Sunday, February 27, 2011

Book Review: The Barefoot Book of Dance Stories by Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple

This is one of several books that I picked up at PantheaCon for Rowan. There was a whole booth of kids books, many of them pagan, polytheist, or simply multi-cultural. I cannot resist a good kid's book.

This was an impulse purchase based on the fact that it included polytheist perspectives, gorgeous artwork (by Helen Cann), and a CD so Rowan could listen to the stories read by Juliet Stevenson. When I got it home, I was delighted to discover one of the authors is Jane Yolen, one of my favorite fantasy authors for adults as well as children. If you have never read Sister Light, Sister Dark or Briar Rose, you simply must now. I have long admired her ability to weave together fantasy worlds for me to escape in, and now Rowan can enjoy that, too.

The book tells stories of characters dancing from many countries. All of the stories speak of dancing in some way, and in the beginning of the book it talks about the dances and art forms of the country represented.  And what countries are represented? Austria, Japan, the West Indies, Spain, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Scotland, and Mali. I was thrilled after just a simple scan that so many different cultures were represented. I love that I can talk to Rowan about how every person in every culture everywhere sings, dances, and makes music. It is something we share as human beings. Further, I can use the book to talk about how special each one is and how unique each culture expresses their art.

Animals by Helen Cann
My current favorite story is "Dance of the Birch Fairy", which is from the Czech Republic. It has, yes- a birch fairy teaching some life lessons to a small goat-herding girl. The lessons are ones that I can get behind and would love to teach Rowan.

I also loved "When the Goddess Danced", the story of how belly dance was born in Egypt. It is the story of how a God fell in love with a mortal woman, subsequently impregnated her with triplets, and called upon the Goddesses Isis and Nephthys to help her.

Helen Cann's artwork is pretty spectacular. Her paintings are unique and lush and match the mood of the stories well.

This book is recommended for story and bed times for preschoolers up to 5th graders.

Formal Rating:
Title: The Barefoot Book of Dance Stories
Author: Jane Yolen, Heidi E.Y. Stemple, and Helen Cann
Publisher: Barefoot Books
Price: $23.99 USD 
ISBN: 978-1-84686-219-9

Topics Covered: dances, cultures, multi-cultural stories and art, fantasy, polytheism

Target Audience: children ages 2-10
Witch Mom Rating: Two and a Half Hats
Love this book, but since some of the stories are traditional, there is some "rescuing the princess" or "giving away my daughter in marriage" business that will need to be explained. Therefore, not three hats.

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