Tiny Dancer by Siena Cherson Siegel, illustrated by Mark Siegel. Atheneum, Simon & Schuster, 2021. 9781481486668
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3
Format: Hardcover graphic novel
What did you like about the book? Fans of Siegel’s earlier 2006 memoir, To Dance: A Ballerina’s Graphic Novel, will enjoy this second act. In To Dance, we meet Siena and learn about her origin story, starting with her fascination with the 1976 classic A Very Young Dancer by Jill Krementz. While the first outing was jubilant, Tiny Dancer explores Siena’s doubts and eventual disillusionment with ballet. Once again, her parents’ acrimonious divorce and relocation to New York from Puerto Rico play havoc with her personal life, although dance remains a refuge. But an ankle injury leads to self-doubt and prompts her to rethink her single-minded devotion; eventually Siena chooses Brown University rather than the stage. Mark Siegel (Siena’s real-life husband) again contributes the illustrations, done entirely in moody shades of lavender with black and white accents. The panel placement is sophisticated and interesting, zooming in for close-ups when Siena feels sad or introspective and switching to long views to show the stage. Siegel frequently breaks away from panels altogether to show a full-page bleed (a particularly arresting spread done in black with white relief shows Kirkland and Baryshnikov dancing while Siena sits in a darkened theater) or vignettes as the teen skips ballet class to wander aimlessly through Manhattan. Siegel’s drawings depict Siena with darker skin than her fellow students (who are mostly White), and we know her family is originally from Cuba, but the character does not discuss her ethnic identity.
Anything you didn’t like about it? It’s a very personal journey and we’re privy to all of Siena’s moods and teen angst. Teens who love to dance and can identify with the main character will find much to appreciate, but the “tiny dancer” can also come across as self-absorbed and clueless, unappreciative of her privilege. I did wonder if she identifies as Latinx and if so, how that identity affected her experience in the ballet world.
To whom would you recommend this book? Fans of the first book will be a natural audience as well as dance fans generally. Siena ages from about 12-18 and her problems are appropriately more grown-up (she “cheats” on her boyfriend and lies to Mom) but the book is pretty tame in the rebellion department. Readers drawn to graphic memoirs (especially in the coming-of-age genre) may also be interested.
Who should buy this book? Middle & high schools, public libraries
Where would you shelve it? Graphic novels
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No
Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA
Date of review: November 28, 2021