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[Nonfiction Wednesday] The Graphic Novel Memoir Of A Ballerina

... in "To Dance" by Siena Cherson Siegel and Mark Siegel


Myra here.

We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book meme 2020 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year, when we can.

To Dance (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written by Siena Cherson Siegel Art by Mark Siegel
Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers (2019)
ISBN: 1481486632 (ISBN13: 9781481486637). Borrowed via NLB Singapore Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

This is a lovely graphic novel memoir of a woman from Puerto Rico who fell in love with dance as a young girl, particularly when she was six and diagnosed with “flat feet.” Even while the medical doctor felt that dancing lessons will not be good for her or improve her condition, her mother thought otherwise, especially when it was obvious that Siena filled empty spaces with dance and music.

I have been reading a fair amount of picturebook biographies for our current research project that I am heading at the UAE University, and one of the things that struck me is how there are certain pivotal moments in people’s lives that made them fall in love with a particular domain or discipline. In Siena’s case, it was her witnessing Maya Plisetskaya perform as the dying swan when her family lived for a year in Boston.

It was also clear from the beginning of the narrative that Siena came from a family of means: her parents were immensely supportive of her passion, and even moved to New York to ensure that she gets the best education. This required commitment and a willingness to sacrifice most everything to provide Siena with every opportunity to grow and shine in dance. This naturally came with costs: her parents’ divorce being one of them.

I especially love the image above, as it showed how Siena’s father even installed her own barre and mirror in her room. The story introduces the reader to Siena’s many mentors, and even her interaction, however limited, with George Balanchine and Baryshnikov. This memoir is a tribute to dances (such as Giselle) that Siena loved as a young ballerina.

This story is even more nuanced given how the artist of this memoir happens to be Siena’s husband, Mark Siegel. The narrative includes photographs and artifacts from Siena’s scrapbook. Definitely a graphic novel memoir to add to your diverse bookshelves.

#ReadIntl2020 Update: Author is POC born in Puerto Rico but based in the US now

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

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