Rating: 5 Stars
I must start out by saying that Misty Copeland is amazing. Watching her dance, to see her perform Firebird live, is one of the greatest things I have ever witnessed in my life time and I was so lucky to be able to experience that with my four and a half year old daughter, who also loves to spin and twirl and be a ballerina. This past week Misty and ABT, along with the St Louis Symphony, were at the University of Nebraska. On Tuesday Misty spoke at the EN Thompson Forum on World Issues, discussing her career and the lack of diversity within classical ballet. It was there that I picked up this copy of Firebird for my little ballerina and we have read it so many times since that night - and we have not even owned it for a whole week!
While Misty's own story is incredible - she did not start ballet until she was 13. She is the first African-American woman in history to become a principal dancer in the 75 year history with ABT. This is a HUGE accomplishment in an art form that is by and large very, very white. Even keeping in mind Copeland's own experiences, this book is for ALL who have a goal or a dream, regardless of race.
The story is of a young girl who is discouraged, unsure of herself but almost certain she can not follow in Copeland's footsteps. But Copeland herself tells snippets of her own journey in text that is both lyrical and meandering, leaping off the page. Yes, I went there. And she shows how, by working hard, the girl can become Firebird as well.
Besides the fact that Copeland is one of my favorite ballet dancers ever, I loved the fact that while the direct message in the book is geared toward those who love dance, the overall theme is the fact that no matter what your goal is, what your dream is, you will have to work hard and dedicate yourself to reaching whatever it is that you want. It is written in such a way that will appeal to younger and older readers alike. Though it is getting a bit easier to find diverse picture books than it was even ten or twenty years ago, this is a wonderful addition to that growing collection of books that tell stories from the perspective of someone who is not white. As a white teacher in a school predominantly attended by African-American children, you can see why this book is so important on so many levels. My students need to have hope, just like the girl in this book, just like all children do. This is a great start to showing them they can achieve great things if they are committed to it.
The only issue I really had with the book was the illustrations. It's not even that they were poorly done (and obviously they were not, seeing as how the book won the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustrator in 2015), but this medium is just not my favorite. It does give the illustrations a wonderful, textured look, but some were just too unbalanced for me. I don't think I would have minded so much had the body proportions not been so strange sometimes.
In the end, I can unequivocally recommend this book to a variety of people - parents of aspiring dancers, parents/teachers/librarians looking for books with African-American characters, and pretty much anyone who enjoys beautiful, brilliant, yet simple work. Very well-done.