We all have dreams regardless of or depending upon our age and current circumstances. Some dreams like wishing we would sprout wings, flying to parts unknown, or twitching our nose like Samantha on Bewitched to work our magic are less than realistic. Others can be realized over time with hard work, having the right people in our lives and a touch of luck.
On November 13, 1951 something wonderful happened in New York City...at the Metropolitan Opera House. It was a first. It was witnessed by a little girl with hope as big as the sky. It's a beautiful, uplifting story found in Kristy Dempsey's A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina's Dream (Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) ) with illustrations by Floyd Cooper.
Stars hardly shine in the New York City sky,
with the factories spilling out pillars of smoke and streetlights spreading bright halos round their pin-top faces.
Even though no stars are seen night after night a young girl sits on the rooftop of her apartment building searching overhead, her lips moving, speaking softly of her wish. Her Mama says wishes don't make dreams come true. The fulfillment of dreams is about having hope.
Continuing Mama says hope is not an easy thing but requires work, hard work. Not only does the girl's mother take in laundry to earn extra money but she has been employed at the ballet school cleaning and sewing costumes before her daughter was born. This woman is no stranger to doing what needs to be done.
The world of the ballet school becomes a part of the girl's heart. Trying on costumes her Mama sees her dream begin to grow. When she dances backstage during a recital the Ballet Master sees her dream getting bigger.
Noticing her talent he allows her to attend classes with the other girls even though as an African American she will not be allowed to perform with the white girls. The part in her heart becomes larger and larger, day after day, as she nourishes her hope with hard work. One day a headline in an old newspaper catches her attention.
Money set aside for one thing is spent on another. On a Tuesday evening this little girl and her Mama are watching Janet Collins perform as the first African American prima ballerina in the Metropolitan Opera House. Once hope takes hold it won't let go.
The language used by Kristy Dempsey swirls out from the pages of this book, wrapping right around you with promise on every page. Narrated by the young girl, within the reading of the first two pages, you are emotionally connected to the lives of her and her mother. Readers can't help but enjoy learning about the performance of Janet Collins, of the significance it held then and now, through the heart and mind of this character. Here is a sample passage.
"Brava, ma petite," he told me. "Brava."
That's when hope picked my dream up
from the floor of my heart,
just like Mama said,
and it started growing.
Floyd Cooper is a master of a very unique artistic technique; a subtractive process using mixed media. The quality found on the two-page illustration of the matching dust jacket and book case, the glow along the building tops, the sky at dusk with a few stars, the sense of softness, the feeling of flow and the contentment on the girl's face is on every picture in this book. Each painting, a full two pages, captures the essence of the setting, the people or a moment.
The chosen color palette provides rich warmth. You can't help but feel the longing, the commitment, and love, different kinds of love, portrayed through the facial features and movement of the characters. Details take readers back to the time period; a model of car, clothing styles, and architecture.
One of my favorite illustrations is a close up of the girl's face being held by the hands of the Ballet Master after he sees her dancing. The position of his hands and the look on her face takes my breath away. It's absolutely stunning. Another glorious picture is of the little girl imagining herself dancing along with Janet Collins on the stage. They look as if they are floating above the audience near the ceiling.
In her author's note at the end of the book Kristy Dempsey states:
I hope many women, regardless of their age or the color of their skin, are inspired to achieve their own dreams through her historic performance.
A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina's Dream written by Kristy Dempsey with paintings by Floyd Cooper is one of those books which makes your heart feel lighter than air filling it with possibilities. With this combination of narrative and illustrations you can't help but believe anything can happen. Please read this book as a group read aloud or in a one-on-one setting. I know it will make a difference to those who experience this story.