Monday, November 28, 2011

Nonfiction Monday Book Review: Alicia Alonso Prima Ballerina, by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand (Marshall Cavendish, 2011)

Recommended for ages 8-12.  

Alicia Alonso is one of the most famous ballerinas of the 20th century.   This new picture book biography by award-winning author/poet Carmen T. Bernier-Grand tells the story of her life in free verse, complemented by the graceful tropical colored illustrations by award-winning illustrator Raul Colon.  Gifted as a child, Alicia dances her first solo at age eleven, and even though her feet, legs, and arms hurt, "ballet dancing/tastes better/than chocolate ice cream."  At the tender age of fifteen, she left Cuba with dancer Fernando Alonso to study in New York, where she marries Fernando and has a baby, leaving childhood and Cuba behind.  But when she and her husband get jobs with Ballet Caravan, her daughter can't go with, and is sent to live with her grandparents in Cuba.  Her career is almost finished when her retinas become detached, and she loses her side vision.  Doctors tell her that her dance career is over.  But Alicia is determined to dance again, and soon she is "America's finest Giselle," flying through the air in Colon's exquisite two-page spread.

Returning to Cuba, she forms Ballet Alicia Alonso, soon renamed Ballet de Cuba.  But politics interfere with her plans, and she refuses to dance in Cuba under the Battista regime.  When Fidel Castro leads a successful revolution in Cuba, Alonso returns there, and dances all over the world, but is exiled from the United States.  Despite the controversy, she was finally invited to dance in the U.S. again in 1975.  The story concludes b showing us Alonso still alive at 90, although no longer performing.

The book includes extensive back matter:  the author includes a detailed biography in an afterword, which provides further details about some of the incidents outlined in the free verse of the main part of the book.  She also lists some of the ballets danced by Alonso, some of her awards and recognition, as well as a list of some of the ballets which she has choreographed.  There is also a glossary, a list of sources, websites about Alonso, and notes and references. 
Alicia Alonso in 1955

This book is likely to be of most interest to aspiring ballerinas and other children interested in dance and ballet.  With the material in the back of the book, this 64 page volume provides enough material for a biographical report for school use.

1 comment:

Myra Garces-Bacsal from GatheringBooks said...

Very nice! I am fascinated with picture book biographies and I am in the process of collecting a few titles for extensive reviews - will definitely add this one to my list - thank you for sharing this.