Sunday, January 16, 2011


First of all, I'd like to apologize for my six week blog silence.  I have been reading during the holidays, but frankly, I didn't read anything that really sparked my interest and made me want to write.  As the holidays continued, family events and a vacation with my little girls relegated quality reading to the back burner.  But I'm back with a few things to talk about.

The American Library Association's Youth Media Awards were announced almost a week ago.  When I was a librarian, I either attended the conference or watched the live webcast.  This year I was "watching" the awards via Twitter, frantically refreshing my phone while we were at an inflatable bounce palace with the girls.  So when I saw that Ship Breaker had won the Printz Award, everyone in the bounce house turned to look at me shrieking!  And then I heard that Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring won a Siebert honor...I've read some great books this year!  I'm looking forward to reading more of the award winners and sharing them with all of you.

At the beginning of December, I read Anita Silvey's article in the Boston Globe about her 10 favorite books of the year.  The picture book section included Brontorina by James Howe, which is about a dinosaur who yearns to be a ballerina.  A dinosaur?  A ballerina?  Those subjects are both high on Frances' favorites list right now, so I checked Brontorina out from our public library.

It all begins with a dream.  Brontorina, an enormous Apatosaurus, has a dream of being a ballerina.  Not the kind of dream you have while you are asleep, but the kind that you keep in your heart.  So she arrives at the door of Madame Lucille's Dance Academy.  The ballet students gather around while Brontorina explains her dream.  Like any classroom, there are naysayers ("She doesn't have the right shoes"), but there are other students who believe Brontorina can dance, and they convince Madame Lucille to accept her. 

As the story progresses, and Brontorina begins to dance, there is a wonderful synchronicity between text and illustration.  Some pages are more text-heavy, allowing the plot to move forward.  Then there are other spreads where the full page illustrations are allowed to shine, and information is given in dialogue.  For instance, as Madame Lucille begins to put the class through their exercises, the only words on the page are her commands.  The illustrations show the students correctly demonstrating the positions, including Brontorina.  But the dinosaur scrapes her head on the ceiling doing a jete, and comes perilously close to squishing students with her tail.  Brontorina can dance, but Madame Lucille finally, sadly, admits that Brontorina and ballet school do not mix.  But can the students come up with a solution?
While James Howe's text is wonderful, I really felt that Randy Cecil's illustrations were the star.  In a world where dinosaurs and humans co-exist, Cecil uses the dinosaur's perspective throughout the book.  Buildings soar above the small students, and in close-up shots, Brontorina is only partially visible.  The illustrations are luscious and awe-inspiring.  The textures in Cecil's paintings add richness, depth and a balance of light and shadow to these pages.  Most of the color palette Cecil chose is muted, allowing Brontorina (in a bright, eye-catching orange) to be the focus of each page.  I had been attracted to Cecil's friendly animals in We've All Got Bellybuttons! and the students and teacher here have the same expressive, fun faces.

In the end, Brontorina's dream is fulfilled.  All it takes is someone to believe in her dream, and some positive, creative problem solving.  This is a terrific collaboration, and I only wish that it had won some Caldecott love.

Brontorina.  James Howe, illustrated by Randy Cecil.  Candlewick Press, 2010.  borrowed from the Lewis & Clark Library.

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