Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Julie Morstad

Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova is the first work of narrative non-fiction for Laurel Snyder, author of several picture books and middle grade novels. Illustrated by Julie Morstad, the cover of Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova drew me in instantly, even though I never made it past rudimentary ballet classes as a very young child and the most I know about this Russian dancer is how to make the dessert named after her. But Morstad's cover made me want to know more. Snyder's mellifluous text kept me reading.

Born in Tsarist Russia, Anna's life changes when her mother takes her in a sleigh through the snow to see the ballet. Snyder writes, "A sleeping beauty opens her eyes. . . and so does Anna. Her feet wake up! Her skin prickles. There is a song, suddenly, inside her.

"Shirt, shirt, laundry," becomes Anna's internal song as she helps her mother, a poor laundry woman, and dances to her song. When she is eight, Anna auditions for the Imperial Ballet School, knowing that, if accepted, it will mean leaving her mother to train at their boarding school. Anna is turned away and told to come back when she is bigger. When she is ten, she is accepted and the hard work begins. Anna's legs are too thin and her feet are all wrong, but she persists with passion. Snyder writes, "Anna was born for this." The author's notes reveal that Pavlova constructed her own ballet shoes to accommodate her unusual feet, becoming the model for toe shoes that dancers wear today.

What makes Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova more than the story of an dancer who worked very hard and overcame physical and economic challenges to give life to her art is charitable work Pavlova did, performing all over the world. Anna brought the music to kings and queens as well as the sick and the poor, believing that ballet was for everyone.

Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova is a beautiful introduction to the life of an artist that is sure to inspire readers to learn more about her work on and off the stage. A bibliography and author's notes will encourage and enable this.

Source: Review Copy

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