For a young girl growing up with the family nickname of Moose the chances of her parents spending their hard-earned money on dance lessons was slim. Instead she watched her younger sister go to ballet lessons year after year. She attended each and every recital amazed at the beauty of not only her sister dancing but the others with her on the stage.
You have to wonder if there had been another book other than the classic Hans Christian Andersen's The Ugly Duckling would this girl have persisted in following her desires. Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova (Chronicle Books, August 18, 2015) written by Laurel Snyder with illustrations by Julie Morstad is a book this child would have cherished. She would have read it over and over feeling the hope and inspiration found in this dancer's life.
The city is big,
Anna is small.
The snow is
and all around.
One winter's night Anna and her mama ride in a sleigh to the ballet. Seeing a story told by dancers on a stage, watching their movements convey emotion, changes Anna's life. Now her arms, legs and body twirl, dip and sway from place to place gaining even the attention of tiny creatures outside their apartment window.
Mama finally takes her to the ballet school but Anna is not accepted. Two years pass. Anna still twirls, dips and sways among the hanging laundry her mama washes for a living. When they visit the school this time Anna's flair for expression draws the attention of the instructors. Every position is precisely practiced repeatedly.
It is intense work. It is exactly what Anna has wanted to do. When she takes the stage the audience knows they are seeing a ballerina unlike any other. Her style, her interpretation, is unique.
As Anna dances alone the first time as a swan, the swan, those in attendance feel the magic of her transformation. Traveling around the world her fame continues to increase. While Anna enjoys performing for the rich and famous, she does not forget from where she came. She brings her dancing to those less fortunate in places ballerinas would normally not go.
Anna believes in spreading the joy of ballet everywhere to everyone. She teaches. She dances. And then... A train stop and a walk in the snow slow her steps. Wings fold. Breathing stills but her flights are remembered.
Sometimes we cry in sadness. Sometimes we cry at the breathtaking elegance touching our lives. Sometimes we cry in sheer delight. When reading the words written with truth and respect by Laurel Snyder in this book, readers will find themselves deeply moved to tears for all those reasons. Snyder's love of language is evident in each sentence on these pages. Some of them are short and descriptive; others string together like sections of a symphony. We become Anna and watch her life at the same time. It's an incredible experience. Here is the passage as Anna and her mama attend the first ballet together.
Something is happening ...
There's a swell of strings,
a scurry of skirts.
A hiss and a hum and ...
If you close your eyes when first holding this book and opening the pages, you will feel the softness of the matte finished paper and heavy stock. Your sensory experience with these illustrations has started. Opening the matching dust jacket and book case Anna as a child, one arm extended with a wing, holds promise for the passion which will willingly consume her life and which she will gladly share with the world. You can't see it but on the dust jacket the feathers are etched in iridescence. To the left, on the back, is a single black chair, flowers painted on the back, with a pair of pink ballet slippers hanging from the top rail.
The opening endpapers, on a white background except for the floor in a shade of gray, show Anna gazing out the window of her home. Laundry hangs from a crisscross of lines. On the wall is a portrait of her and her mama. This design is carried forth on the closing endpapers with changes to the items hanging from a line and the larger portrait on the wall. The chair...oh, the chair.
On the initial title page, a single word, Swan, in graceful cursive is tipped with rose branches. On the formal title page Anna practicing before being accepted to ballet school poses within the text. Rendered in ink, gouache, graphite, pencil and crayon Julie Morstad exquisitely portrays each scene with authenticity, warmth and emotion.
Morstad's use of white space as an element in her design is exceptional drawing our eyes into the moment regardless of the size of the image. Varying from two-page pictures to a series of smaller vignettes to depict the passing of time, each can be viewed individually or as part of a seamless whole. Soft muted colors in a limited palette pair perfectly with the settings and historical period.
One of my favorite illustrations, besides the striking swan picture, is of Anna dancing in their apartment with a broom as her mama hangs up laundry. We are on the outside looking through a window. Two squirrels sit watching on the sill as snow falls. It's a peaceful scene full of love.
You have to remind yourself to breath as you turn each page of Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova written by Laurel Snyder and illustrated by Julie Morstad. All readers will be inspired by the life choices of this woman dedicated to the art of ballet. It's a remarkable portrait by this author and illustrator. At the close of the book Laurel Snyder includes two pages of additional information along with a bibliography and quotation sources.
To learn more about Laurel Snyder and Julie Morstad please follow the links to their websites attached to their names. At the publisher's website is a teacher's guide. John Schumacher, the Scholastic Ambassador for School Libraries, talks about his love of this book in one of his Saturday video chats with Colby Sharp and Lauren Castillo. This book is highlighted by teacher librarian Jennifer Reed on her blog, Reederama. Southeast publisher rep Teresa Rolfe Kravtin featured this title on her blog, A Rep Reading. Laurel Snyder is interviewed and the book is showcased at this picture book life. Julie Danielson, author, reviewer and blogger at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast speaks about the book and shows us some art. Teacher librarian Matthew C. Winner speaks with both Laurel Snyder and Julie Morstad during the Let's Get Busy podcast number 179.
This is my first post for the 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy in six weeks. I am happy to be back to more regular blogging. Stop by her site to see what the other bloggers have highlighted this week.