Thursday, December 13, 2012

Book #348: Honk!: The Story of a Prima Swanerina by Pamela Duncan Edwards, Illustrated by Henry Cole

Image from
Mimi was driving the other birds and animals crazy! She wouldn’t stop practicing her ballet steps! Mimi was a swan and ever since she watched part of a ballet though the window of the Paris Opera House, she practiced every day. She had fallen in love with ballet. Mimi went back to the Opera House to watch the dancers and one night she saw the company performing Swan Lake! She was determined to see the ballet from inside the Opera House and so she made a series of (unsuccessful) attempts, all thwarted by the outraged manager. He shooed her out yelling, “No birds allowed in the opera house!” After her final try, Mimi sat dejectedly in the snow outside the stage door. But just then a late dancer ran through the stage door, unknowingly leaving just enough room for a swan to squeeze in after her! That night Mimi didn’t get to watch Swan Lake, she got to dance it!

In dialogue and narration, punctuated by a “HONK!” here and there from Mimi, this story celebrates one swan’s passion for dance. Although the storyline, about a character who wants to dance/sing/paint desperately, can be found in many children’s books, Edwards and Duncan’s offering is a cut above others, well crafted and paced. The descriptive text is grounded in a humorous tone. The painted illustrations are realistic, but they list towards the humorous side. For instance, the dry humor of the birds is reflected in their unhappy faces and the red-faced, eye-popping indignation of the manager is a perfect match for Edwards’ dialogue. The color palate contrasts Mimi’s natural habitat, the blue sky and green pond, with the rich reds, blues, and golds of the Opera House.

Use this book for a ballet themed storytime. Try pairing it with Bea at Ballet, Angelina Ballerina, Brontorina or Josephine Wants to Dance. You could also include this book in a storytime about swans. Pair this story with titles, such as Six Swans or Little Swan. Bring in non-fiction books about swans and discuss how they are unique from the other birds mentioned in the text. Rachel Isadora has a lovely picture book adaptation of the Swan Lake story that would be a great addition to either storytime. Finally, finish up with a swan craft. Make a paper S is for swan (scroll down to S) or a paper plate swan.

Follow up by playing some of the music from Swan Lake. This is a great opportunity to bring out those scarves for some dancing time. Play a few clips of the ballet, such as the dance of the swans from act 4 performed by the Paris Opera Ballet or the finale performed by the American Ballet Theater. There are several productions available on DVD as well. Even better, check to see if a ballet company near you is performing Swan Lake. When attending this or any other ballet it is helpful to tell your children the story prior to watching the performance.

The Paris Opera House is still the home of a resident ballet company. Learn more about the Opera House and the dancers on their website. The website is written in French, so I used Google Translator to get a general idea of the text (not the best translation, I’m sure, but it works in a pinch). In any language the photographs of the Opera House and the dancers are stunning.



  1. Hi, Amy. I'm really enjoying reading the posts you submitted to the January Read & Romp Roundup. Have you heard of BALLERINA SWAN by Allegra Kent and Emily Arnold McCully? This story seems like it has a lot of parallels. I would love to compare them sometime :)

    1. Hi Kerry,
      Thanks so much! I really want to keep contributing and I'm discovering that many of the chapter books about dance that I really loved as a kid are out of print. But in the process I've discovered some new ones that I'm eager to read.
      As far as BALLERINA SWAN, I've flipped through it, but haven't sat down to read the whole thing verbatim. The "I Want to Dance, but I'm a ___" is such an old story line, but I think when done well it can be inspiring to readers. Please let me know if you ever do a comparison!