We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book meme 2016 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year.
Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova
Author: Laurel Snyder
Illustrator: Julie Morstad
Publisher: Chronicle Books (2015)
2015 Parents’ Choice Book Awards: Nonfiction, Silver
2016 NCTE Orbis Pictus Award Honor Book
ALA Notable Books for Children 2016, Younger Readers
2015 Cybils Awards Nomination, Elementary / Middle Grade Nonfiction
2016 Golden Kite Award Honor, Picture Book Text
Beautiful and lyrical, this picturebook collaboration by Laurel Snyder and Julie Morstad is one of the most wonderful children’s books I’ve read this year. Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova tells the hard-fought journey of a wide-eyed little girl who would later become a worldwide sensation in the field of dance, particularly the Imperial Russian Ballet. The title of the book was in reference to The Dying Swan, Anna Pavlova’s ballet performance in 1905 that became her signature role.
Anna lived with her mother who worked as a washerwoman. They were poor but they were happy. Despite their socioeconomic status, Anna and her mother were fortunate to be able to watch The Sleeping Beauty at the Mariinsky Theatre. It was Tchaikovsky’s music that stirred Anna’s soul, and Anna listened to the song in her heart.
Now Anna cannot sleep.
She can only sway,
dip and spin…
Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova is great for read-aloud. Laurel Snyder was able to highlight significant moments in Pavlova’s growing years using short, catchy verses and powerful imagery. Pavlova’s grace and beauty were reflected in Julie Morstad’s delicate illustrations. I like the use of pastels, and I enjoyed looking at the little details in her artwork.
The work begins.
and back and turn
and on an on
and to and fro
and third position!
(Left) Anna Pavlova as The Dying Swan; and (right) Anna Pavlova as The Dragonfly.
This is a great picturebook because it does not only teach children to chase their dreams but it also emphasizes the value of perseverance and importance of rising against the odds. Anna Pavlova grew up during hard times in Russia, and she decided to become a ballerina at a time when ballet was meant to be pursued only by rich people. In addition, Anna was thin and frail, and she had severely arched feet. Despite all this, Anna was graceful and supple; she was destined to dance. I like how Laurel Snyder also mentioned in her story how Anna introduced ballet to the masses. Anna believed that, somewhere, there are people who haven’t heard the music.
Laurel Snyder provided an Author’s Note at the end of the book, which contains a more detailed narrative about Anna Pavlova’s life. Bibliography and quotation sources were also listed. In addition to these resources, I’ve also included the following links that pertain to Anna Pavlova:
- Chronicle Books, publisher of Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova, generously provides a free, downloadable Common Core-Aligned Teacher Guide. It contains pre-reading activities, questions for book discussion, and post-reading activities.
- Dance Heritage Coalition provides supplementary resources about Anna Pavlova, including a detailed essay by Lindsey Grites Weeks.
- There are various websites that provide a shorter description of Anna Pavlova’s life, such as the one posted in biography.com.