When Langston Dances by Kaija Langley, illustrated by Keith Mallett

When Langston Dances by Kaija Langley, illustrated by Keith Mallett. Simon & Schuster, 2021. 9781534485198

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Picture book

What did you like about the book?  “Langston liked basketball, but he adored ballet” read the lines to the opening page of this picture book. Full of can-do attitude and featuring a Black child striving against preconceived gender norms, this lovely effort is sure to find an eager audience among basketball players and dance enthusiasts alike. After a trip with Mom to see Alvin Ailey perform, Langston sets out for dance class wearing his basketball jersey and shorts. He’s taunted by a boy: “Boys don’t dance like that.” “They do too. I’ve seen them!” Langston retorts. Once he arrives at the school he wanders the halls, peeking in at tap, hip hop, and African dance classes, full of engaged children representing all races. Finally, he finds his ballet class and his teacher helps him find a pair of black ballet slippers instead of his trusty Converse. She reminds him that dance is serious business and that he’ll have to work hard to earn those shoes. Flash forward and we see Langston as a young man, tall and graceful on stage in front of an adoring audience. The colorful and realistic digital illustrations feature positive images of all the adults supporting Langston: his single mom, the crossing guard, the musicians, and his stern but friendly teacher. I especially appreciated the emphasis on the importance of watching live performances featuring Black dancers as a key ingredient in sparking Langston’s passion. The pairing of dance and basketball, with Langston’s moves in his sports gear echoing the leaps and athleticism we see on the courts, will give young readers new appreciation for the grace of Michael Jordan and for the sheer strength and power of dancers. 

Anything you didn’t like about it? No

To whom would you recommend this book?  Dancers and athletes will enjoy this book and its large, bright illustrations make it a natural fit for storytime. Great also for talking about rigid and outdated ideas about gender. 

Who should buy this book? Public and elementary libraries

Where would you shelve it? Picture books

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: September 25, 2021

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