Monday, April 4, 2011

Miss Lina's Ballerinas

I chose this book at our local library because I knew it would interest Frances.  Frances and her group of girl friends saw The Nutcracker in December, and are going to see a ballet production of Cinderella in May.  And while Frances would usually prefer to select her own books on our library trips, she agreed to this one right away.  It's easy to see why just from the cover - eight little ballerinas gesture gracefully at the framed title, all rendered in appealing shades of pink.

The plot and interior illustrations are equally appealing.  This is the story of the eight young ballerinas who spend their days at Miss Lina's school - Christina, Edwina, Sabrina, Justina, Katrina, Bettina, Marina and Nina (whew!).  They dance in four groups of two and spend the rest of their day in the same way.  From the zoo to the beach to their local grocery store, the girls dance joyfully through their day.  But then Miss Lina welcomes a new student (named of course, Regina) to their school, and the rest of the ballerinas are thrown off-kilter.  How will they solve the problem and continue to dance in step with nine ballerinas?

Maccarone has combined two important themes for young girls in this story - friendship and ballet.  Ballet language is used naturally within the text, and the girls are also shown executing the named steps.  At the end of the story there is a short list of the ballet terms with pronunciations (for unsure parents) and a one-word definition.  The natural combination of the terms within the text and the illustrations of those steps may spur interested readers to continue exploring ballet.  The friendship theme is also crucial to the young child - the eight original ballerinas are thrown off by the change and are not welcoming to Regina.  It takes a little guidance from Miss Lina to solve the problem and make the dance troupe successful.  There is also a hint of math for astute readers as the girls struggle to divide themselves into even lines.

One of the things I like best about this book is that it is a natural, infectious read-aloud.  The bouncy rhythm suits the characters perfectly.  Even just saying all the ballerinas' names (Christina, Edwina, Sabrina, Justina, Katrina, Bettina, Marina and Nina) starts you dancing along.  If I wasn't already reading it aloud, I would have grabbed my girls within the first few pages just so I could say the words aloud.  The lilting prose has strong end-rhymes, something I find important for a successful read-aloud.  It is hard to read a book aloud when the words either don't fit the rhyme scheme or the author has to use words that might not be the best choice because it rhymes.  None of that happens in this story.

The color choices in the book are also superb.  The pages' creamy color makes the ballerinas' pink tutus pop.  The color palette is striking and rich.  In one illustration, the dancers are shown at the zoo, and while the prevalent color is the green of the trees surrounding the elephant enclosure.  However, the ballerinas use the railing as a barre in the foreground, and your eyes are drawn to their bubble-gum pink dresses as they dance.  My only complaint is that the artist's medium isn't identified in the prefatory material, so I'm not exactly sure what she used to create these energetic illustrations.

One of the other things that I enjoyed about the picture book is its resemblance to Madeline.  After all, there are the young girls, dressed identically, dancing in straight lines.  There is the willowy dance teacher, guiding them much like Miss Clavel.  And the easy to read rhymes sing along, just like when you read Madeline.  It is a pleasant connection, subtle, but leaving a smile on your face.

We all loved this book in our family, and the girls' names have been a constant refrain in my head all week long.  Well-done, fun and perfect for any little girl in your life.

Miss Lina's Ballerinas.  Grace Maccarone; illustrated by Christine Davenier.  Feiwel and Friends, 2010.

borrowed from Lewis & Clark Library

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