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Robert Abrams
Arts and Education
Book Reviews
Special Focus
Hip hop
Various Partner Dances
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Alphabet of Dance by Barbie Heit Schwaeber and Damian Ward

by Robert Abrams
June 21, 2010
This book highlights elements of dance:
sometimes styles and sometimes positions –
in that way, with also more types, it can be perhaps a little random.
But to say it puts my daughter in a trance
does not require many exaggerations:
I predict, pending more research, Alphabet of Dance will acquire quite a fandom.

Alphabet of Dance, a children's book by Barbie Heit Schwaeber and illustrated by Damian Ward, follows the time honored pattern of presenting the letters of the alphabet with one word that starts with each letter. The authors manage to fit in a fairly diverse range of styles and concepts in the space of 26 letters.

Most letters are given one page and periodically a letter gets a full two page spread. The design of the book strikes a nice balance between art and readability. For instance, the illustrations have crisp lines that make the figures easy to "read" while incorporating artistic flair. As much as I love photographs, there can also be a magic in representations that retain evidence of the brushstrokes that produced the images.

Each page has four lines of rhyming text that is also informative.

As I mentioned in the first paragraph of this review, the word choices in the book can at first seem a little random. Most of the words are names of dance styles, so the choice of "tap shoes" for the letter T, for instance, seems out of place at first. Why not "Two step" or simply "Tap dance"? But upon reflection, I don't mind the randomness: the book provides a good introduction to dance precisely because it offers a little of everything. The unexpected keeps dance fresh.

I also like the way Alphabet of Dance depicts multiple generations dancing together.

The book features a heavy cover stock front and back cover with glossy text paper in the interior, with a high quality binding that lies reasonably flat when opened to any given page. This is a good format for a slightly older child, or if an adult is turning the pages, but a board book would be welcome for younger kids who want to turn the pages themselves.

The book also includes a fold-out, detachable poster of the alphabet with small versions of the book's illustrations.

Alphabet of Dance isn't perfect. "L" implies that Line dancing is only done to Country-Western music. A more expansive idea of Line dancing is presented in the end note glossary, though. The only potentially serious problem I can see is in "S" which includes an illustration of a Salsa dip. In this illustration, the girl's lower leg and foot (of her grounded leg) is shown at an angle rather divergent from the rest of her body and from that of the boy holding her. I think she may be risking injury and her instructor ought to look into what may be causing this poor form. On the other hand, I didn't notice this until the tenth time I read the book. Maybe she is quite flexible.

Analysis by an adult will only take us so far when it comes to knowing whether an early childhood book will have an impact. There is no substitute for field testing.

I read Alphabet of Dance to my 21 month old daughter. Initially it took two sittings to get all the way through the book. In the next few days, she selected Alphabet of Dance herself, either to have me read it to her, or because she wanted to turn the pages herself. My daughter has a book collection that includes several formidable champions, such as Sandra Boynton and P.D. Eastman, and she tends to be choosy about what she wants to read when, so if she chooses a book more than once, as she did with Alphabet of Dance, that's about as strong as the evidence can get that a book brings good value to young readers. Alphabet of Dance passes this test.

Alphabet of Dance is published by Soundprints, an imprint of the Trudy Corporation, and in association with the Smithsonian Institution.
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