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The Story of Degas' ``The Little Dancer''

by Amy Littlesugar & illustrated by Ian Schoenherr

Age Range: 6 & up

Pub Date: Sept. 10th, 1996
ISBN: 0-399-22794-6
Publisher: Philomel

 The question of how it might have felt to pose for the famous Monsieur Degas is considered in Littlesugar's story. Schoenherr's lovely, rich full-color illustrations copy the style of Degas's pastel ballet studies, bringing the artist's studio and era to life. The text is more socially conscious than aesthetically pleasing, e.g., Marie is called a ``rat'' rather than ``petit rat,'' the more affectionate appellation for beginning dancers, and the sentence that ``she danced as hard as the main ballet girls'' falls flat. The tale, however, is both imaginative and realistic, incorporating Degas's reputation for being demanding with his models and the working class origins of many of the dancers at the Paris Opera. Here, Marie von Goethem's mother is a laundress, and her father is a tailor. While Marie poses for what will be the sculpture known as ``The Little Dancer,'' she is not exhausted, for Degas gives her imagination flight, helping her to become a better dancer. The idea is charming and balances nicely with the reality: Many dancers lived in obscurity, unsung except for Degas's immortalization of moments they spent backstage or in the chorus. An unusual, thoughtful look behind the scenes in both the performing and visual arts, this is a comely story that will be useful in curricula. (Picture book. 6+)