make a wonderful read aloud for young children, even though some of the words may go over their head. Older dancers will love the celebration of their passion. I love sharing these lines with my daughters:
"Your physical grace and
must be matched by
strength of will.
and imagination give you your skill."
(c) Marilyn Nelson
Marilyn Nelson has been recognized by many awards: she is a Newberry Honor Winner, three-time National Book Award finalist, two-time Boston Globe-Horn Book Award winner, and the former Poet Laureate of the State of Connecticut. You can read an interview and profile with Marilyn on the Brown Bookshelf blog. Marilyn shares another ballet poem on this year's Poetry Tag on Sylvia Vardell's blog Poetry for Children.

Read more about the making of this book on Susan Kuklin's website.

Below, I've shared my favorite ballet books. The review copy came from my local library. If you purchase a book on Amazon using the links on this site, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.


  1. What a lovely book! I'll pass this along to my friends with girl-dancers. My son is in a tap/jazz class with a lot of girls from his class, so we're getting a taste of the dancing scene!

  2. Wow! Those words are so powerful, and all our young girls need to hear them!

    I have a small business making personalized children's books (, and we have one called Ballerina Princess. All the little girls love that book.

    Thanks for letting us know about this book!

  3. I really like the World of Ballet from Usborne Books you can see it at

  4. I just started a blog on picture books about dance, and I was thinking of highlighting Beautiful Ballerina. But then I found your fabulous review, so I think I will link to your blog in one of my upcoming posts instead! Thanks! (