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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