Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Dance Like Starlight by Kristy Dempsey

A Dance Like Starlight by Kristy Dempsey, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Rating: 5 stars

I'll get right to the moral of this story: Dreams do come true.

Don't you just love it already?

Meet one little girl--a little black girl--growing up in the 1960s who wants, more than anything, to be a ballerina.  Her mother works at the ballet school; she cleans and sews costumes there. She is heartbreakingly close to where she wants to be, but is not allowed in. (Do they not have the money? Or is it because black students are not allowed? Dempsey never says, though I infer the latter.) This little girl tries on the costumes, and twirls around and around, practicing moves she's seen but not been taught in the fanciest of all fancy costumes. She wishes on stars and cradles hope for her dream to come true.
"Brava, ma petit," he told me.

One day, while waiting in the wings with her mother during a show, this little girl dances the entire dance, having memorized it from the wings.  The Ballet Master sees her, watches her. When she finishes, he cups her face with his wise, white hands and says, "Brava, ma petite. Brava."

Her hope grows a little.  In Dempsey's words, "That's when hope picked my dream up from the floor of my heart, and it started growing."

The Ballet Master made an arrangement for this little girl to dance in the back of the class each day, one black girl behind many white girls.  But all have the same dream: to become a prima ballerina.

Then one day, her mother tells her that it has happened. The first African American has become a prima ballerina at the Metropolitan Opera House! Her mother scrapes up the money for the two of them to go, to watch Miss Janet Collins on opening night.

It's like she's dancing for me, showing me who I can be.
This one little girl in the audience stands to applaud and yell "Brava!" at the top of her lungs and her hope soars just like Miss Janet Collins soars across the stage.

This is a beautiful book in many ways.  I love the simple story of a little girl dream that might become true, and I love how she works hard for her dream, and doesn't give up on herself. I love how her hope grows and grows and grows throughout the story.

If there is a little dancer in your family, I hope this book finds its way to a shelf near her (or him!).

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