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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova. Written by Laurel Snyder and illustrated by Julie Morstad. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. $22.99 ages 5 and up

"The story unfolds.
A sleeping beauty
opens her eyes
... and so does Anna.
Her feet wake up!
Her skin prickles.
There is a song,
suddenly, inside her.
Now Anna cannot sleep.
Or sit still ever."

How lovely! The words are spare, but the telling significant, in this book about the graceful, beautiful Russian ballerina. She was born into poverty, the child of a laundress in a country where there were few opportunities for the poor. Her life changed immeasurably on the evening she attended her first ballet. From that day forward, Anna dreamed of nothing but ballet.
She was so young; when her mother finally allowed her the chance to attend a boarding school for training, she was turned away. She was eight years old. She would wait (impatiently) for two additional years before acceptance to train ... and train hard.

"The work begins.
The work?
The work!

and down
and back and turn
and on and on
and to and fro
and third position!

Anna was not like the other girls. They were sturdy, she was slight. Her back was weak, her feet arched. All that did was make her more determined to dance! Her career was stellar, dancing 'the lead role in all the great ballets'. She travelled the world in the belief that 'ballet was for everyone'. She didn't need accolades. She danced for the love of it. She wanted other dreamers to know that the dream could be theirs ... and so, she taught. When a winter cold turned to pneumonia, and left her unable to perform, Pavlova was distraught. It was her first missed performance. With her untimely death, the world lost an inspirational artist and exceptional person.

This is a lovely, quiet story, enhanced by beautiful art created by Julie Morstad using ink, gouache, graphite, pencil, and crayon. Her setting is clear and detailed. She uses white backgrounds to focus on Pavlova and her love of dance, her elegance, and her determination to share that love throughout the world.

An author's note, a bibliography and quotation sources follow.

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