Sunday, June 2, 2013

Just Dance (while wearing blue fuzzy legwarmers)

Meeting an author in real life is an incredibly special experience.  Connecting on a human level with someone whose work has touched you makes their work come to life in new ways. For years I had followed New York Public Library’s Children’s Librarian Betsy Bird’s blog, A Fuse #8 Production, as an enthusiastic fangirl. From the sidelines I watched in awe as she explored the world I longed to be part of, asking (and answering) important questions about what it means to provide excellent services, materials, and programming for young people.  It is no coincidence that just as I was completing my coursework in library science this semester, I had the incredible opportunity to meet Betsy Bird in person on tour as she promoted her first picture book, Giant Dance Party

I have been to author events that have been inspiring, powerful, and engaging, but Betsy Bird’s visit to Magic Tree Bookstore in Oak Park surpassed them all. Magic Tree Bookstore went all out for her visit, cascading giant footprints on the floor, providing a gorgeous display of her books, and providing homemade cookies. They also graciously allowed me to use their pictures for this post. I cannot recall an author event that I would describe as “toe-tapping fun that makes you jump out of your seat” until now. This was Storytime 2.0, where Betsy Bird did not simply tell us about her wonderful book, Giant Dance Party; she became her book, complete with blue fuzzy leg warmers. (And she taught us that Etsy is magic.)

With whimsy and verve, she enchanted everyone by getting us up to dance, yes dance, to draw us into the world of the story. Too often I am a passive receiver of stories, but she defied my instincts to sit and listen complacently. Together with the rest of adults – and thankfully children – we twisted and turned and even krumped. (This is the first time the term “krumping” has been used in a picture book. Google it; it’s an incredible dance form.) She showed we could all dance, with a little direction and practice.  She was unafraid to be silly or wild, which gave us inhibited adults permission to let go, too. We were perfectly prepared to understand Lexy, the lovely protagonist of Giant Dance Party, as Betsy read the story aloud, complete with voices, sound effects, and audience participation, including acting like ice pops!

Lexy is a ballerina who loves to dance, but hates recitals, where she “freezes like an ice pop.”  To solve this problem, Lexy decides to become a dance teacher, but unfortunately, there are no takers for her services – until a group of fuzzy blue giants arrive at her doorstep. She takes on this unlikely group of students and prepares them for their giant dance recital. But then the unthinkable happens. At the recital, the giants get stage fright, too. I won’t give away Betsy’s genius ending; you’ll have to read it for yourself.  This gorgeous picture book, with brilliant illustrations by Brandon Dorman, expresses the pure joy that children experience through the arts – and through sharing that love with others. Lexy may be a young child, but she has been empowered by her parents to seek out her own dreams and ambitions. She is perfectly matched with the giants who have been dismissed by the wider world of dance, and it is up to her to help them turn stumbles into steps. I suspect Betsy Bird has met many Lexys in her years working with children, children who are unabashedly passionate about the arts or Dr. Who or Minecraft and may face stage fright or a less than welcoming community that is too cool for enthusiasm. But stories like Giant Dance Party remind us that we can overcome our fears in the pursuit of our dreams and passions. After all, the show must go on.  

Book Connections 

  • The librarian in me can’t help but find library references in Giant Dance Party. Lexy’s stuffed animals are named Moore, Carroll, and Anne respectively, an allusion, I assume, to Anne Carroll Moore, New York Public Library's Superintendent of the Department of Work with Children who forever changed the way services were provided for children. There’s a wonderful picture book (mentioned several times on the Fuse #8 blog) called Miss Moore Thought Otherwise: How Anne Carroll Moore Created Libraries for Children, written by
 Jan Pinborough, and illustrated by 
Debby Atwell. 
  • At the signing, I bought two copies of Giant Dance Party, one for me and one for my friend Shoshana's children. This is the perfect book to read aloud, and I am so excited to Skype with them and share Lexy's story, complete with everyone acting like ice pops! I hope I can do it justice. 
  • Betsy has created a series of trailers for Giant Dance Party that are adorable and whimsical - and show off her mad dance skillz. I'd love to see some children take the reins and make their own "How to Create a Giant Dance Party" videos. Make sure to also check out Betsy's Lesson Plan with ideas for the illustrations, narrative, and extensions from the text.  This is perfect for those end of the school year blues - or the beginning of the summer highs. 

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