A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream follows the aspirations of one little girl in Harlem in the 1950s. Told in lyrical prose, the reader learns that the unnamed African-American girl spends her afternoons dancing backstage at the dance school her mother works at. She spends her evenings wishing upon unseen New York stars for a dream most consider unthinkable during this era. Still, every single day she practices her pliés and chassés with fervor.
One day, her backstage routine catches the eye of the Ballet Master himself. He invites her to join in on a daily lesson with the white girls in the class (in the back row), although she’ll never be able to perform onstage with them. Since joining the class, she pushes herself harder to be the best ballerina she can be. And whenever she’s asked to demonstrate a movement for the whole class, the little girl thinks for a fleeting moment that even a “colored girl like me” could become a prima ballerina someday.
Proving her aspirations correct, the girl’s mother does something worthwhile. As a gift, the girl’s mother spends half of her savings on two tickets to the Metropolitan Opera House featuring the one person who’s sure to ignite even more passion into her daughter’s little heart: Janet Collins. (Collins, who was a multiracial black woman of Creole heritage, was the first African-American prima ballerina of the Metropolitan Opera, and one of the few black women to become renowned in American classical ballet.) The girl is so overwhelmed by Collins’s breathtaking performance that she cries, “dripping all [her] dreams onto [her] Sunday dress” and imagines herself dancing onstage alongside the prima ballerina. At the end of the night, after the audience cheers and applauds for a “colored girl” the protagonist knows she’s “got dreams coming true.”
Matching the beauty of this story, the mixed-media illustrations feature a pastel color pallet, which was created using a subtractive process. The colors in each illustration are calm, allowing the characters’ movements and emotions to shine through. Instead of painting exaggerations or two-dimensional characters on the page, the artist chose to make three-dimensional likenesses of all of the characters in the book, including the little African-American girl, who has full lips, a wide-set nose and a fuzzy head of hair. Thus, this is one book in which the illustrations are truly reflective human physicality and children reading the book will easily identify with the characters on the page.
Ultimately, A Dance Like Starlight reminds us all that with hard work and perseverance, any dream can become a reality, no matter the color of your skin or the restrictions of your society. After witnessing Collins’ inspiring performance, the little unnamed girl believes her dreams are possible for her to attain. And isn’t that something every child should believe?
Recommendation: Recommended to remind every little girl (and boy) that anything is possible; Ages 5-8.
Reveiwer: Kaitlyn Wells
* Learn more about Janet Collins to share with the children in your life: