Monday, October 18, 2010

Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring

As you know, I am always on the lookout for new, interesting nonfiction.  One nice thing about our new library is that they have a display of the new children's nonfiction.  This is especially helpful because it is ultimately interfiled with the adult nonfiction, making it harder to spot interesting nonfiction.  The cover is so joyous and vibrant, with the dancers' arms thrown exuberantly in the air, that it attracted me right away. 

This is the story of the collaboration between Martha Graham, Aaron Copeland and Isamu Noguchi in the 1940's.  Martha came up with the idea to create a ballet which would be a "legend of American living".  In the retelling of the collaboration that created this masterpiece, Greenberg and Jordan also weave in information about all three of the artists and their individual creative processes.

There are some things that are truly stunning about this book.  One of these things are the layers of collaboration evident in this book.  There is the described collaboration between Graham, Copeland and Noguchi.  This is truly awesome - while Martha created the script for what she envisioned, she did so with constant input from Aaron Copeland.  And he wrote the music knowing the way she moved and danced.  Noguchi had worked with Graham many times before, so they too had a strong working relationship.  This creation is something I think young people do not have experience with, and the depiction of this by the authors and illustrator is a marvel.

However, the seamless collaboration between the authors and illustrator is also a marvel.  The authors have written together many times before, and the text is truly beautiful.  The sentences are short and poetic, where every word counts.  You get a real sense of how the ballet is composed without any superfluous information.  Brian Floca's illustrations are an equal match to the beautiful text.

His watercolors are precise yet flowing.  They carry the emotion of the ballet capably.  As I mentioned earlier, the cover illustration is so joyful, and there are equally compelling portraits of Martha Graham in anger and frustration and the dancers concentrating with every ounce of their being.  Floca also has created a variety of illustrations, from spot illustrations to double page spreads.  This keeps the reader's eye moving, giving a sense of the ballet's movement to the reader.  The illustrations in this book are so sweeping in comparison to his detailed work in Moonshot, but it is just as gorgeous.

This book has wonderful back matter, which I really appreciate in a work of nonfiction.  There is a bibliography (including a film of the ballet being performed) and citations.  But most importantly, there are biographies of each of the collaborators.  I think this is a wonderful connection for students who were not previously aware of their work.  I also think the subject matter makes this book much more appropriate for older students.  I love seeing so much information being imparted in the accessible picture book format.

An absolutely stunning collaboration about an equally awe-inspiring collaboration.  Well recommended.

Ballet for Martha:Making Appalachian Spring.  Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illustrated by Brian Floca.  Roaring Brook Press, 2010.

1 comment:

  1. Now I want to get this for my library! AND I bet Emily would enjoy it too!