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The Children's Bookshelf: Black Ballerinas - January 24, 2022


Black Ballerinas: My Journey to Our Legacy written by Misty Copeland, the first female African American principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre, and illustrated by Salena Barnes, a talented Berlin based artist is beautifully researched and exquisitely illustrated. This book celebrates the stories of 27 Black ballerinas born between 1917 and 1998. It includes how they first became aware of the ballet, when they were hooked by the ballet, how they handled discrimination as a Black ballerina and where they each made their contributions to the art form.

Within the stories of these 27 ballerinas the reader is given specific ideas of how Copeland heard about each or met some or was mentored by some or, as in the case of Erica Lall, how Copeland became a mentor herself.

Every story is accompanied by a quotation from that ballerina about what ballet means to her. Francesca Hayward says, “Ballet is healing for the soul.” Ashley Murphy Wilson calls ballet “a way to discover what it is to be alive.” “It’s another kind of beauty,” says Virginia Johnson. And, Lauren Anderson says, “What’s wonderful about being a ballerina is being able to tell a story without saying a single word.”

The 27 illustrations by Selena Barnes are awesome. This skillful artist presents each ballerina in an amazing dance position and poised to take the next step right off the page.

Black Ballerinas: My Journey to Our Legacy written by Misty Copeland and illustrated by Salena Barnes is a beautiful and honest resource for readers 10 years of age and UP (Aladdin / an imprint of Simon and Schuster, 2021).

The Children’s Bookshelf is a production of WCMU. Links to the podcast and the Activity Questions can be found at Children’s Bookshelf dot org.

Activity Questions for Black Ballerinas

The illustrations in this book are exceptional. Select 10 of the pictures of the ballerinas that are your favorites. Be sure to study facial expressions, the position of arms, legs, feet, fingers and the look of the costume. With this visual information give each of your ten selected illustrations a name. Let your imagination fly!

Sue Ann Martin is professor emerita of Communication and Dramatic Arts and the founding and past Dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts at Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. She first became interested in children’s literature when she wrote her PhD thesis on the oral characteristics of the Caldecott Award-winning children’s books. Her PhD is in Speech and Interpretation with a cognate in Early Childhood Education. She went on to review children’s books for the Detroit Free Press, write three popular resource books for teachers regarding children’s books and the creative process. She also reviewed newly-published books for Arts Almanac specials on WCMU Public Radio. Her 2002 children’s books special for WCMU won a Merit Award in Special Interest Programming from the Michigan Association of Broadcasters.