Friday, April 27, 2018

PPBF: Danza!

And now on to today's Perfect Picture Book Friday pick*

Danza! A biography of Amalia Hernández, by Duncan Tonatiuh
Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México 

Written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh

Abrams BFYR, 2017
Ages 6-10, 32 pp, 980L

Dance, Cultural Diversity, Biography

Amalia (ah-MAH-lee-ah) Hernández was born in Mexico City in 1917 and everyone assumed she would grow up to be a schoolteacher like her mother and her grandmother. Even Ami (AH-me), as everyone called her, expected that.

But one afternoon while her family was on vacation, Ami saw a pair of dancers in a town square. They stomped and swayed to the live music. The danzas that they performed had been danced by the people of that area for generations. Ami was hooked. She made a decision: she was going to become a dancer herself.

Amalia Hernández is an overlooked figure in the history of entertainment. She was a dancer, teacher, and a collector of folk dances from her home country and around the world. She pioneered new styles of dance and incorporated cultural influences in her productions. She founded a prestigious ballet company, effectively cementing the importance of Mexican and folk dances in the collective consciousness. This book takes Amalia from her exposure to dance as a young girl, through the many high points of her life, and ends with her lasting legacy.

What I Love:
This book is written with scrupulous research and obvious respect, though the text is sometimes thick and overburdened with Amalia's many accomplishments. It is presented for ages 6 and up, but I think younger readers will have a difficult time grasping the details in the book. It can instead be used to introduce the very young to an exciting Hispanic personality and an important art movement. And older readers can enjoy the subject's amazingly full life and her ability to influence society. Unfortunately, the writing is sometimes less like a story, than an encyclopedic account. However, the book's significance and the omission of Ms. Hernández's broad accomplishments in most other places, makes this a picture book to try.

The author's choice to illustrate in a classical style adds to the book's message that Mexican tradition has much to offer. The nature of the art style is sometimes at odds with the theme of the book: Tonatiuh's art is fluid, but stiff at times, while Hernández's art was all about energy and movement. Tonatiuh does an excellent job of including even more facts into the back matter, facts which would have distracted from the linear nature of the story.

Danza! is a lovely and remarkable book which many people will find inspiring.

A Mexican dancer to color, from Crayola
1. Patricia of Wander, Ponder, Write has also reviewed this book for Perfect Picture Book Friday.

2. The Adelante Movement has published more information on the life of Amalia Hernández or check out the page on Danzantes Unidos.

3. You can learn the names and details about ten important traditional Mexican dances on CultureUp, as well as seeing a video for each.

4. PinBureau posted an inspiring article on the local Ballet Folklorico groups in the Phoenix, AZ area. Why not explore your town for a company near you?

5. In case you missed the other CYBILS Award finalist reviews, I've included the links below:
Hatching Chicks in Room 6
Once Upon A Jungle
Shark Lady
Dazzle Ships

6. Check out these and more Perfect Picture Books at your local library.

Reviewed by Vivian
Reviewed by Beth

Reviewed by Erik
Reviewed by Patricia

Reviewed by Maria
Reviewed by Joanne

Have you reviewed a Perfect Picture Book along this theme? Please leave the link in the comments below. Thanks!

Check out all the recommended titles for Perfect Picture Book Friday
for Friday, April 27, 2018 available on Susanna Leonard Hill's blog.

*As a CYBILS second round judge, I was expected to review this book in exchange for my honest opinion.


  1. Love Danza! and am so happy you're highlighting this PB biography of an often-overlooked cultural icon.

    1. I think this woman deserves a lot of credit. What a lady! Thanks for stopping in.

  2. I love Duncan Tonatiuh's beautiful stories. I am not familiar with Amalia Hernández and want to read her story. She certainly has been overlooked by the entertainment world. Look forward to reading DANZA!

    1. I liked several of his other books better. For this one, I think the subject carries the book. So glad to learn about this amazing lady. Thanks.

  3. Replies
    1. It's great to see more variety in picture book illustration styles. So glad kids are getting exposed to Tonatiuh's work. Thanks.

  4. What a beautiful story. A must read for me. Thanks for sharing.

    1. This bio certainly deserves attention. It's full of great information about a great performer and influencer.

  5. I have not seen this book, but when I was a kid I did have the most wonderful opportunity to watch Ballet Folklorico.

    1. Really? Wow, that must be something. I looked online when I wrote this, but there were no schools or performances near me...yet! Thanks for reading.


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