Dancing in the Wings
is written by Debbie Allen, a talented Hollywood choreographer and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, an award-winning artist.
In the story, Sassy is a young African-American aspiring ballerina with one problem…she believes she is too BIG for ballet! Her feet are humongous. She is a head taller than all the other girls in her class. She is too big for the male dancers to lift. So she resorts to backstage, dancing in the wings and waiting for her chance to be in the spotlight. She gets that chance when the legendary Mr. Denato arrives to select the most talented dancer to perform in a summer festival in Washington, D.C. Wearing a bright yellow leotard (instead of black like she was told) and standing tall in the front row, Sassy is determined to stand out at the audition.
Author Debbie Allen delivers a message of inner beauty and self-esteem that is not too preachy. The only issue I had was the negative put-downs by the children in this book. Sassy’s older brother, Hughie and his friends, teases her about her big feet. Sassy comes back with comments about his big forehead. Two gossip girls in her ballet class, Molly and Mona, talk about her height, feet, and supposedly lack of talent. I’m a teacher and a parent, so I am not naïve about how cruel kids can be. Put-downs, dissin', checkin', the dozens (whatever you want to call it) are a fact of life, especially (and unfortunately) in elementary school. Perhaps by including them in her book, Allen intends to show readers how horrible they sound when they tease each other and that they need to accept others without making fun of them. I suggest you read the book and decide for yourself.
About the Author
Debbie Allen is an American actress, choreographer, television director, and television producer. She is probably best known for her role as Lydia Grant in the hit 1982 television program Fame.
About the Illustrator
Kadir Nelson is a two-time Caldecott Honor Award winner. He has illustrated several books including Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom
by Carole Boston Weatherford and He's Got the Whole World in His Hands
written by Nelson himself.
For another fine book about ballet, try To Dance: A Ballerina's Graphic Novel
by Siena Cherson Siegel (click on link below to read review).