This ode to dancer Janet Collins showcases her diverse talents as well as her achievements.
“These are the costumes / her dear mama made. / Costumes for lessons— / that’s how they paid.” With spare rhymes and “The House That Jack Built” rhythm, the words tell of the ups and downs of Janet Collins’ dancing life, from her precocious youth through her arrival as the first African-American prima ballerina at the Metropolitan Opera in 1951. Each spread highlights an item or people who had a role in spurring her on to success, from her pointe shoes to her family, from the dance school that turned black dancers away to the day she was accepted in a dance company only to be told she would have to paint her skin white to blend in. Collins danced Spanish and other ethnic styles and finally found a ballet class that welcomed her. “This is the dancer / who went back for more / when her tender toes ached / and her muscles felt sore.” The digital illustrations have the look of pen drawings, rendering a graceful dancer’s body with glowing brown skin and a self-possessed face. After the passion and hard work she displayed throughout the story, the final spread feels triumphant: Collins smiles at the audience with roses at her feet on the stage.
A celebration of one black woman’s achievements that underscores the passion and purpose that the human spirit has to offer. (author’s note, sources, websites) (Picture book/biography. 3-8)