Tuesday, April 10, 2012


Kemp, Anna. Illus. Sara Ogilvie. Dogs Don’t Do Ballet. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010. ISBN: 978-1-4169-9839-6. $15.99 US.

Biff, an adorable pug who “is not like other dogs,” has one mission—he wants to do ballet. He is not interested in normal doggy stuff. In fact, he has no interest in characteristic canine behaviors like weeing on fire hydrants, scratching his fleas, or playing fetch. He’d rather watch ballet. Not only does Biff want to watch ballet, he wants to be a ballet dancer. This desire sends him on a journey. He follows his owner and sneaks down the street, aboard a bus, and then finally peeks through the window of a dance studio. Unfortunately, the ballet teacher, Miss Polly, sees Biff and he is thrown out. Biff, though, doesn’t give up. When the Royal Ballet comes to town, he again follows his owner and her father all the way to the symphony hall. It’s a beautiful evening, but suddenly there is a terrible accident and the prima ballerina trips, falls off the stage, into a tuba, and can’t go on. Biff though, comes to the rescue in pink tutu-ed glory and saves the performance to great applause and yells of bravo. This delightful story ends with, “Dogs DO do ballet. Bravo, Biff!

I had more fun reading this book than I have had in a long time. After all, there is a pug who wears a pink tutu and takes theatrical ballet poses at any opportunity: “Plie! Jete! Arabesque! Pirouette!” Angela Kemp’s smartest move, though, is that Biff’s owner is not named. This allows another reality to take place where the reader (or listener) imagines what it would be like to have a dog who wants to do ballet. It personalizes the book.

Testifying to the success of Dogs Don’t Do Ballet is the way readers consistently try to see the next page before it is turned. Most words are easy to recognize but there are a few that pose an enjoyable challenge to the early reader. Dogs Don’t Do Ballet is a success—a book I haven’t minded hearing more than once!

As much as Kemp’s storyline is enjoyable, it’s possible that Sara Ogilvie’s illustrations are what make the book. They are painted with beautiful hues in a loose, sketchy style that adds greatly to the movement throughout the book. Biff and his owner’s personalities bubble off the page in their large imploring eyes and lively postures. One of Ogilvie’s greatest strengths is her ability to portray believable expressions throughout. I found myself reacting to Biff’s hopefulness, the father’s disinterest, and the orchestra, audience, and father's shock at seeing Biff dance away on the stage. Other delightful details are Ogilvie’s attention to fashion, which I started to notice on my third reading. Biff’s owner is often wearing red galoshes and a red knit cap with a little bit of a dress peeking out beneath a brilliant blue coat. Also, keep an eye out for details such as little purses, buttons on boots, the father’s comfy slippers, and, of course, tutus throughout the pages. This is a book I look forward to guiding future students through.

Stephanie Ashley

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