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10 Performing Arts Inspired Books for Kids of all Ages

Posted by Team APATA | Nov 4, 2021

“Keep reading. It’s one of the most marvellous adventures anyone can have.” quipped Lloyd Alexander. Well Lloyd you are preaching to the choir!

With the end of school celebrations, award presentations and Christmas upon us, we thought we’d feature our Top 10 favourite, super special, performing arts inspired books for kids of all ages.

When we say all ages, we mean all ages! Picture books for the cool parents and parents to be, gorgeously illustrated books to delight your peepers and some sweet reads that are all influenced by our wonderful world of performing arts.

Let’s get to it!

1. ALPHABET LEGENDS – www.alphabetlegends.com.au

Sydney illustrator, designer and author Beck Feiner set out creating an A-Z book that she could use to create conversation and engagement with her son Levi. The Alphabet Legends library has grown from that first book to a whole bevvy of titles.

Our favourites are: Guitar Legends Alphabet, Dance Legends Alphabet, Shakespeare Legends Alphabet and Drum Legends Alphabet. For ages 0-12 but we’d get them for ourselves and we are way past 12!

Best of all Alphabet legends is currently giving customers 20% off and free shipping when you purchase 3 or more books (head to the website to make sure you’re visit before the deal ends)

2. CAN’T STOP WON’T STOP (Young Adult edition): A Hip-Hop History (March 2021)

The American Book Award winner, now completely adapted for a young adult audience!

From award-winning author Jeff ChangCan’t Stop Won’t Stop is the story of hip-hop, a generation-defining movement and the music that transformed American politics and culture forever.

Hip hop is one of the most dominant and influential cultures in America, giving new voice to the younger generation. It defines a generation’s worldview. Exploring hip hop’s beginnings up to the present day, Jeff Chang and Dave “Davey D” Cook provide a provocative look into the new world that the hip hop generation has created.

Based on original interviews with DJs, b-boys, rappers, activists, and gang members, with unforgettable portraits of many of hip hop’s forebears, founders, mavericks, and present day icons, this book chronicles the epic events, ideas and the music that marked the hip hop generation’s rise.

Oftentimes when we’re not into the subject matter the stories of the people are what draw us in and bring deeper understanding. This book is no different.

“When Hip-Hop 101 becomes a requirement, Jeff Chang’s history of the turmoil that begat this beloved culture will be the go-to textbook.” —Vibe magazine

For ages 12 and up. Grown ups may prefer the original 2005 release by Jeff Chang. Both versions are available from Booktopia in Australia.

3. OUR HOME, OUR HEARTBEAT by Adam Briggs and illustrated by Kate Moon and Rachael Sarra.

Adapted from Briggs’ celebrated song ‘The Children Came Back’, Our Home, Our Heartbeat is a celebration of past and present Indigenous legends, as well as emerging generations, and at its heart honours the oldest continuous culture on earth. Readers will recognise Briggs’ distinctive voice and contagious energy within the pages of Our Home, Our Heartbeat, signifying a new and exciting chapter in children’s Indigenous publishing.

For ages 3-99 and available at all awesome book sellers around Australia.

4. DANZA: the story of Amalia Hernández, dancer and founder of El Ballet Folklórico de México

As a child, Amalia Hernández saw a pair of dancers in the town square. The way they stomped and swayed to the rhythm of the beat inspired her. She knew one day she would become a dancer.

Amalia studied ballet and modern dance under the direction of skilled teachers who had performed in world-renowned dance companies. But she never forgot the folk dance she had seen years earlier. She began traveling through the Mexican countryside, witnessing the dances of many regions, and she used her knowledge of ballet and modern dance to adapt the traditional dances to the stage. She founded her own dance company, a group that became known as el Ballet Folklórico de México.

Using his signature illustration style, inspired by the ancient art of the Mixtecs, award-winning author and illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh tells the story of Amalia Hernández and the formation of the Folkloric Ballet, one of the most famous and successful dance companies in the world.

A beautiful book to add to your diverse dance bookshelf.

For grades 1-5 and available from Booktopia, The Nile Australia, Dymocks and Amazon AU.

5. THE STORY ORCHESTRA SERIES – illustrated by Jessica Courtney-Tickle

The Story Orchestra series brings classical music to life for children through gorgeously illustrated retellings of classic ballet, opera and music stories paired with 10-second sound clips of orchestras playing from their musical scores. With The Story Orchestra keyboard sound books, children can play the famous melodies themselves with the sound of a real grand piano.

Illustrated by Jessica Courtney-Tickle. Other titles include: The Magic Flute & I Can Play Vol 1. Generally for ages 5 and up, and up, and up.

Available from all fabulous Australian book retailers.

6. BOYS DANCE! By John Robert Allman & Illustrated by Luciano Lozano

A lively and encouraging picture book celebrating boys who love to dance, from the renowned American Ballet Theatre.

Boys who love to dance are centre stage in this encouraging, positive, rhyming picture book about guys who love to pirouette, jeté, and plié. Created in partnership with the American Ballet Theatre and with the input of their company’s male dancers, here is a book that shows ballet is for everyone.

Written by the acclaimed author of A Is for Audra: Broadway’s Leading Ladies from A to Z, this book subtly seeks to address the prejudice toward boys and ballet by showing the skill, hard work, strength, and smarts that it takes to be a dancer. Fun and buoyant illustrations show boys of a variety of ages and ethnicities, making this the ideal book for any boy who loves dance. An afterword with photos and interviews with some of ABT’s male dancers completes this empowering and joyful picture book.

For ages 3 and up and available through most Australian Book retailers

7. SHAKE A LEG By Boori Monty Pryor and illustrated by Jan Ormerod 

A unique picture book collaboration about having fun, sharing culture and the power of story and dance. A picture book to get the whole town dancing.

From pizza shop to bora ground, here is a joyous celebration of food, dance and cultural understanding. When three young boys go to a pizza parlour and meet an Aboriginal chef who can speak Italian and make a deadly pizza, they’re in for a surprise!

Boori Monty Pryor is a storyteller, dancer, didgeridoo player, writer, educator, and renowned public speaker. The late Jan Ormerod (1946 – 2013) was an internationally acclaimed picture-book author and illustrator.

For ages 6 and up and available through most Aussie book retailers – check online!

8. TAKING FLIGHT: FROM WAR ORPHAN TO STAR BALLERINA. Michaela and Elaine DePrince

SOON TO BE A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE!

Michaela DePrince was known as girl Number 27 at the orphanage, where she was abandoned at a young age and tormented as a “devil child” for a skin condition that makes her skin appear spotted. But it was at the orphanage that Michaela would find a picture of a beautiful ballerina en pointe that would help change the course of her life.

At the age of four, Michaela was adopted by an American family, who encouraged her love of dancing and enrolled her in classes. She went on to study at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at the American Ballet Theatre and is now the youngest principal dancer with the Dance Theatre of Harlem. She has appeared in the ballet documentary First Position, as well as on Dancing with the Stars, Good Morning America, and Nightline.

In this engaging, moving, and unforgettable memoir, Michaela shares her dramatic journey from an orphan in West Africa to becoming one of ballet’s most exciting rising stars.

For Ages 12 and up. Ballerina Dreams is a version of DePrince’s story for younger readers ages 5-8. Both these titles can be found here.

9. Black Ballerinas: My Journey to our Legacy 

We dedicated a whole article just to Black Ballerinas, so here are a few more titles by Misty Copeland that are also aimed at young readers.

Firebird – Illustrated by Christopher Myers. “Ballet dancer Misty Copeland makes her children’s book debut with this inspiring love letter to young people, containing breathtaking illustrations of airborne dancers by Caldecott Honour artist Christopher Myers… Brava!” Shelf Awareness, starred review. Ages 5 and up.

BunheadsIllustrated by Setor Fiadzigbey. Bunheads is Misty’s own story, discovering her love for dance through the ballet of Coppélia. On her first day of class Misty is absolutely captivated by the narrative of the story and entranced by the dance. Nervous, yet excited, Misty decides to audition for one of the lead roles. As she prepares for the audition and, eventually, the performance, Misty learns to lean on her newfound friends for inspiration and rely on her own can-do spirit to dance her very best. Ages 5 and up.

Life in Motion: Determination meets dance in this middle grade adaptation of Copeland’s New York Times bestselling memoir. Starting dance at thirteen and with a chaotic home life, her road to success was not easy. When her home life and incredible dance promise begin to clash, Misty had to learn to stand up for herself and navigate a complex relationship with her mother, while pursuing her ballet dreams.

Life in Motion is a story for all the kids who dare to be different, dream bigger, and want to break stereotypes in whatever they do. Though this is an adaptation for children aged 8-12 parental discretion is advised.

You’ll find Misty Copelands titles on Booktopia and Amazon AU.

10.The Big Life Journals

Okay so these are not really performing arts-based books, but socio-emotional health and well-being are extremely important in the lives of young people and in our case, young performers.

Here at APATA we did personally buy both versions for the kids in our lives last Christmas. One never made it under the tree though because their Mum decided to use it for herself.

Big Life Journal for Kids: For Ages 8-10. In this illustrated journal, children discover:

      • how to believe in themselves
      • how to face challenges with confidence
      • mistakes are opportunities to grow
      • they can achieve anything when they’re persistent

A powerful connection tool, Big Life Journal is completed with a Journal Buddy — a parent, grandparent, teacher, older sibling, a relative or friend who lives far, etc.

Journal Buddies will love their special time connecting, listening to kids’ ideas, sharing their own stories, and enjoying great conversations about life. Children and grown-ups alike will look forward to this time together! Follow along with the Big Life Journal Podcast for a multi-sensory experience.

The Big Life Journal – Teen Edition helps tweens and teens to:

  • discover the power of their brain and mindset
  • understand they are in charge of their own lives and happiness
  • turn their negative self-talk into positive and empowering
  • practice setting goals
  • learn to overcome challenges and setbacks

On The Big Life Journal’s Australian website there are teaching guides for parents and carers, printable challenges and additional kits. You might like to check out the bundles on offer too.

The most important part of performing arts is the joy it brings. Whether in the wings, on stage or beyond the footlights, performing arts make magic happen.

J.K Rowling said, “I do believe something very magical can happens when you read a good book” and we absolutely agree, 100 percent! What magical books will you be seeking out this year?


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