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To Dance

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To Dance: A Ballerina's Graphic Novel, by Siena Cherson Siegel, illustrated by Mark Siegel,  is essentially Siena's autobiographical account of her successful drive to become a teenaged ballerina, a career she ultimately left. And yes, the illustrator is her husband, who is also the editorial director of First Second books, the publisher of said graphic novel (and also the publisher of American Born Chinese, the Printz award winner for 2007 and a National Book Award finalist in 2006 The detour into Mark Siegel's role at First Second is a bit of a digression, but I believe it explains a lot about how this wonderful book got made when it otherwise might not have been considered acceptable in the graphic novel market. It won a Sibert honor this year, given by the ALA for best informational book. (Team Moon won the category.)

To Dance follows young Siena from the age of six, when she first wanted to dance but was told she wouldn't be able to due to flat feet, to her journey from Puerto Rico to New York City to study at George Ballantine's School of American Ballet, to performing onstage at Lincoln Center. The book doesn't romanticize the journey, but details the practice and dedication required of young dancers who seriously want the ballet as their career -- including injuries, missing school, and more. And the sacrifices aren't all professional, either -- personal lives are also affected, including the relationship between Siena's parents: her mother lives with Siena in New York, while her father spends most of his time in Puerto Rico.

Simplified, this book is a memoir. But truly, it's more than that -- it is both an homage to the world of ballet (and to some of the major players in it, including Mr. Ballanchine) and a true-to-life informative essay on what the life of a serious dancer is like. And the illustrations are truly lovely and evocative, perfectly targeted for the middle grade female readers at whom the book is aimed (inside the cover reads "Ages 8-14").  You can see a two-page excerpt at the Simon & Schuster website:
#1 - August 23, 2007, 03:04 PM


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