Two gorgeous new nonfiction books have won my heart, since they feature two of my most beloved subjects: dance and the redwood forest. (Not simultaneously -- although it is fun to dance in the forest, as long as you don't trip on a root or step on a banana slug.) I've been a dancer since I was reading picture books the first time, and I lived in the incomparable Pacific Northwest for six awesome years, so I'm tempted to feel as though these books were made just for me! They're so great, though, that I won't try to keep them to myself.
In celebration of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater's 50th Anniversary comes Valerie Gadstone's A Young Dancer: The Life of an Ailey Student. Like my worn copy of the ballet classic A Very Young Dancer by Jill Krementz, Gadstone's photographic dance memoir is actually not her own memoir, but that of thirteen-year-old Iman Bright. Iman describes her jam-packed, but passion-filled, schedule of school, violin practice, dance classes, rehearsals, and performances. Behind-the-scenes photographs taken in the studio and in the wings accompany Iman's words to give readers an understanding of life at this prestigious dance academy. The Alvin Ailey company will be performing in Boston at the Opera House from April 28th through May 3rd -- if you go, you might see me there! They'll also teach a children's dance workshop at the Blue Hill Boys and Girls Club on Wednesday, April 29; non-member prince is $10.
Redwoods by Jason Chin is a daring kind of nonfiction, managing a neat balance of metanarrative, nonfiction, and fantasy in the interplay between its informative text and breathtaking art. While the text presents straightforward facts about the redwood forest and its inhabitants, the illustrations tell a completely different, although intimately related, narrative. A boy riding the subway in New York City discovers a book called Redwoods (funnily enough, by Jason Chin) laying next to him on the seat. As he reads, imagery from the book comes to life around him, Jumanji-style (i.e. knights appear in nearby seats when he reads that redwood forests have been growing since medieval times). After the boy has come to the text's conclusion -- which finds him rappelling up an old-growth redwood surrounded by the wildlife he's been reading about -- he sits down for a rest and lays the book aside. Again, in true Jumanji fashion, it's only a matter of time before the book-within-the-book finds a new adventurer.
Branching out a little... (groan) Fuse #8 (of SLJ) linked to the blog of author/illustrator Carin Berger. Ever since the book club several of us CG staffers belong to voted The Little Yellow Leaf our Mock Caldecott Award winner, I've been looking forward to the next project from this talented artist. From the shots of Forever Friends-in-progress she's posted, I can't wait! Check out this breathtaking -- and not even quite finished -- image of a bird swooping down among blossoms to give a bunny a berry. Swoon.
By the way, have you ever tried cut paper illustration, a la Ms. Berger, Molly Bang, Leo Lionni, Eric Carle, or Steve Jenkins? It's not an undertaking for the faint of heart! It is a lot of fun, and many well-respected artists use the medium, even though it may not be what you think of first when you think "fine art" or "illustration." Nikki McClure, famous for her cut-paper art, has just illustrated her first picture book, All in a Day by Cynthia Rylant. If you'd like to give it a whirl, we have plenty of books and kits on paper art or discovering new art techniques.
Of course, whatever your passions are, we can help you find a great book or toy to help you explore them!