An Unlikely Ballerina


Product Details

Kar-Ben Publishing (R)
Publish Date
8.6 X 0.1 X 10.8 inches | 0.3 pounds

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About the Author

Krystyna Poray Goddu has been a writer and editor for more than thirty years; her books include Dollmakers and Their Stories: Women Who Changed the World of Play, and A Girl Called Vincent: A Biography of Poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, both middle-grade nonfiction. Her writing for children has also appeared in American Girl magazine. She reviews and writes about children's books for Publishers Weekly and The New York Times Book Review. In addition to her writing and editing experience, she has worked in school libraries and taught writing to middle-school students in independent schools in New York City. She holds a degree in comparative literature from Brown University.
Cosei Kawa is an award-winning Japanese artist. His many accolades include the CCBC Choices best-of-the-year list, the Sydney Taylor Book Award Silver Medal, and the Turry's Picture Book Award.


"This is a fascinating read about the dancer who would someday be known as Alicia Markova. Lily Marks loves to stand on her tiptoes, but her legs are weak and crooked. Could dancing lessons help strengthen them? To everyone's surprise, Lily proves to have a natural talent for dancing, and becomes utterly devoted to practicing. The high point of her childhood is seeing international ballet star Anna Pavlova perform, and receiving an invitation to dance for her. Now there's no turning back; Lily commits fully to becoming a ballerina.
An endnote tells readers that Pavlova had a Jewish parent, though she never publicly acknowledged her heritage; Lily's parents were also Jewish.
Highly stylized illustrations complement the story beautifully. Note that the Jewish content is restricted to the note at the back of the book. Recommended for ages 4 to 8." - Jewish Book Council


"For children 5 to 10, An Unlikely Ballerina by Krystyna Poray Goddu, illustrated by COSEI KAWA tells the story of how LILY MARKS, a little Jewish girl with weak logs in London, danced for ANNA PAVLOVA and then, at 14, was selected to join the Ballet Russo. Its director, SERGE Mikanitsgv, renamed her ALICIA MARICOVA, and she went on to become one of the world's greatest ballerinas. This is a beautifully told, richly illustrated story." - Chicago Jewish Star


"The majesty of a ballerina leaping and twirling onstage is one that many little girls respond to with passion, and why not? It's all there, beauty, grace, discipline, and amazing feats of exquisite power and athleticism. And costumes! Make up! Romantic stories and thrilling, Heart-stopping music! Magical lighting! And beautiful men to dance with.
But not many girls themselves get to follow this dream. Or even aspire to the hard work and sacrifice that is required. In this new title from Kar-ben we learn about a Jewish girl from London, Lily Marks, who has weak legs. Despite wearing clunky corrective shoes, there is no improvement. When she is threatened with leg braces, her mother inquires about some other solution. 'Would you be willing to try an experiment?' the doctor asks.
Dancing lessons! Lily perseveres, her legs improve and grow stronger. She exclaims: 'Dancing lessons are the nicest kind of medicine.'
As she excels, her parents give her private lessons. Soon, she infects her little sisters with the urge to dance, and Papa builds a stage for them. At eight years old she wins first prize in a contest. Despite chicken pox, she thrills an audience with a school performance of Arabian Nights.
The great ballerina, Anna Pavlova, also Jewish, is to perform in London. Lily begs her father to somehow arrange a meeting. Soon, she is to dance for the star at her home, Ivy House. Passing fountains and swans, Lily walks up to the grand house and dances for the great star. Pavlova says 'You can become a fine dancer.' But 'your life will be hard work, and you must be prepared to give up many pleasures.'
Lily Marks devotes her life to ballet and becomes the legendary Alicia Markova. This frail girl with wobbly legs becomes the first ballerina assoluta in history.
We get a well-rounded biography here, at times, perhaps a little wordy, as the art has its own story to tell. Cosei Kawa, a Japanese illustrator who won the Macmillan Prize in 2007, does a beautiful job of capturing this world, and varies the graphics to great effect.
But no young reader will have trouble with the fullness of the story. Kar-ben's mandate, to publish books of Jewish interest, is well-served with its light touch but inclusion of Lily's religion. It earns a secure place as a heroic tale with a true female hero." - New York Journal of Books


"The course of Lily's future is forever altered when she is given a choice between wearing an iron brace or attending dance lessons to strengthen her weak legs and turned-out feet in this inspirational true story. Whimsically graceful artwork captures the magic of Alicia Markova's transformation from a young girl who has trouble walking into an internationally acclaimed prima ballerina gracing stages from her backyard in London to New York and Tel Aviv." - Foreword Reviews


"An English girl embraces an unlikely but lifelong passion--dancing ballet. Lily Marks, born in London in 1910, did not walk properly as a child. Her parents took her to a doctor who prescribed leg braces. Lily's unhappy face led him to suggest a very different therapy, 'dancing lessons, ' and her parents agreed. Lily became a star pupil, singled out as very talented. She loved the classes and staged shows with her sisters. Private lessons followed. The turning point, however, came when her father took her to a performance by the legendary Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. And Lily and Anna shared another similarity; both were Jewish. (Pavlova's father, according to some sources, was Jewish.) Lily got to meet her heroine after the ballet performance and even danced for her. Pavlova encouraged her, and Lily knew at that moment that 'she would devote her life to the ballet she loved.' She danced with the Ballets Russes and other companies, and audiences responded with enthusiasm and love. An afterword explains that her professional name change to Alicia Markova came about because balletomanes loved Russian dancers. Goddu's brief biography is filled with admiration for a ballet icon. Kawa's stylized, jewel-toned illustrations are elegant and filled with scenes of old-world theaters, estates, and dress. Lovers of ballet will be enthralled by this coming-of-age of a 20th-century superstar. (afterword, photographs) (Picture book/biography. 4-7)" - Kirkus Reviews


"This long-overdue picture book biography of Alicia Markova, née Lily Marks (1910-2004), is a pleasure to behold. In clear and concise prose, the author tells the story of a talented Jewish girl born in London, England who loved to dance, overcame adversity, and eventually became a world-class ballerina. Furthermore, in Jewish liturgy, we often recite the words, 'L'dor vador' (from generation to generation). Lily's story exemplifies this ideal, for she admired another (Jewish) ballerina, Anna Pavlova. The two met at Pavlova's home outside London. There, Pavlova encouraged Lily in the pursuit of her dream: 'You could become a fine dancer... but your life will be hard work, and you must be prepared to give up many pleasures.' And so it was. In the Afterward, we learn that Alicia had an illustrious career and always maintained her love for Judaism. The illustrations by Japanese artist, Cosei Kawa, are truly stunning. Apparently, he sketches and then combines elements using digital tools. We are attracted to the expressive faces, muted colors, and period costumes and settings. Children will be intrigued by the tiny confetti-like drawings scattered on every page. An Unlikely Ballerina is an inspiring biography showing that passion and determination can conquer a great deal."--Association of Jewish Libraries


"As a child, Lily Marks's legs required straightening. Faced with the prospect of wearing uncomfortable and unsightly leg braces, Marks and her parents were intrigued by a doctor's suggestion to instead try dancing lessons. As her legs gained strength, Marks's natural talents emerged. Goddu (a PW reviewer) describes the young dancer's admiration for Anna Pavlova, another Jewish ballerina of her time, who kindly invites Marks to perform for her and offers words of encouragement--words Marks never forgets en route to becoming ballerina Alicia Markova. Kawa's art conjures the grace of a ballet performance, and Marks and other figures have an ethereal, nymphlike presence on the page. An afterword offers photographs of Marks in plain clothes at age 13 and in costume as an adult. A gentle portrayal of an artist undeterred by physical limitations. Ages 5-10. (Sept.)"--Publishers Weekly