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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Review & Interview: Dear Ballerina by Monica Wellington

I'm thrilled to have Monica Wellington here today to chat about her new picture book, Dear Ballerina...

Dear Ballerina 
Written and Illustrated by Monica Wellington 
March 19, 2019 
Holiday House 

A dream comes true for a girl who loves tutus, pointe shoes, and dancing on tiptoe!  

The girl in this story loves to stretch, to pose, to point her toes, to swirl and twirl and leap! She practices new steps every day. All her efforts are rewarded when one special day, she gets to dance in a performance with her favorite ballerina. 

"Dear Ballerina," the girl writes, "I dream of being a dancer just like you." 

The pictures in the book take the reader behind the scenes of the ballet to a practice room, a costume room, and the wings of the stage. At last, the curtain goes up, and the girl and her idol dance. Their tutus swirl together! 

"Dancing makes me happy!" the little ballerina says. 

A touching story about dance, passion, effort, and intergenerational mentorship. 

The five ballet positions are illustrated, and behind-the-scene secrets are revealed. Back matter provides interesting information about point shoes, tutus, and the contents of a ballet bag. 

The author-illustrator is the mother of a little girl who has grown up to be a professional ballerina with New York City Ballet. This book was inspired by letters Lydia Wellington wrote to dancers she admired, as well as letters she has received from young fans. Every detail in this book is filled with joy and love and is authentic and accurate.  

A glittery cover makes Dear Ballerina a perfect gift for ballet recitals. A great choice for fans of Angelina Ballerina. 

Dear Ballerina takes little readers behind the scenes of the dazzling world of ballet, as one little girl prepares for a big ballet performance and writes a letter to her favorite ballerina. 

In Monica Wellington’s Dear Ballerina the world of ballet and all the work and time that goes into, is captivatingly laid out through the eyes of a hardworking and determined tiny dancer. From stretches, rehearsals, costume fittings, stage jitters, and more, Wellington takes little readers on a fabulous behind the scenes experience. And she brings this glittery world to life through sweetly rendered illustrations, so full of joy. As the mother of a professional ballerina, the author brings her expert knowledge and experience to every page. 

With lovely illustrations, done in a dreamy color pallet and joyful, engaging storytelling, Dear Ballerina is a charming celebration of the world of ballet! 

And I want to thank Monica Wellington for sending us a real pair of pointe shoes from a real ballerina! As you can see Little A was SUPER excited to get them. 

Q1. What three words best describe your book Dear Ballerina? 

Dreams, joy, dedication  

Q2. What inspired Dear Ballerina? 

Dear Ballerina was inspired by my daughter who is a ballet dancer with New York City Ballet. We love ballet in my family: my grandmother brought my mother to the ballet, my mother brought me, and I first brought my daughter when she was three years old. We all love attending performances but my daughter is the first who wanted to start dancing herself. When she was young, attending ballet school and performing in the Nutcracker, she wrote letters to ballerinas she admired, and now as a company member, she loves to receive letters from young dancers. All those letters inspired the idea for this book.   

Q3. What do you hope readers walk away with after reading Dear Ballerina? 

I hope Dear Ballerina will inspire young children to pursue their dreams, whether it is dance or  other activities they love. And like the young girl in the book, I hope they will write some of their own letters to people they admire and look up to, and I hope they will receive a letter back! 

 Q4. What's your favorite page and/or illustration in Dear Ballerina?  

When I paint the pictures for a book, I work on them all at the same time - I move around from one picture to the next in no particular order. I think of the 32 pages as one big picture, so I don’t really have a favorite single picture.   

Q5. What's your favorite ballet? Which one would you recommend for introducing children to the world of ballet?  

My favorite ballets are by George Balanchine, the founding choreographer of New York City Ballet. Some of my favorites are Concerto Barocco, Four Temperaments, and Symphony in C. The Nutcracker is the classic choice for a first ballet for children. But I first brought my daughter to mixed bills, programs with three or four different shorter ballets, with a variety of beautiful music and movement styles. Those ballets fascinated her from the start.  

Q6. If you were to create and bake a cupcake inspired by Dear Ballerina, what would it look and taste like, and what would you call it? 

#1 Make mini MERINGUE KISSES with this easy recipe: 
2 egg whites and 1/2 cup sugar 
1. Preheat oven to 225 degrees. 
2. Separate 2 eggs and put aside the 2 yolks (they can be added to your cupcake batter). Beat the 2 egg whites with an electric beater, until foamy. Then while continuing to beat at high speed, slowly add 1/2 cup sugar. (Optional: add several drops of food dye if you would like your kisses to be colored). When the mixture stands in stiff peaks, it is ready for baking.  
3. Cover a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper (to prevent sticking). To shape the kisses, take a small spoonful of the mixture, drop it on the baking sheet with an upward motion (with the help of a second spoon in the other hand). The kisses (about 40) can probably all fit on one baking sheet.  
4. Bake them in the oven for about 1/2 hour. (Bake them long enough so they are slightly hard, but not discoloring or turning brown.) When they have cooled, store them in an airtight tin or container until you use them. 

#2 Bake your favorite kind of CUPCAKES (chocolate, vanilla, carrot, applesauce...? My Color and Cook Cupcakes activity book by Dover has recipes for all of these) Making them in a mini size is cute! 
#3 Make your favorite kind of FROSTING (recipes are also included in the Cupcakes activity book.) (optional: add several drops of food dye to white frosting if you would like it to be colored) 
#4 Take out your favorite colored SPRINKLES.  
#5 Assemble your cupcakes: Frost the cupcake. Place the meringue kiss on top. Add colored sprinkles. 
Your BALLERINA KISS CUPCAKES are ready to be enjoyed, while you are reading DEAR BALLERINA, of course! 

Monica Wellington was born in London and lived in Europe until she moved to the United States at age seven. As a child she always loved to draw and paint, but it wasn't until she went to college that she realized she wanted to be an artist for her profession. She went to the University of Michigan's School of Art to earn her BFA and studied pottery, painting and printmaking. After art school, while traveling and living in a number of different countries, she had various art related jobs, which were all good background and preparation for doing children's books. She has both written and illustrated the majority of her books. She says, "I usually start a book visually, with an idea of what I want to paint pictures about. The pictures may come first before the words for me. Both the pictures and words go through many revisions, and I am often still working on the final words after I finish the pictures." She says that doing children's books is great. "I get to have a job where I spend my days doing totally what I love to do. And it is very gratifying that my work goes out into the world and is shared with other people. I feel incredibly lucky for all this!"   Since 1994 she has taught illustration at the School of Visual Arts. She lives in New York City with her daughter Lydia. 

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