In my children’s room at the library the requests I receive at the reference desk from kids and their parents vary widely. On the subject of dance there’s a lot of variety. If kids want a picture book about dancing, they usually know what kind of dance they have in mind. Ballet. Tap. That sort of thing. However, since the rise of family friendly dance-related television shows like So You Think You Can Dance? kids are now discovering that there’s a whole world of dances out there that they might never have known about. It gives a gal hope, particularly when I get to see books like Lola’s Fandango. Here you have a great story with an abundance of Spanish words and great art that makes you sit up and take notice. If you’re looking for a book that’s a little bit different, this one’s got your number.
Things are rough for Lola. Her older sister Clementina has everything better. First, there’s her awesome name. Then there’s her ability to draw. On top of that is her great hair, her friends, her room, the list goes on and on. Lola would love to have at least one thing to make her special . . . and then she finds her mother’s flamenco shoes. Instantly Lola is intrigued. Her mother doesn’t dance anymore, of course, but her father used to and he’s willing to teach her. In secret then Lola learns to dance, and when her mother’s birthday arrives, Lola may have the perfect gift. But will she have the guts to perform in front of a crowd? The book comes with an audio CD of the text.
When you write a picture book it tends to be good to have more than one idea floating about your story. Which is to say, if you’re writing a tale like this one and you want to make it about a little girl who learns a new dance, I would highly recommend doing what author Anna Witte does here. Which is to say, add in the jealous younger sister element. Because Lola is envious of her older sister’s life and accomplishments (typical stuff like wanting to draw as well, have as nice a head of hair, have friends over, etc.) she has the impetus to want to distinguish herself in some way. If the book were merely a story about a girl who wants to learn to dance and chooses this kind, it wouldn’t really carry the same oomph, so to speak.
One element of the book that was interesting to me was Lola’s desire for a polka dot dress to dance in. It’s important to me that Lola accept that she will dance for her mother, stage fright fears or no and then receive the polka dot dress as a present. If the dress came too soon then the point of the book might be taken as “you can do anything your heart desires . . . as long as you sport the right clothes”. Some kids will take away that message anyway, but at least it can be easily corrected by simply pointing out to them that Lola agrees to dance before finding out that there’s a present in the offering.
I was rather taken with Witte’s writing in this book too. As a German raised in Spain who has lived in the States for at least eighteen years, she has a good ear for the picture book format. The book reads slightly longer than the younger fare out there. Think Patricia Polacco rather than Kevin Henkes. I like her word choices as well. After staring longingly at her sister’s hair the text reads, “Lola looks at herself in the mirror. Her hair is coarse and wiry like a terrier.” Not just any dog, mind, but a terrier. When Lola actually learns the dance, the book then uses lots of fun terms that sound great when read aloud. From the “Toca toca TICA!” of Lola’s heels to the “Snap! Snap!” of her fingers and the “Swish!” of her skirt, the book is fun to listen to.
Spanish words are also dipped into the narrative naturally. There are a fair number of books with bilingual words and phrases out there that insert said words into their text with all the grace of an elephant with gout. Witte, in contrast, slips the words in where they fit best. You might not even notice that they were there until you reached the end of the book and found yourself confronted with a Glossary of terms. It is worth noting that the book is sold in both an English version and a Spanish version, for those of you with significant Spanish language collections.
Text and story are all well and good, but if a picture book doesn’t capture me with its pictures then I am not interested. Now the artist on this book was a Micha Archer, who has really only done one other picture book before (The Wise Fool). After reading this I can only hope that she’ll be doing a lot more picture books in the future. In Lola’s Fandango Archer employs a kind of Vera B. Williams A Chair for My Mother style. Using collage she whips up this amazing array of colors, fabrics, styles, and patterns. Amazingly, for all the variety, they never really clash. It makes for an eclectic and lively series of images.
The danger of this book? Parents, be prepared for your kids to beg for a flamenco lesson or two. This book definitely wipes the floor with those jazz/ballet/tap dance lessons your kids have been taking all these years. How can tutus compare to polka dotted swishy dresses? Tap dance may be fun at first, but the attitude is totally different from that of a flamenco dancer, no? And when else do you get to wear polka dots? Yes, you take your life in your own hands when you bring this book into your home. Then again, it’s a fun read, covers ground I’ve not seen covered by picture books before, has great art, great writing, and lots of Spanish words integrated seamlessly into the text. I’d call that a rousing success overall. If you’re looking for a bit of dance for your collection above and beyond the usual ken, Lola’s Fandango delivers.
On shelves September 1st.
Note: Title comes with CD. CD not heard for this review.
Source: Galley sent for review from publisher.