By Author / Illustrator
Laurel van der Linde, illus Sawyer Cloud
Biographies & Autobiographies
The stories of six daring, groundbreaking Black ballet dancers leap off the pages of this beautifully illustrated nonfiction picture book. Meet Essie Marie Dorsey, who in 1926 opened one of the first ballet schools for Black students; Arthur Mitchell, the first Black dancer with the New York City Ballet; Christian Holder, a principal dancer with the Joffrey Ballet; choreographer Dwight Rhoden; and present-day ballerinas Misty Copeland and Michaela DePrince. With a leap of faith and a love of dance, these Black Swans overcame obstacles and opened doors for all the children who dream of dancing.
Black Swans is a super collection of mini biographies of black dancers, detailing some of the barriers they had to overcome to achieve their dream of dancing. My class were outraged at the unfair treatment of these dancers and loved the fact that despite this, the dancers still succeeded. The names may have been unfamiliar to them, but the sense of injustice the children felt was palpable. The illustrations are gorgeous and lead to some internet searches to find out more.
This book has now been shared with our younger children in school. It is definitely a book that could be used across the entire primary age range with something for everyone from age 3 and above.
40 pages / Reviewed by Sharon Porter, teacher
Suggested Reading Age 5+
This is a short but elegant-looking hardback 'picture book for older readers'. It features six people, some still alive, all of them US residents (even if not originally born there). They have in common not only their ethnicity, but also their love of dance and their determination to overcome great odds to achieve their ambitions. They join famous companies, perform in starring roles and have inspired many to follow their dreams too; others who might not have believed it possible, due to background or adversity.
I would encourage anyone to read the Author’s Note at the back: it names other Black Swans 'whose daring acts of dance paved the way for others to follow' and urges anyone with the desire, the gift and the passion for dance to answer 'the call of one's soul and defy the bonds of physicality and gravity' because 'to have such passion thwarted is an injustice'.
The collaboration between writer (herself accomplished at ballet) and illustrator (with her Madagascan roots in storytelling and singing) is quite beautiful. It might strike as a Key Stage 1 text, but will find its keenest readers among KS2, I believe.
40 pages / Reviewed by Jane Rew, school librarian
Suggested Reading Age 7+