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Robert Abrams
Arts and Education
Book Reviews

The Barefoot Book of Dance Stories and The Barefoot Book of Ballet Stories by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple

by Robert Abrams
June 15, 2011
I received The Barefoot Book of Dance Stories, written by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple with illustrations by Helen Cann and story CD by Juliet Stevenson, and The Barefoot Book of Ballet Stories, written by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple with illustrations by Rebecca Guay and story CD by Juliet Stevenson. The Barefoot Book of Dance Stories retells eight traditional stories that feature dance. The Barefoot Book of Ballet Stories retells six stories that are the foundation of well known classical story ballets.

The illustrations are exquisite. Each illustrator has a different style and each is wonderful in her own way. In Ballet Stories, the illustrations have a lush, painterly, slightly pastel feel to them. Dance Stories have a drawing, watercolor feel. I know the illustrations get their job done because when I was reading Ballet Stories on the airplane to the Dance Critics Association conference, a person two seats over from me noticed them and asked to look at the book. She turned out to be a professor of children's literature. She remarked on the books with approval.

I found all of the text to be accessible and about the right length. It was long enough to give a sense of the richness of each story, but short enough to fit into a busy life. I found myself wondering what was the difference between this version and the originals, enough so that I might seek out the originals and read those too. It is always a good sign when a book leads you to want to read more.

The text is fairly detailed, so these books would be appropriate for an older child, tween, teenager or adult. I could also envision reusing the illustrations with much reduced text to create new books that might also be effective for younger children.

One of dance's main problems is the difficulty of telling stories in an art form without words. Dance often does a good job with the emotional direction, but picking up the details of the plot can be difficult if you do not already know the story. My feeling is that Ballet Stories will be a useful aid to read either before or after seeing one of these ballets. Ballet Stories will likely enhance your experience of the live performance. Dance Stories would likely do the same if these stories are presented as live dances, and if they have not been so presented to date, at least a few of them ought to be choreographed.

There is much to discuss regarding the details of the stories, such as "He's picking a wife how?", and I have not had a chance to listen to the audio CDs that are included with each book, but for now, having read both books from cover to cover, I have seen enough to recommend them.

You can find out more about Barefoot Books at www.barefootbooks.com.
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