Ballerina shares dance dreams in new book

You can’t.

Doesn’t it make you mad to hear those words? Of course you can — maybe just not now. Someday, you can drive a car, for example. Years from today, you can vote for president. Not now, but later, you can live where you want, eat what you want, do what you want with no “can’t” at all.

But then there are times when you hear “you can’t” and it makes you sad. In the new book “Firebird” by Misty Copeland, illustrated by Christopher Myers, a young girl learns to replace the word “can’t” with one that strengthens.

Once, there was a little girl who loved to watch ballet, but she knew she was nothing like the dancer on the stage. Yes, she loved to dance, but the ballerina was so much better and the little girl was told that she’d never be like that.

The ballerina leaped and spun and bent. Her legs stretched like the New York skyline, which was something the girl couldn’t do. “I could never hope to leap the space between,” she said, and that made her “heavy” and heartsick.

But then, the most amazing thing happened! The ballerina came to the girl to tell her a story of a dancing child who wanted to fly among the stars, a child who wanted to soar but she saw “can’t” because there were few other dancers like her.

Still, the dancing child bent and dipped at the barre, and leaped like her heart told her to. She spread her wings, changed her slippers and practiced arabesque. The ballet positions were like “stair steps to the sky,” and she never listened to can’t.

The ballerina promised the girl that, if she believed, there would come a day when she would be just like the dancing child. She would “become a swan… a firebird for sure.” She would be light and beautiful. Maybe she’d even dance on stage with the ballerina, jumping to the stars and showing ballerinas not yet born that dreams come true and can’t can’t hold them on the ground.

I liked “Firebird” well enough the first time I ran through it. With their bold colors and scrapbook-mosaic edges, I was especially pleased with the illustrations but there was something about the narrative that I felt I’d missed.

The second time around, there it was: the font between the characters is different, as if there’s a conversation on each page.

Now that you know that, you’ll be able to easier understand how Copeland tells her story — and, once you read her afterword, you’ll see that it really is her story. Copeland explains how she was that self-conscious girl once, and how she wants “to expand the idea of beauty and art” with this book.

That’s surely accomplished, but my recommendation would be to read through this tale once before you read it aloud, just to you know how it’s set up. Do that, and “Firebird” will be a story your child can’t help but love.

View publishes Terri Schlichenmeyer’s reviews of books for children weekly.

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