Whether it’s a physical expression of strength and rhythm, a fondness for grooving to life’s beats, or a dedication to training and performance, dance has many personalities and appeals to a myriad of people. Here are some exceptional books for very young readers through teens (and adults, too).
The Story of Fred and Adele Astaire
written by Roxane Orgill
illustrated by Stephane Jorisch
Candlewick Press, 2013
As children, Fred and Adele Astaire were successful on Broadway. This charming biography follows the young children from their start through their American tour with the waltz and tango.
written by Cynthia Leitich Smith
illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright
and Ying-Hwa Hu
Jenna doesn’t have enough tin jingles to give her powwow dress the right sound. Determined, she visits her family and neighbors, borrowing the needed ornaments that will make her dress sing. An important story about a contemporary Native American girl.
written by Misty Copeland
illustrated by Setor Fiadzigbey
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2020
Nuanced, attentive illustrations set this picture book apart as Misty Copeland, a significant ballet dancer, relates the story of “Coppelia,” showing how the main characters coöperate to tell the story. Misty Copeland shares how she fell in love with dance.
Tallchief: America’s Prima Ballerina
written by Maria Tallchief
and Rosemary Wells
illustrated by Gary Kelley
Betty Marie Tallchief grew up on Oklahoma’s Osage reservation, where her parents were among the wealthiest people on earth because of the oil field on their land. This is the story of Maria’s childhood, training to be a ballerina, satisfying her love for music and dance, before achieving international acclaim.
Dancing in the Wings
written by Debbie Allen
illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Dial Books, 2000
A young girl loves ballet but her feet are too big and her legs are too long. Sassy is wonderfully confident and she has support from her uncle and the festival director. She is going to dance in spite of everyone who says she can’t.
The Little Dancer: A Children’s Book Inspired by Edgar Degas
written by Géraldine Elschner
illustrated by Olivier Desvaux
Prestel Junior, 2020
Based on Degas ballerina paintings and his Little Dancer Aged Fourteen sculpture, this book focuses on Jeanne, whose life is wrapped up in classes, rehearsals, and performance. She becomes the model for Mr. D, who is working on a sculpture. We spend time with Jeanne in 19th-century Paris and learn a good deal about Degas in the back matter.
Finding My Dance
written by Ria Thundercloud
illustrated by Kalila J. Fuller
Penguin Workshop, 2022
From dancing in her jingle dress at a powwow when she was four years old to being classically trained in dance, Ria Thundercloud has been a professional dancer for many years. From the Ho-Chunk Nation and the Sandia Pueblo, she expresses her indigenous roots in performances around the world.
T is for Tutu: a Ballet Alphabet
written by Sonia Rodriguez
and Kurt Browning
illustrated by Wilson Ong
Sleeping Bear Press, 2011
Wife and husband, Rodriguez, a Principal Dancer with The National Ballet of Canada, and Browning, four-time world champion figure skater, share the myriad aspects of ballet with an alphabet of explanations.
Song and Dance Man
written by Karen Ackerman
illustrated by Stephen Gammell
A Grandpa, once famous for his vaudeville act, now dances for his grandchildren in his attic. An enchanting book, it looks at being older, memories, being artistic, and the diversity of experieces. Caldecott Medal.
The Cambodian Dancer:
Sophany’s Gift of Hope
written by Daryn Reicherter
illustrated by Christy Hale
The story of Cambodia’s diaspora, its refugees, and a young girl’s resilient focus on dance help Sophany Bay heal and connect with others, highlighting Cambodian culture. The story is told in Khmer on the endpapers.
I Got the Rhythm
written by Connie Schofield-Morrison
illustrated by Frank Morrison
An incredibly rhythmic book with vibrant illustrations, this is an irresistible book for taking notice of the beats around us. The young girl notices a drummer in the park, kids clapping on the playground, butterfly wings, and she dances to it all. Joyful!
Feel the Beat
written by Marilyn Singer
illustrated by Kristi Valiant
Rocky Pond Books, 2017
Poetry celebrting many kinds of dance. Each poem is just right for a child to read out loud, reflecting many attitudes about dancing, ranging from samba to conga to hora to bhangra. Globally diverse, this is a delight.
A Dance Like Starlight:
One Ballerina’s Dream
written by Kristy Dempsey
illustrated by Floyd Cooper
In 1950s Harlem, a girl’s dreams of becoming a ballerina seemed improbable. But this true story of the first African-American prima ballerina, Janet Collins, shows how dreams come true when she performs at the Metropolitan Opera.
written by John Robert Allman
illustrated by Luciano Lozano
American Ballet Theatre
Boys Dance! by John Robert Atllman, illus by Luciano Lozano, American Ballet Theatre, Doubleday, 2020. A book that happily shares the life of boys who love ballet, offering positive reinforcement, showing the intelligence, skill, hard physical work, and strength it takes to be a dancer.
written by Noël Streatfield
The oldest book on this list and a generational favorite, it is the story of three adopted sisters during the depression in London. Pauline loves acting, Posy is a talented dancer, and Petrova would like to fly aircraft. They live in a boarding house with a community of fascinating boarders. Carnegie Medal winner.
written by Siena Cherson Siegel
illustrated by Mark Siegel
A follow-up graphic novel to the wife and husband team’s To Dance (which won a Sibert Honor), this book is the story of Siena, studying at the School of American Ballet, who hopes to become a member of Balanchine’s New York City Ballet company. As she grows, she questions whether the hard work and injury are worth it. And if she doesn’t dance, what then?
Life in Motion: an Unlikely Ballerina
Young Readers Edition
written by Mistly Copeland
An autobiography of the African American ballerina who dances professionally with the American Ballet Theatre. She shares her triumphs, her challenges, her opportunities, and her achievements in a field where some people “simply don’t believe brown girls have a place in classical ballet.” Middle grade and up.
A Time to Dance
written by Padma Venkatraman
Nancy Paulsen Books, 2015
A stunningly beautiful book. Veda is destined for dance greatness in her home in contemporary India. When an accident necessitates having her leg amputated below the knee, life could be over, but she’s determined to re-learn to dance with guidance from a young man who finds dance to be spiritual. Middle grade and older.
No Ballet Shoes in Syria
written by Catherine Bruton
A Syrian family awaits asylum in Great Britain, and they nearly drown during the nighttime crossing from Turkey to Greece. Aya used to dance ballet in Aleppo before their home was bombed. In England, she is taught by a ballerina who experienced fleeing from Czechoslovakia during Hitler’s invasion. It’s a wonderfully told story for middle graders and up.
written by Carol Covin Grannick
Regal House/Fitzroy, 2020
This middle grade story not only captures the joy of dance, but is an anti-diet middle grade story for young middle graders, with threads of body neutrality and the discovery of where courage comes from as a shy and introverted young dancer — who nevertheless wants to be a star — uses internal strengths of persistence, resilience, and bravery she didn’t think she had to become the girl she dreams of being.
Would very much appreciate you considering the inclusion on this list of my MG novel in verse, REENI’S TURN, which came out from then-small traditional publisher, Regal House/Fitzroy Books in September 2020. The middle grade story not only captures the joy of dance, but is the first clearly anti-diet middle grade story for young middle graders, with threads of body neutrality and the discovery of where courage comes from as a shy and introverted young dancer who nevertheless wants to be a star uses internal strengths of persistence, resilience, and bravery she didn’t think she had to become the girl she dreams… Read more »