What do you get when you combine a free verse style novel with a hopeful teen who dreams and sacrifices for the love of ballet? Add a bit of competition, an ambitious family, and a grandfather who was right all along and you get a beautiful flowing novel, On Pointe, by readergirlz diva Lorie Ann Grover.
On Pointe, narrated by Clare, dances along the pages with gracefulness and poignancy. The simplicity of the words emphasized Clare's struggles with her sacrifices and dream of being a dancer, her concern over her friend Rosella's eating disorder, her worries over her family's dreams for her future, her anxiety over her tall body, her embarassment with any contact with the pathetic adult dancing class, her conflict over failure and success, and her disbelief over her grandfather's words, "You are already a dancer."
For a moment, while reading about the body image issues of these ballet students, I thought of when my eldest child wanted to take ballet lessons a few years ago. I found a local class taught by a former Boston Ballet ballerina and was just incredibly impressed by how the teacher was able to instill an incredible amount of dedication, discipline and precision among a group of five year old children. After a year of classes, my child decided it just wasn't for her. She loved dancing, but was not really interested in becoming a ballerina. Imagine my shock when my daughter mentioned that ballerinas were really thin and she just didn't look like that. At five years old!
So when 15 year old Clare is worried about how her body is growing and is concerned about her friend Rosella's eating disorder, it made me really sad that growing teenagers are so worried about their bodies. Forget the fact they are following a dream. And when Rosella admits her mother told her it was okay, it made me so angry a parent could risk a child's health. On Pointe, is really on point as we are reminded how parents can create stress in a teen's life, in the guise of being supportive of the teen's dreams. And how teens have their own worries and their own dreams.
Go and read On Pointe by Lorie Ann Grover. You will think about your hopes and dreams, what you are willing to sacrifice to accomplish your goals, and who you are if you succeed in following your dreams or "fail" in accomplishing your dreams.
And now, A Sunday's List of Strong Girl Role Models in Children's Literature:
1. Clare and Mabel from On Pointe by Lorie Ann Grover, ages 12 and up: Clare is a good friend as she confronts Rosella about her eating disorder. She struggles with her dream and how her family will react if she fails. Clare is finally able to talk to her mother about her own dream. She realizes she is "already a dancer" as her grandfather has told her many times before. When life changes for Clare's family, Clare is incredibly supportive and loving of her grandfather. Mabel is the new caregiver for Clare's grandfather. She is just one huggable woman as she takes charge of Clare's grandfather's daily routine. Mabel adds enthusiasm, strength, and hope into Clare's family. She tells Clare it was okay to dance just for herself.
2. Melinda from Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, ages 15 and up: Melinda finds herself a teenage outcast because she called the cops at an end-of-summer party. Melinda has lost her voice and finds comfort in her art class. Melinda's parents have no clue. Thankfully, Melinda's art teacher sees Melinda is having some sort of crisis and tries to help Melinda find an outlet for her pain. Melinda has been raped by a popular high schooler, which makes her even more afraid to say something. But her strength and courage is so evident when she realizes her former friend started dating this popular student. Melinda learns to fight back and speaks for herself and other girls who have been raped. A truly powerful book.
3. Patricia and her babushka (grandmother) from My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother by Patricia Polacco, ages 4-8: Little Patricia lives with her brother, mother and grandparents. Her babushka tells the most amazing stories and tells Patricia about wishes on stars. Patricia yearns to be better than her brother at something and is one determined little girl to make that happen.
4. Tricia and her mother from Rotten Ritchie and the Ultimate Dare by Patricia Polacco, ages 4-8: This book is a sequel to My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother. Tricia and her rotten brother Richie are always fighting about things. The latest fight is about ballet and hockey--which is harder? Tricia enjoys ballet and Richie loves hockey. Their mother tells them nothing should matter as long as both enjoy what they are doing. Richie teases Tricia in school about ballet, and spunky Tricia pushes back and triple dares Richie to dance in her recital if he thinks it's so easy. Richie ends up agreeing as long as she agrees to play in a hockey game. You will be cheering Tricia on as she maneuvers through her dare quite gracefully. You'll even cheer on her obnoxious brother. I think this book is hands down the best picture book Patricia Polacco has written that I've read so far.
5. Violet from Arthur's Back to School Day by Lillian Hoban, ages 4-8: This early reader book is just sweet. Arthur and his sister Violet are waiting for the bus on the first day of school. Violet tells Arthur she put a secret surprise in her lunchbox and Arthur tells Violet it's not a surprise if she put it in. It didn't matter to Violet...she still stood up for what she believed in. After a lunchbox adventure and mixup occurs, Violet ends up saving Arthur's day with her lunchbox secret surprise. What a great sister!
6. Becca from The Patch by readergirlz diva Justina Chen Headley, ages 4-8: Aspiring five year old ballerina Becca has to wear eyeglasses and an eyepatch to treat amblyopia. She is brave, smart and creative. Join her on her adventure as she returns to school with her eyepatch and eyeglasses. She charms her schoolmates and convinces them they want to look like her too!