Books can be a part of young dancers’ lives in so many ways: reading in the lobby with a parent while waiting for a dance class to begin or used within a dance class as a springboard or follow-along activity. Children’s dance books can also make wonderful holiday gifts for enthusiastic students or a book suggestion for your local library.
Make the subject of dance—and moving in general—a multidimensional thing that lives in the studio and on the page with this specially curated list of new children’s dance books in 2022.
For Preschool and Kindergarten Students
When We Read (written by Talia Bailes and illustrated by Julia Schultz) is an easy entry into the world of follow-along dance books. The rhyming text gets everyone moving together—to wiggle, fly and reach. When We Read is a great option for brand-new dance teachers as well as preschool teachers wanting to integrate books that inspire movement activities in school.
Ballet Kids (by author/illustrator Holly Sterling) shares a classic book scenario: Little ones getting ready for class, warming up, trying on costumes for The Nutcracker and performing. This book is particularly wonderful as it includes a male ballet teacher and diverse characters. The book is also gender-expansive and portrays the character Thomas exploring a variety of costumes, moving past the gender binary.
Ballerina on Wheels: Amazing Ava’s First Dance Recital (by Dr. Cindy Zurchin and illustrator Lana Lee) is a joyful picture book for young ones and offers a great example of a dance class where everyone can be included and study dance in community. We can dance in the studio and onstage, together, with all of our amazing bodies and modes of locomotion.
For Elementary Students, Grades K–5
In Finding My Dance, author Ria Thundercloud shares her true story as an Indigenous dancer finding her path with dance over the years through childhood, high school and then life as a professional dancer. She begins with the jingle dress dance in the powwow circle, learns a fancy shawl dance, studies a variety of other dance forms including ballet, tap and modern, and then gets eagle wings as an adult to perform the eagle dance. Thundercloud’s story shares a beautiful path towards self-confidence and finding the role of dance in her life and her culture, and Kalila J. Fuller’s illustrations add richness and depth to Thundercloud’s writing.
The Dancing Light is a great companion to author/illustrator Karen Diaz Ensanian’s I Can Make a Water Dance. The author, a longtime dance teaching artist herself, describes a variety of light sources or effects of light: sun, fire, fireworks and shadows to name a few. Paintings, photos and descriptive words are offered to inspire movement for each section of the book. This is a great resource for STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics) explorations in first through fifth grades, or for adding a science-infused lesson in a studio setting.
John Robert Allman published his third book this year with American Ballet Theatre, titled The Night Before The Nutcracker. With playful rhyming and Julianna Swaney’s magical illustrations, young ones in kindergarten and first grade will delight in the anticipation of performing in The Nutcracker. The book begins with the perspective of young dancers in the show, and then concludes with key actions in the classic story. A perennial favorite, each new book edition of The Nutcracker tale adds joy, curiosity and engagement for one of the most bustling times in ballet companies and dance studios across the U.S. and beyond.
Sofia Acosta Makes a Scene is a wonderful dance-infused chapter book to read aloud to a dance enthusiast or gift to a young dancer to read on their own. The main characters are in fifth grade. Sofia Acosta Makes a Scene describes many relatable themes: school, friendship, ballet training, dancing in The Nutcracker, family culture and immigration. Author Emma Otheguy weaves in a beautiful dance thread with a visiting artist from Cuba coming to American Ballet Theatre and all of the ways this can open up conversations about immigration, following dance dreams and identity.
For Fifth- to Eighth-Graders
Aurélia Durand’s vibrant book Dance for Joy is packed with awesome artwork and potent phrases to inspire preteens and teens. Use this book within a dance class to inspire an ice breaker or to warm up; or use one chapter and theme per week (such as “Performing to Manifest,” “Expressivity,” “Power” and “Viral Dances”). Dance for Joy is a great way to learn about a variety of dance forms, such as Afropop and disco dancing. If you work in a middle school, consider sharing the book with the visual art or digital art teacher to collaborate on a dance-inspired project.
Happy reading, gifting and exploring!