Allison's Book Bag

Firebird by Misty Copeland

Posted on: March 25, 2015

FirebirdIn Firebird, ballerina Misty Copeland shows a young girl how to dance like a Firebird. The illustrations are lavish, while the text is poetic. The picture book is a must-have for any lover of ballet. Especially as a read-aloud, coupled with Misty’s Dear Reader note, Firebird should also serve to inspire anyone in pursuit of a dream.

The lavish artwork cannot fail but to draw one’s attention to Firebird. Indeed, the fiery red and orange, cool blue and purple, and splashes of white are my favorite part of Firebird. The full spreads of collage, with their slanted geometric shapes, and textured paintings pulsate with energy. Each scene, whether depicting the quiet conversation between two dancers or the dynamic action of ballet, moves the story forward towards the climatic end of the Firebird stage. Award-winning, Christopher Myers, was the perfect artistic choice.


As for the text, I must admit took me a few reads to grasp its essence. Once I did, however, I appreciated the unique setup of a young girl confiding in the successful Misty Copeland. The disheartened African-American confesses to doubts that she’ll ever soar to the same heights as Copeland: “the space between you and me is longer than forever”. Copeland responds that before she reached stardom, she too: “was a dancer just like you, a dreaming shooting star of a girl with work and worlds ahead”.

Besides the creative structure, I also must commend Copeland for not falling back on a feel-good message. Instead she acknowledges that for an aspiring ballerina to reach one’s dream, there will be lots of practice and sweat, lots of learning how to fly before one spreads wings. Indeed, it will take not only a thousand leaps, but a thousand falls, and a lot of switching of worn-out slippers. This is a worthwhile message for young people to hear, whatever their dream.

As I noted above, I didn’t immediately grasp that the text was a dialog exchange. Actually, I also ended up having to read the book aloud to gain its rhythmic and lyrical sense. Perhaps, this is why some purchasers considered the text too difficult for young readers, while others ironically considered the text too simple for older readers. In addition, although the Dear Reader note at the end from Copeland makes clear that her story is inspired by both that of her own experiences and that of African-American women before her who struggled to find black role models in ballet, I kind of wish that more of those stories had been incorporated into the main text. This would have enriched my understanding of the actual text. Because of these drawbacks, I recommend that an adult introduce this picture book to younger readers.

Misty Copeland came to ballet late at the age of thirteen, but went onto make history by becoming a soloist at the American Ballet Theater only a few years later. She is only the second African-American soloist in ABT’s history and the first in more than two decades. For this reason, Copeland feels she has a message to share, to inform young people that they too can find their wings. I applaud her for presenting that message in a lyrical and inspirational format in Firebird, a picture book that will surely win many hearts.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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