Tag Archives: julie morstad

Day 115 – Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova

For April 24, the beginning of National Dance Week, we read a beautiful book about one of the most famous prima ballerinas of all time: “Swan – The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova” by Laurel Snyder and illustrated by Julie Morstad. With poetic prose and graceful illustrations, “Swan” is less a traditional biography and more of an enchanting ode to Ms. Pavlova’s love of ballet, and to her burning desire to share that love with the world. Ms. Snyder and Ms. Morstad combine words and pictures to create a true work of art befitting of the book’s subject matter.swan

We are first introduced to Anna as her mother is whisking her off on a snow-covered evening to see the ballet, and that is where we see Anna fall in love. As the dancers perform, Anna’s feet “wake up” and “there is a song, suddenly, inside her.” From that point forward, Anna can not stop dancing. Eventually she begins formal training, and when she finally sets foot on a stage “Anna becomes a glimmer, a grace. Everyone feels it…the room holds its breath.” We are told that Anna shouldn’t be this good, her legs are too long and her feet are all wrong, but “Anna was born for this.”

Anna’s career takes off, she performs for years to adoring crowds, and she is wined and dined by royalty, but there is still something missing. Anna knows that “somewhere, there are people who haven’t heard the music,” so she sets out to “feed (the world) beauty.” She travels the globe performing in venues from bull rings to rickety old dance halls…and “when people throw flowers, Anna tosses them back. It’s enough just to dance.” Sadly, on one of her many trips she is caught out in the snow and catches a chill…”a rattle she can’t shake,”…and try as she might, she can not spin away.
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The poetry of Ms. Snyder’s writing paints a beautiful impressionistic picture that hints at specifics of Anna’s life but focuses more on providing a window to her soul. That felt right to us. There is a very helpful Author’s Note at the end that does fill in some of the details, and I highly recommend it. For a Philistine like myself – previously unfamiliar with Ms. Pavlova – it was fascinating to read about how her oddly-shaped feet inspired her to invent her own ballet shoes (shoes which provided the template for the shoes that ballet dancers use today) and how she took what had been an art form strictly to be performed for the wealthy and shared it with everyone, even dancing on the backs of elephants. I also read elsewhere that the title refers to the dance for which she was most known, “The Dying Swan”, which was choreographed just for her in 1905…and then performed by her all around the world.
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I would be remiss if I did not talk about Ms. Morstad’s artwork, which is just as important a piece of the puzzle in “Swan” as the writing. We are big fans of Ms. Morstad’s work (see “This is Sadie” and “When Green Becomes Tomatoes”), and her elegant style is tailor-made for Ms. Pavlova’s story. I particularly enjoy how she subtly captures Anna’s awe upon seeing her first ballet, and the graceful, flowing way that she shows Anna moving through every page thereafter.


Day 112 – This is Sadie

Sadie is a little girl with a big imagination whose days are never long enough for all her adventures, and “This is Sadie” by Sara O’Leary is her story. The book is clever and exuberant, and Ms. O’Leary’s characterization of the imaginative and playful little Sadie (named after her own grandmother) rang true for us. Julie Morstad’s brilliant illustrations are a perfect fit, enhancing the feeling of childlike, carefree joy that Sadie exudes.

For Sadie, a big cardboard box in her room is really a tall ship with which she ventures out on great journeys of exploration. Through the day she pretends to be the Mad Hatter hosting tea, a boy raised by wolves, a mermaid, or a hero in a fairy tale. She climbs trees to chat with birds, uses her wings (because “of course” she has wings) to fly high in the sky before coming back home. Sadie can create amazing thingsĀ out of all kinds of pedestrian things … boats out of boxes, and castles out of cushions – she’s got that kind of an imagination. More than things, however, she likes stories “because you can make them from nothing at all.”sadie

This is another book that I have been looking forward to reading simply because of the cover – the picture of the little girl with a fox mask just looks too verdant and playful to pass up. (I did think it was interesting – as an aside – that when you pull the dust jacket off, the picture of Sadie on the cover loses her mask). We found a lot to enjoy in this darling book. Our oldest daughter liked the fact that Sadie chooses to be the hero in her fairy tale. I enjoyed the way in which Sadie “cleans” her room by shoving everything under the bed, or acknowledges that “old people need a lot of sleep”…while hammering and listening to records in her room early in the morning. In both cases, actually, the humor is played up because what she is really doing in the picture is not referenced in the text… This goes back to my comment above that Ms. O’Leary’s characterization of an imaginative little girl rings true; it feels as if the words on the page are exactly what Sadie is thinking in that picture. Our consensus favorite scene however, was when Sadie is playing in the pool, spending a “perfect day” with friends…some of whom live on her street and some of whom live in the pages of books.

I am very happy to have this book as part of our collection and look forward to reading it again (and again!). It’s the kind of book that makes me smile, because of the little precocious and creative girl Sadie is in the book, and because of the way in which facets of Sadie’s personality remind me of our own little (and not so little) girls.