As we’re nearing the end of Hispanic Heritage Month, and as Mexico, and particularly the region surrounding Mexico City, just experienced horrific damage from devastating earthquakes, I decided to showcase a new picture book about a Mexican cultural treasure as today’s Perfect Picture Book:
Title: Danza! Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México
Written & Illustrated By: Duncan Tonatiuh
Publisher/date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/August 2017
Suitable for Ages: 6-10
Themes/Topics: Mexico, biography, dance, traditions
Amalia Hernández was born in Mexico City in 1917, and everyone assumed she would grow up to be a schoolteacher like her mother and her grandmother. Even Ami, as everyone called her, expected that.
Danza! is the biography of Amalia Hernández (1917-2000) who enjoyed and practiced ballet and modern dance as a child, grew up to become a professional dancer and choreographer, and later founded El Ballet Folklórico de México, the most famous dance company in Mexico. It also recounts the story of El Ballet from its inception through the present.
Links to Resources:
- Discover Mexico and its folklore traditions;
- Learn more about El Ballet Folklórico de México;
- Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month;
- Ami learned about traditional folk dances from community elders. Chat with older neighbors and/or relatives to find out what dances they enjoyed as children and try to learn one or more of them.
- Watch El Ballet Folklórico de México perform.
Why I Like this Book:
Danza! shares a positive message about the cultural traditions of Mexico and the hard-work and persistence of the founder of El Ballet Folklórico de México. I can imagine many children reading this story and dreaming of dancing in a company of dancers such as El Ballet or perhaps founding a cultural or sports group themselves.
The text is informative without being didactic. I appreciated the inclusion of pronunciation guides and ballet terms, the sprinkling of Spanish terms throughout the text, and the inclusion of an Author’s Note, Glossary, and Bibliography.
Tonatiuh’s artistic style suits the subject matter well. His characters seem to dance on the pages. I especially enjoyed the collaged additions of photographed fabrics and even hair.
A Note about Craft:
Although Danza! principally is the biography of Amalia Hernández, it also tells the story of her legacy, namely El Ballet and the promotion of Mexican folk dancing. By taking the story beyond Hernández’ death and focusing on El Ballet, Tonatiuh leaves the reader feeling hopeful about the continuation of this important dance company.
Tonatiuh brings Hernández’ story full circle: he tells us at the outset that it was “assumed” that she would become a school teacher. We learn near the end of the book that in later life, she taught and supervised the ballet rehearsals. “She had become a schoolteacher after all, like her mother and her grandmother.” Placing her in her family tradition strengthens the story, I think, as Danza! is, at its heart, a story about preserving cultural traditions.
Visit Tonatiuh’s website and check out some of his other books:
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!