Kristy Dempsey, Author
Floyd Cooper, Illustrator
Philomel Books, Fiction, Jan. 2, 2014
Suitable for Ages: 4-8
Themes: Ballet dancing, African-Americans, Discrimination, Janet Collins
Opening: “Stars hardly shine in the New York City sky, with the factories spilling out pillars of smoke and streetlights spreading bright halos around their pin-top faces. It makes it hard to find a star, even harder to make a wish, the one wish that if I could just breathe it out loud to the first star of night, I might be able to believe it true.”
Synopsis: A little girl living in Harlem in the 1950s has a dream of becoming a ballerina. Her mama works all day long and some times into the night for the ballet school, cleaning and stitching costumes for dancers. The girl spends a lot of time around costume fittings and rehearsals, watching every move and practicing in the wings. One day the Ballet Master sees her talent and arranges for her join the lessons, even though she can’t perform onstage with white girls. When the first African-American prima ballerina Janet Collins performs at the Metropolitan Opera House, the aspiring dancer and her mother attend. The girl is inspired and realizes that she doesn’t need to wish on stars in the sky because dreams are possible.
Why I like this book: This book is a keeper for any child who has a dream of becoming a dancer, musician or artist. Kristy Dempsey ’s lyrical text is so beautiful with lines like “It’s like Miss Collins is dancing for me, only for me showing me who I can be,” and “You don’t need stars in the sky to make your dreams come true.” Janet Collins inspires the dreams of young ballerinas everywhere, showing them that talent and hard work, not the color of their skin, lead to success. Floyd Cooper’s lively and passionate illustrations are painted in hues of brown and pink and beautifully capture the child’s dream of dancing on the stage.
Resources: There is an author’s note at the end of the book. One interesting note, Janet Collins danced at the Met four years before singer Marian Anderson made her debut. Visit Kristy Dempsey’s website. This is a good book to pair with When Marian Sang by Pamela Munoz Ryan and Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell during black history month.
Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.