My 3 year old has discovered ballet and just like I was at her age she is in love. I took ballet for close to a decade and like many women who went through it have very mixed feelings about introducing it to my own daughter. What I am not apprehensive about is reading books about ballet with her. These books let her explore ballet before ever stepping foot into a studio. Do you have a child who loves ballet? Do they have a favorite picture book that I didn’t include? Share the title in comments and we can keep this list growing.
Dancing in the Wings by Debbie Allen is about more than ballet, it’s about overcoming being different, accepting your body and even standing up for yourself. Sassy is tall. She’s too tall to partner with the boys in her ballet studio. She sticks out like a sore thumb. When a chance to audition for a summer ballet program in Washington D.C. arises other dancers in her studio make her doubt her talent. So often adults are able to see how awkward and different children are really striking and unique but getting the child to see that can be impossible. This book is all about a child discovering that different isn’t bad. And that those differences are all she needs to stand out in a great way. It was a little long for my daughter who is 3 but she sat the whole time enjoying it all the same.
Degas and the Little Dancer by Laurence Anholt is the story behind Edgar Degas’s Little Dancer sculpture. This book resonated with me because I already know and love the sculpture. While living in St.Louis I would often walk to the art museum and visit her. The book would be perfect to pair with a lesson about the art work, after a visit to see it ( there are many bronze copies of the original wax sculpture around the globe) or for other children who can make the connection. My kids were not nearly as engaged with the book as they could have been with more personal history. I loved it though.
Ballerino Nate by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is on my must-buy list. I don’t say that often, especially with such a great public library, but this book is wonderful. Nate is a little boy who after seeing a ballet school production with his class at school, decides he too wants to take ballet. Of course, his older brother has something to say, and say and say. Nate is pretty confident with the help of his parents, that boys can take ballet. I love that Nate wants to dance but he hates the idea that he might have to wear pink. Clearly pink is not a good thing to him, he just wants to dance.
What I love about this book as a woman who spent more than her fair share of time in ballet, is that it depicts boy dancers well. The stereotype of a “sissy” doesn’t often fit and I knew many boys that danced that were masculine and graceful. I encourage parents of boys and girls to read this, to open our kids’ horizons to be interested in whatever their heart desires, not to what older brothers, neighbors or anyone else tells them to be.
Katy Duck Is a Caterpillar by Alyssa Satin Capucilli is a story about things not working out the way you expect, but finding out they are even better! Katy Duck loves to dance, and she loves the spring! When her dance school puts together a spring recital she is disappointed. Each part she imagined she’d have is given to another student. Katy is given the part of the Caterpillar. She is horrified, caterpillars squirm, they don’t dance. Of course, caterpillars turn into butterflies and this one is no exception. Katy shines even if she has to crawl first.
Ballet Kitty: Ballet Class by Bernadette Ford is one book in a series of cute ballet books for young children. My daughter loves this book and I do too. The story is about three kittens that are off to ballet class. Ginger Tom, the only boy, is not excited about the class. The two girl kittens tease him a little for being in his sneakers instead of the ballet slippers he is refusing to wear. In the end, everyone has fun at ballet and is excited about going back together next week. I like it because it addresses the fact that most young kids see ballet as an activity for girls but simply says it’s for boys too.
Indescribably Arabella by Jane Gilbert is an interesting story about embracing our talents and being who we are not some cookie cutter idea of perfection. Arabella wants to be famous but she gets turned down and discouraged by her art teacher, her acting coach, and her ballet teacher all because she is a little different. Her heart is there. Her passion for the arts is there. But she just won’t make a famous artist, actress or ballerina. After a pep talk with an older couple she sees that she has something better than perfection, she is unique.
Brontorina by James Howe is possibly one of my new favorite books on the planet. It’s not a new book but I have never read it before. My daughter loved it and while the lesson about creating inclusive environments went over her head the lesson about being true to yourself and doing something that has never been done before didn’t. The story is about a dinosaur who wants to be a ballerina. While a studio initially allows her to dance, it’s clear that she is just too big. The story doesn’t end there. With some help from friends who support her dream, they find a way to include everyone.
Bea at Ballet by Rachel Isadora is another gem. This book explains what happens at a ballet class for the very littlest dancers. I love the variety of little dancers in this book, their little toddler bellies, and all the little details. My daughter so badly wants to take ballet. This book was great to help answer her questions about what happens in a ballet class for someone her age. A great book for 2-to-4-year-olds.
Lili on Stage by Rachel Isadora. This book would be the perfect gift for a child going to see the Nutcracker at Christmas. This book takes readers through what being in a professional production of The Nutcracker is like for a young child and it’s spot on. My sister was in a professional production of The Nutcracker two years in a row. Even though it was over 25 years ago this book jogged so many memories of what she did before during and after the production. This book was way over my younger daughter’s head. Children 4 and older who are into ballet would absolutely love it.
Not Just Tutus by Rachel Isadora was disappointing. This book has a long rhyming text that put me kinda on edge. I think the author was trying to give a realistic view of ballet. But talking about the bunions, the blisters, and describing a dancer who is thin, tall and pretty as “having it all” stopped me from sharing it with my daughter. I am very cautious about what I say and do with my daughter as far as body image goes. I am very much on the fence about introducing ballet to her because of body image issues I have from my ballet experience. So all that baggage coupled with the text came together to leave a bad taste in my mouth. Maybe without that baggage, you wouldn’t even see the text as negatively as I did but I can’t say I like a book I didn’t.
Ella Bella Ballerina and Cinderella by James Mayhew. In this version of Cinderella, a little ballerina named Ella magically goes from ballet class into the fairytale. She meets the fairy godmother, Cinderella, and even tags along to the ball. She plays an important role when she takes Prince Charming to Cinderella after they become separated at midnight. I like this book because it celebrates ballet and fairy tales. But somehow, keeps it from preaching to little girls about becoming the princess. The illustrations are beautiful. They make me want to sit on the red chairs of a theater as the house lights dim, and the orchestra begins.
Tallulah’s Tutu by Marilyn Singer is one of many Tallulah ballet books. I love these books and my daughter will grab them and sit through about 3/4. They are just too long for her right now. This is the first book in this series and I can recommend all of them. The story is about Tallulah who is eager to be a ballerina, mostly because she really wants to wear a tutu. Who can blame her? Tutus are rad. She heads off to ballet class and is sure that the tutu is on its way. For whatever reason, she thinks that a tutu is given to dancers for a great performance in class like a medal. She tries so hard but when the tutu never arrives she decides that ballet isn’t worth her time.
I love this book because of all the things ballet gave me as a child, its lasting gift has been discipline. In a roundabout way, Tallulah learns that ballet isn’t about the sparkles and tulle and instead is about effort and achievement. Great lesson for us all.
Ballerina! by Peter Sis is a simple and wonderful book about a little dancer’s fanciful visions of herself as a wonderful ballerina in various costumes. The costumes all come from famous ballets but young readers will just see a dancer playing dress-up. My daughter loved the book and its simple illustrations.
Hilda Must Be Dancing by Karma Wilson is a lovely story about a big hippo that loves to dance, although her neighbors aren’t as keen. See Hilda is big and when she dances she shakes and rattles everything. It’s noisy and disruptive and is making her friends very angry. They suggest that she try new hobbies, but knitting and singing won’t do. It’s simply not in her heart, Hilda needs to move and groove! I love that a solution is found that makes everyone happy, that Hilda doesn’t have to give up her passion, but that she isn’t so selfish as to simply say “too bad” to her friends either.This post contains affiliate links.