Before we get to the story of Anna Pavlova and the poetic prose of Laurel Snyder, let’s get the obvious out of the way: Julie Morstad is a treasure. A constant creator of illustrations that are gorgeous, whimsical and bursting with wonderful details, Morstad is one of an elite group whose name alone signals to the reader that they are about to embark upon a journey that will open their eyes and hearts to great beauty. (Read our review of another Morstad triumph from 2015, This is Sadie, HERE.) I imagine that, whenever she releases a book, American illustrators all over breath a sigh of relief that, being Canadian, she is ineligible to win the Caldecott medal.
Morstad works her magic once again in, Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova, Laurel Snyder’s biographical picture book of the prima ballerina.
Pavlova grew up poor in Russia, without much hope of breaking through the strict caste system. And then her mother took her to see the ballet one night, and her future was laid out: Considered all wrong for ballet (she was far too thin, and not athletically built), Pavlova auditioned twice for the Russian Imperial Ballet School, gaining admittance her second try, and, against all odds, would go on to become the dominant international star of the ballet world, and one of the most influential dancers in the art’s history. She was adamant that, should ballet be available to children from all walks of life, it could truly change the world, just as it had changed her own life, and she set out to make that dream real.
Snyder masterfully handles Pavlova’s myriad struggles and triumphs, and relays her story with impeccable grace and poetry, which are perfectly matched by Morstad’s pictures.
I read Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova myself before reading it to my daughter, and though I was impressed with it thoroughly, I was unconvinced that, with its subject matter and the scope of its narrative, it would capture her imagination and hold her attention. I was wrong, of course. We’ve read the book countless times, and she loves every word and every image.
Swan presents two artists working at the top of their powers to bring the story of another powerful artist to the world, and the result is, simply, breathtaking.
Kinderlit requested and received a copy of Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova in exchange for an honest review. Read about our review policy HERE.