|Image from BarnesandNoble.com|
Tanya loves to dance and she dances all the time, even when she's setting the dinner table and going to bed. In ballet class Tanya is the smallest and the wiggliest, but she doesn’t mind as long as she dances. Then Emily joins class and Tanya can’t take her eyes off her. Emily is a ballerina in every way. Unlike Tanya, Emily is calm and controlled. She can dance beautifully. She can even do a cabriole. Tanya can’t. But Emily and Tanya don’t talk, until the day they both walk home on the path through the park zoo. Emily can dance in class, but Tanya can see dance in everything around her. As they pass the animals in the zoo, Tanya shows Emily how to dance an ostrich, a flamingo, a leopard. Soon both girls are dancing giraffes, antelope, penguins, and best of all, Emily teaches Tanya to dance a wild goat, a cabriole! Now Tanya and Emily dance together all the time, in class and out, and at the end of the year recital they dance a pas de deux, with a cabriole of course.
Gauch’s text is simple, yet evocative and easy to read out loud. The correct ballet terminology is always used and the different personalities of the two girls are expressed through the verbal description of their movements, as well as the illustrations. The watercolor illustrations are beautiful compositions of light, shadow, and movement. Ichikawa not only accurately depicts ballet steps, but also captures the unique spirit and character of each girl. Short and strong, little Tanya dances with a spunky muscular joy, while Emily, lithe and slim, dances with poise and grace.
This is a wonderful book to read to preschool and older children because it shows there is more than one way to dance and that dancing is all around us. The story of friendship will appeal to all children, not just budding dancers. It is especially easy to empathize with Tanya because everyone has felt they are the smallest or the wiggliest (or tallest or clumsiest or shyest or loudest) at one point or another.
Before you read the book out loud, make sure to look up the correct pronunciation of the French ballet terms. You will also find that many of the terms describe the movements. Step by Step Dance provides a written pronunciation guide, while Esmeree provides audio files for each of the terms. The Children’sBallet Theatre of Michigan has longer descriptions. If you have time, find photographs of dancers executing each of the steps mentioned in the book. After you read the book, look at the photographs and the illustrations from the book and talk about the meaning of the terms.
After you read this book, show photographs of animals and have everyone dance that animal, as Tanya and Emily would in the book. You could also play music from Camille Saint-Saëns' The Carnival of the Animals. You can tell the children the animal and have them dance to the music or play the music and see if the kids can guess what animal it represents.
If you love Tanya (and how could you not?), she is the dancing protagonist of several other picture books including, Dance, Tanya, Bravo,Tanya, Presenting Tanya, the Ugly Duckling, Tanya and the Red Shoes and Tanya and the Magic Wardrobe. The books feature Tanya dancing at different ages, from toddler to teenager.