Alicia Alonso Dances On by Rose Viña, illustrated by Gloria Félix. Albert Whitman, 2021. 9780807514542
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4
Format: Uncorrected proof
What did you like about the book? Alicia Alonso wanted to be a ballerina from a very young age. Born in Cuba in the 1920s, Alicia had very little access to dance instruction (or even appropriate footwear), but pursued her dream with determination, eventually moving to New York City in 1937 to study at the American Ballet Theatre. She worked hard and did not give up, but soon developed a degenerative eye condition that led to multiple surgeries and a lot of time recovering in bed. During each recuperation, she imagined ballet and dreamed of returning to the stage, practicing hand and arm movements and listening to ballet music. When she finally got out of bed, her muscles were weak and she needed to learn movement all over again. Emboldened by her own dream, and assisted by bright lights, guide wires, and helpful dance partners, ‘Alicia learn(ed) to dance through the darkness.’ She went on to become a world-renowned prima ballerina, founding the Ballet Nacional de Cuba and eventually retiring to her homeland.
Part of a new series called She Made History, this picture book biography will be a welcome addition to any library seeking to enhance their collections of true stories about people of color, with valuable messages about persevering, overcoming obstacles, and staying true to your heritage. The writing has a conversational tone that will appeal to young readers, and some Spanish phrases are incorporated into the text. Jewel-toned illustrations convey the grace of Alonso’s dancing and as well as her emotion during the various struggles and successes in her story. An author’s note provides a thorough synopsis of Alicia Alonso’s life for reference, and recommends other books about her as well.
Anything you did not like about the book? A Spanish glossary might have been a welcome addition. The Spanish phrases sprinkled throughout are fairly easy to translate from context, but younger readers might appreciate a little help.
To whom would you recommend this book? Young dancers (and aspiring artists of all vocations) will find inspiration from Alicia Alonso’s story, and those readers who frequently seek out biographies of gymnasts, figure skaters, and dancers will appreciate it too.
Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries
Where would you shelve it? Biography
Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts.
Date of review: July 28, 2021