Book: Ballerino Nate
Author: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, ill. R.W. Alley
After Nate sees his first ballet, he announces to his parents that he wants to learn to dance. Mom and Dad are supportive, but big brother Ben warns him that “Boys can’t be ballerinas. They never, ever, ever can.” And if they could, they’d still have to wear a tutu. Ben is in second grade and knows almost everything. Nate is horrified at the idea of wearing a pink dress, or a flower in his hair. Isn’t there a way he can dance and be a boy?
This is a valuable book for the encouragement it gives to young male dancers. Nate takes no guff from his open-minded parents for his ballet madness; instead it all comes from his brother, who swears up and down that boys simply cannot dance. While not every aspiring young ballet dancer is going to encounter this percentage of support, it was a good idea to concentrate the discouragement in one character.
What really made this book stand out for me, however, were the illustrations. You get the sense that every character is fully thought out and defined in Alley’s mind as he draws, because almost every character is doing something instead of being stock figures in the background. Illustrations of Nate’s ballet class include a little girl whose tutu is falling down and a classmate noticing, another little girl practically jumping up and down for her teacher’s attention, girls stretching in the hallway. None of this is mentioned in the text; instead, it’s all there to make Nate’s world that much more real.
However, Nate is the star of the book, and has the best pictures. As befits a seven-year-old bitten by the dancing bug, he is rarely still, and everything seems to be high drama. Check out the four-picture combo when his brother drives him to tears with the insistence that he’ll have to wear a pink tutu. Nate’s eyes widen in horror, he falls on the floor to cry, he hurls himself at his father, sending newspapers flying. In the last illustration, Nate is folded up double on the floor, boneless, with one forlorn tear dripping down his nose, as desperately brokenhearted as only a seven-year-old can be. The only part of his body higher than floor level is his arm and hand as he clutches his father’s finger.
The only quibble I have (and it’s a relatively minor one) is Alley’s decision to make all his characters anthropomorphized dogs. I’m not sure whether this is a decision to soften the effect of a dancing little boy, or he just chose to do it this time. It just struck me as weird. He does it well, including all different breeds and making full use of their physical characteristics. (Nate’s dance teacher, for instance, is one of those really elegant dogs with the long ears that look like a sweeping, glamorous mane of shampoo-model hair.)
Get this book for the pint-sized dancer in your life, male or female. Or read it yourself for a sweet story and a grand time perusing the illustrations.