________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number . . . .September 25, 2015


Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova.

Laurel Snyder. Illustrated by Julie Morstad.
San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books (Distributed in Canada by Raincoast Books), 2015.
44 pp., hardcover, $23.99.
ISBN 978-1-4521-1890-1.

Subject Headings:
Pavlova, Anna, 1881-1931-Juvenile literature.
Ballerinas-Russia (Federation)-Biography-Juvenile literature.

Grades 1-3 / Ages 6-8.

Review by Ellen Heaney.

**** /4


Swan is a picture book biography from Chronicle Books with emphasis on the term “picture book”. It is a romantic portrait of the Russian girl who became one of the world’s most famous ballerinas.

     Anna is first shown in a snowbound city at night, being taken by sled to the theatre (the Mariinsky in St. Petersburg, or Petrograd as it was known at the time) where she sees her first ballet.

The story unfolds. A sleeping beauty opens her eyes…
And so does Anna. Her feet wake up. Her skin prickles.
There is a song, suddenly, inside her.

     Anna is inspired, and the idea of dancing takes over her life. After years of practice on her own as she hangs out the laundry and does chores in a household where money is tight, she auditions for a place at a ballet school. Then “the work begins. The work? The work!” which is excellent shorthand to explain the effort that goes into becoming a ballet dancer.

     She makes her first stage appearance and takes a place in the corps. At last, she debuts as Odile in Swan Lake, the role for which she became most famous:

Finally she steps onto the stage alone…and sprouts
white wings, a swan. She weaves the notes, the
very air into a story. All those sitting see. They stare –
Anna is a bird in flight, a whim of wind and water.

     A number little hiccups of prose style, for example “all those sitting see”, emphasize the poetry of the dance and of this dancer’s life.

     Pavlova travels the world, interpreting many of the great ballet roles and receiving adulation wherever she goes. Coming back (not to her native city, as “there has been a war there, a wall. Everything has changed”) she continues to go on stage and to pass on her love of the art by teaching.

     Catching a cold while on a train that breaks down, Pavlova develops pneumonia which kills her at the age of 50. The end of the book echoes the actual events at her deathbed when she called for her Swan Lake costume to be brought out.

Every day must end in night.
Every bird must fold its wings.
Every feather falls at last and settles.

     The design of the book is lovely, with large, open spreads which are alternately full of chill and shadows and of the light representing the stage and the wide world into which Pavlova takes her dance. The cover alone is enough to make one pick up the book: a light-footed young girl, eyes closed, with a shining swan’s wing drooping gently from her arm.

     Author Laurel Snyder has appended two pages of information which flesh out the story of Anna Pavlova and what inspired Snyder to write about her.

     A beautiful book for young dancers and other dreamers.

Highly Recommended.

Ellen Heaney is a retired children’s librarian living in Coquitlam, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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