Thursday, December 27, 2012

Easy Reader Radar: Ballet Stars by Joan Holub (Cybils Nominee)

Ballet Stars. by Joan Holub, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas. June 26, 2012. Random House. 24 pages. ISBN:  9780375869099

Ballet Stars is a level one easy reader which is part of Random House’s Step into Reading series. In simple sentences author Joan Holub describes for the reader the process of presenting a ballet recital, from getting dressed and warming up to dancing on stage and taking final bows.

This is a book I think adults can easily dismiss because the front cover makes it out to be just another pink ballerina book. There are so many pink-covered books about ballerinas, and after awhile, it starts to feel like one is as good as another. I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, when the text of Ballet Stars turned out to be nearly flawless.

There are sometimes as few as two words in a sentence, but Holub makes every word count. The story rhymes, which is normally a huge drawback for me, but Holub is skillful at matching up rhyming words that fit the story, rather than just throwing in random words because they happen to rhyme. When the ballet dancers get dressed, the text reads: “Sparkly ribbons. Ballet shoes. Bright white tights. And new tutus.” When describing the dancers’ movements, Holub writes, “Ballet arms. Ballet feet. Toes point out and fingers meet.” Both these excerpts show the strength of Holub’s writing abilities. The words she uses perfectly describe the clothing and motions associated with a ballet recital, and even without the support of the illustrations, these sentences would still evoke strong mental images. Holub even manages to work in some figurative language. There are two similes in the book, when the dancers “Twirl like snowflakes” and “sway like trees.”

The illustrations by Shelagh McNicholas make the book visually appealing, and they give great context for Holub’s writing. I appreciate McNicholas’s decision to include a male ballet dancer in the class, as well as her inclusion of characters from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. I also love the way she drew the dancers’ families and even their piano accompanist on the page depicting the moment before the curtain goes up. It’s one of the few detailed drawings in the entire book, and it provides nice insights into characters who don’t really have individual personalities otherwise.

Kids who are into ballet books will probably take one home from the library with them whether it’s truly well-written or not. That’s just the nature of kids and their obsessions, whether it’s ballet, trains, dinosaurs, or something else. This book really raises the bar, though, and shows what a truly well-written book for beginning readers can accomplish. Girls, especially, will love Ballet Stars, but parents and teachers will be just as thrilled by the learning opportunities it presents.

I borrowed Ballet Stars from my local public library. 

For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat

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