"review" · Children's · Picture book · recommend

a book on ballet

30 DAYS OF PB 2013 aDay Twenty-One: Tallulah’s Tutu

by Marilyn Singer, illus. by Alexandra Boiger.

Clarion Books, 2011

Tallulah is convinced that she will be a great ballerina, all she needs is a tutu. Her mother thinks that perhaps lessons wouldn’t hurt, and so Tallulah goes to ballet class. Things go well until she discovers getting that tutu is going to take longer than she thinks.

Tallulah's Tutu cover Boiger

This picture book is timely as I am just home from a dance performance at Natalya’s school. A benefit to having a child in an art school is that school programs are incredible. A big reason why they are so great is that these artists is that they are dedicated to their craft, they understand the value of hard work and put in the time–they’ve learned what Tallulah must in Tallulah’s Tutu: you have to work to become great in your craft. She has to earn that tutu. And she has to focus. She needs to mind her teacher. The merging of fantasizing and the reality of the work is portrayed in a way that argues for the balance of the two.

tallulahs tutu page

And after all: Tallulah is Tallulah. [oh, but I do love that name.]

Marilyn Singer also captures how the artist isn’t just in it for the daydream ambitions of greatness. Their art is in their blood–and like Tallulah demonstrates, it saturates every part of your life; she sees ballet everywhere.

TallulahsTutu_2nd pass-large (1)

I realized that I’ve been reading a lot of spare text picture books of late, so the switch to longer sentences and paragraphs, and she said, her teacher said, Tallulah said to herself, it was an adjustment. Fortunately, Alexandra Boiger provides plenty of visual interest to accompany all the text.

This is one of those books for the dancer in the family. Singer touches on the vocab, the positions, and Boiger illustrates them. Your dancer will love to show them off as you narrate.


I picked up Tallulah’s Tutu for her name, and my growing familiarity with Alexandra Boiger’s work. It’s pretty and fun. She has a delicate way without diminishing presence. I really enjoy the way she handles the illustrations of what Tallulah is imagining. The thoughts are very much a part of her landscape. When she “sees” ballet everywhere, it is, somewhat normalized (yet not lost) in the setting. That ballerina in tutu she sees in the mirror is there, that truck broken down in New Jersey is broken down.

There are three more Tallulah books in the series, Tallulah’s Tutu being the first book: Tallulah’s Solo (2012) and Tallulah’s Toe-Shoes (2013)–and the very newest, Tallulah’s Nutcracker. I don’t know if I will get to these, but it isn’t because I didn’t enjoy the first book. I love the illustrator, the lesson is a good one, and Tallulah is a delight.

If you have a young dancer who is dreaming and just starting out. This is a good book to read together.


Another children’s ballet series to consider: Angelina Ballerina by Katherine Holabird. check out Krystin Crow’s Zombelina and Molly Idle’s Flora and the Flamingo.  For your older gradeschooler: Angelfish by Laurence Yep; Noel Streatfield’s Ballet Shoes (and series); Middle-school+, Natalya loves Bunheads by Sophie Flack

{images belong to Alexandra Boiger}

"review" · Children's · concenter · Illustrator · Picture book · poet-related · recommend

{illustrator} LeUyen Pham (pt 2)

Yesterday I posted a bit of what I learned about LeUyen Pham. Today I am looking at a few of the picture books she illustrated.

A Stick is an Excellent Thing: Poems Celebrating Outdoor Play by Marilyn Singer (Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012).

Marilyn Singer, a renowned poet, offers 18 poems involving outdoor play with games like double-dutch, hop-scotch, monkey in the middle, and swinging on the swings. What I loved was how this is not a collection of poems that excludes the urban landscape with its expanse of pavement, sidewalks, stoops, and diverse population. The poems vary, and some were more difficult for me to read aloud than others (more to do w/ my pronunciation, no doubt). My favorite poem was “Upside Down” and the book closes rather sweetly with “Stargazing.”

The images echo the energy in the poems; there is always movement. The skin tones are warm and the clothes vibrant against the colorful backdrops which project the idea of landscape onto the children themselves. They are where the action, the creativity, the relationships take place. They are unleashed upon the out-of-doors, walking on edges (in “Edges”) and running and chasing and crashing (in “Really Fast”). There is something classic in the images, old Golden Books come to mind. I’m not sure how intentional this is, but it is brings a certain nostalgia for old school outdoor play and the carefree summers running about the neighborhood (or ‘hood in “Hopscotch”) with your friends. But as the reviewer for School Library Journal points out, LeUyen Pham gives the book a modern seasoning to its nostalgia eliminating the all-white cast and putting girls on skateboards and placing jump-ropes in boys’ hands. Although, no one seems interested in demystifying the hopscotch fascination with girls.

[stick rumpus]

I noticed the lack of scrapes or band-aids, and Library School Journal questions the cleanliness and glow of the imagery in the illustrations and poetry. Monkey in the Middle can be fair, and splashing in the gutters isn’t a health hazard. The spirit of it is good though, and will no doubt be avoided by helicopter parents. I am hoping that librarians are putting this one on the end-caps and at eye-level, maybe above a nice pile of sticks.

A fantastic review by School Library Journal.


Once Around the Sun: Poems by Bobbi Katz (Harcourt Books, 2006)

In her 12 poems dedicated to each month on the calendar, Bobbi Katz subjects seasonal objects to personification in the most delightful ways. My favorite poem, and the first, “January” wishes the “sled would stop whispering “one more time” and once—just once—pull you back up that hill! The poems and the illustrations bring people together. “Grandma tells you how each spring she falls in love with the world all over again—and you understand” (“April”). It is multi-cultural, multi-generational, mult-geographical (love the urban inclusions) experience.


I enjoyed how in Marilyn Singer’s A Stick is an Excellent Thing, LeUyen Pham uses a cast of characters throughout, but I also enjoy her following a boy who has a little sister and a mom and dad and a dog and a grandmother) through Once Around the Sun. The child-oriented contemplations of the months and what they mean or bring seem suited to a singular character. The choice also allows for the illustrator to adapt the mood each poem brings more readily. The little boy becomes a thread and a joy.

see the story in this textless image that accompanies “September” on the facing page? New backpack being noticed, crisp clean (new) white shirt (that won’t say that way)…

I adore the color-work, and while it has a tinge of nostalgia, Katz and Pham are creating a sentimentality all their own, and in the present.


{from Freckleface Strawberry: Best Friends Forever}

Freckleface Strawberry was checked out so I ended up with two of the following books. LeUyen Pham told “Seven Impossible Things before Breakfast,” this about the experience:

Freckleface Strawberry (Bloomsbury Books), by Julianne Moore […] was great to do. Julie apparently was sent several artists’ work to select from, and she loved the book Big Sister, Little Sister I had done a couple years ago. She’s the sweetest person, and really let me go at it with the character. In fact, she even asked me to cover the little girl in freckles — initially, I was shy about putting too many dots on her! Contrary to popular opinion, I never saw pictures of Julie as a child. My editor and Julie were pretty adamant about the fact that the character should just come from my imagination. I was pretty surprised afterward to discover that the little girl I had drawn looks almost exactly like Julie’s daughter!”

Freckleface Strawberry and the Dodgeball Bully by Julianne Moore (Bloomsbury, 2009).

This is one of those rare bully stories these days where the bully isn’t actually a bully. Much of the mistaken identity is attributed to the power of the imagination—perceiving the big strong kid as a bully and the dodgeball as something that is out to seriously harm you. –but isn’t it though? We had mornings where Natalya felt the same kind of dread, hoping against all odds they would not be playing dodgeball. The book does not downplay the existence of bullies or monsters or even fear, and it doesn’t downplay the role of the imagination on a person’s life.

Freckleface Strawberry’s thought the ball would hurt, and had avoided play with Windy Pants Patrick. She also thought she could become a monster, practicing her role at the back while the game was being played. She imagined herself to be strong and fierce and agile. The power of the imagination can work for and against you.

The story has some lovely rhythmic moments. The sentences are as declarative as the expressions on Freckleface Strawberry’s face—no, her whole body. LeUyen Pham fluidly sketches a distinct personality into the character. There is this beautiful moment where Freckleface Strawberry is curled into herself a bit in dread, and in some memory of a wince—already anticipating the sting of the ball. She hadn’t left the house yet. I don’t know if the Monster is in previous books, but I adore its appearance here. Her imagination is projected into a looming shadow of a Monster behind her, echoing her movements—until at last it goes to tip-toe away, anxious, too, about Windy Pants Patrick and the dodgeball. With Moore’s dramatic tension and Pham’s ability to create dimension we arrive at the moment of truth with the same sentiment to which Freckleface Strawberry comes—“Oh!” I love learning the lessons alongside the character, and Moore plays off common misperceptions and worry well to deliver a nice turn. Pham artfully brings the inner workings to the page. It is a lovely partnership.

Freckleface Strawberry: Best Friends Forever by Julianne Moore (Bloomsbury, 2011).

First thoughts: Could this book be any sweeter? I love it. Windy Pants Patrick is back as Freckleface Strawberry’s best friend. The other kids thought they were too different to be best friends, let alone friends. So even though it was their differences (from others) that brought them together (both being odd sizes, having nicknames, and families who love them, loving to read and eat lunch), their differences viewed differently, however, could keep them apart. Classic scenarios where boys don’t play with girls and vice versa ala “boys stink.” Each gender and height and interest and family make-up has its own place—so they really don’t have enough in common. Except they do. And it is a nice aspect to the story how they drift apart and drift back together again. While the reader/listener understands social dynamics and has probably witnessed or experienced the story themselves, we are rooting for the friendship—and likely inspired.

The story feels too real to be message-y. It is another snapshot from Freckleface Strawberry’s life and again it just resonates. I would have loved to have read these to N when she was younger. Moore and Pham offer very relevant, if not strictly entertaining work. Fortunately, Natalya isn’t too grown-up to read picture books and found Freckleface Strawberry charming and fun—and familiar.

The presentation of the book is fun and colorful, but not overwhelming—simply stated and straightforward in language and illustration; and yet the texture is there. While Pham provides more color and setting, I thought about Ian Falconer’s Olivia and how much of an impact an inked figure of a pig in a tutu could have. There is no mistaking the driving force in the text and images in either Olivia or Freckleface Strawberry.


LeUyen Pham’s site.

{All images belong to her and their respective publishers}

"review" · Children's · fiction · Illustrator · juvenile lit · non-fiction · Picture book · poet-related · recommend

“The word, gentleman, is a public concern of the first importance.”

The word is dada.

Hugo Ball in costume for reciting a sound poem, 1916, Zurich.

The second time I took a course on Modern British Literature (not because I failed the first), we were again required to present some one or some thing that was contextually relevant to the life&times we were studying. I chose to present on Dada. No, I didn’t listen to Sean and wear a big lobster claw or some other ridiculously Dada Iconic costume. Conforming wasn’t the idea. Besides, I thought my slides were enough. And I wanted people to be able to leave with some concept of Dada, if not a sliver of understanding. Also, my grade depended on coherence and I looked strange enough trying to present anyway. Dada may seem fairly simple in execution, but it is not easily explained. Not when Why? is a reflexive inquiry.

Researching Dada was a lot of fun! Sean was an awesome help as he is an Artist and has learned his Art History. And as an Architect, there was more. We had the best conversations on that which led up to the movements and that which led away. And while this was great geeky fun, it was also necessary because Dada is not easy. Dadaists may seem silly, and often dismissed out of hand, but the dada were serious, “And while we put on a show of being facile, we are actually searching for the central essence of things, and are pleased if we can hide it. […] DADA is neither madness, nor wisdom, nor irony, look at me, dear bourgeois” (Tristan Tzara, in one of his 7 Dada Manifestos in 1918).

[I am by no means an expert on Dada, and I feel my grasp is fairly tenuous at best.  I thought some background was best as I read the following book a bit critically as I am not completely unfamiliar with Shelley Jackson’s subject.]


I am not writing this book to get famous but to give you some tips on living./Listen, kiddo: sometimes you stare at a black dot for an hour and nothing happens./But sometimes it gets up and walks across the floor./ I like bugs. /What I’m trying to say is, Pay attention and expect the best.~Mimi’s Dada Catifesto

Mimi’s Dada Catifesto by Shelley Jackson

Clarion Books, 2010.

hardcover, 48 pages. Picture Book, ages 6 & up

Mimi is an artistic cat in need of a human. But for a cat like her—with the soul of an artist—only an artist will do. Mr. Dada is a human who believes that art can be anything, and that anything can be art. And for a human like him—with the soul of a Dadaist—only an artistic pet will do. Sometimes, though, it takes a while for humans to see what’s right in front of them all along. So it is a good thing that Mimi is loud and silly and surprising and bold. Mimi is a Dada cat, through and through.

This charming story about staying true to yourself sparkles with playful prose and stunning mixed-media illustrations while introducing readers to the Dadaist art movement. ~Publisher’s Comments

I saw Shelley Jackson’s Mimi’s Dada Catifesto face out on a Library display. I was intrigued as to how Dada would do in a children’s picture book. However would the author/illustrator introduce the Reader to Dada, let alone explain what Dada was/is? The answer: some necessary use of oversimplification, and a marvelous “Author’s Note” at the end.

“This is a Dadaist book, and so, like the Dadaists, I borrowed from many famous works of art to make it.” If it were allowed, I think a photocopied set of pages of a first book constructed out of images and other found objects would have been brilliant. As it is, I think Shaun Tan in the construction of this book as well as Jennifer Bryant’s A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams, which is no insult, of course.

Speaking of William Carlos Williams, while certainly regarded as one of the greatest, if not the greatest American Modernist Poet, I was surprised to see a poem inspired by “This Is Just to Say” in a book about Dada, especially when the poem was written in 1934 and the Dada were declared “dead” in 1923 by the Surrealists (a few of whom had been Dada). Yes, yes, I know Dada is not “dead” for plenty. It just—it is not the same. And I acknowledge the fact I am arguing with a children’s picture book**; one I am just glad someone attempted and pulled off. Who wants to dwell on the depressing historical context, let alone share it with a child? Not Shelley Jackson, and not most of the parents who wouldn’t pick up this book, and not most of the parents who would.

Jackson is looking for accessibility and this illustrated piece is that, whether the Reader is a child or adult.  In the “Author’s Note” Jackson walks the Reader back through the book, enumerating her sources, “Mimi’s art show was inspired by Marcel Duchamp, who invented the “ready-made,” “The costumes of Mr. Dada and his friend are inspired by Hugo Ball’s costumes.” A passion and a lively sense of humor lift from the text and artwork. Mimi’s Dada Catifesto is a fun book.

In addition to a narrative, an artistic cat looking to live alongside an artistic human, Jackson inserts games and activities. Count the peas on a page, host a “ready-made” exhibit, and create a poem from clipped-out words. Ideally, someone would have marked in this Library book already, have already pasted their bits of cut-out words to form a poem on the appropriate page. And then the next Reader should paste over a few words and add some at weird angles between the already there. Yes, I am very definitely tempted.



“The world was full of silly things in 1915, just like now (umbrellas! bow ties! false teeth!), but most art ignored the silliness. To the Dadaists, that was the silliest thing of all.”*

Dada is in many ways suited to the young audience Jackson is targeting. Apparently silliness abounds, from the sound poems to the costumes to the raucous performances to the indecipherability of action. The assertions that “art can be anything and anything can be art” to “They thought that when you understand something, you stop thinking about it. Not understanding is much more interesting,” to “The Dadaists made art out of everything. Pieces of newspapers, ads, junk they found on the street—even other works of art.” Jackson examples Marcel Duchamp’s 1919 parody of da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, notably ignoring the added inscription and it’s coarse implication. What an exciting idea, though, right? Art within reach, Art without criticism, while being criticism. Anyone can be a dada. “Many cats are Dadaists.”

In this beautifully ambitious picture book, Shelley Jackson creates a fun introduction to Dada. She begins with beginners and pairs dadaist venues with a sweet story. Not unlike the cat, Dada is also looking for a place to belong. It is a stray beast, a bold and sassy figure, who finds the sacrifices for the sake of integrity and dignity well worth the while. Mimi is told as long as she behaves 1, 2, & 3, all will be well (i.e. purr; look cute; don’t wash your behind while they’re watching). She cannot compromise. There is something at stake. Dada was her response. Dada is her voice.

If you are looking for an unusual subject for an informative yet narrative-driven picture book, especially within the realm of Art, Mimi’s Dada Catifesto is a must. Even if you aren’t, do give Shelley Jackson marvelous little creation a chance. This one would be fun to own, collaborate with, and lend out to friends to make their own additions; then perhaps a soiree? We can deal with the historical, the political, contexts later.


*does the use of “silliness” come across as a bit saccharine to you too? that is, if you are familiar with what was going on.

**In the Author’s Note,” Jackson writes, “Nobody could agree about what Dada meant, and nobody really understood Dada—not even the Dadaists!” This could be seen as convenient, argumentatively, but that doesn’t make it any less true. I like Jackson’s boldness and ingenuity in tackling  this Art Movement, and to good review.

Do check out this review by the wonderful blog “7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast”

I mentioned I thought the “Author’s Note” very good, Jackson also includes a list of resources under “More About Dada;” books, websites, and audio cds. She includes Matthew Gale’s Dada and Surrealism (Phaidon Press, 1997) which I also found to be a brilliant resource.

>The quote in the title is the last line of Hugo Ball’s 1916 Dada Manifesto, which was read at the first public Dada soiree in Zurich on July 14, 1916. I just love the way it resonates; of course, especially in light of that which comes before it.