Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Portraits: Dancing Through Fire

Portraits: Dancing Through Fire

Kathryn Lasky
For ages 8 to 12
Scholastic, 2005   ISBN: 978-0439710091

For Sylvie Bertrand nothing is more important than her life as a dancer at the Paris Opera Ballet. At the moment her biggest problem is that she is too short. If she would only grow just three-quarters of an inch she would be able to advance to the next level but for now she has to content herself with being a petit rat, just a student instead a real member of the ballet.

The hardest part of all is that Sylvie’s successes and failures mean so much to her mother. Indeed her mother lives her life through her daughter and this puts a lot of pressure on Sylvie. It means that Sylvie lives and breaths the ballet - that she fails to even notice that there is a world outside the ballet. To her the scenery on the stage is more real than the trees and sky outdoors. Sylvie is so wrapped up with her lessons and her performances that she fails to notice that all is not well outside the world of the Opera. It is only when war breaks out that Sylvie is forced to realize that something is wrong. Suddenly she is forced to open her eyes and she sees that the people of Paris are suffering. Many are angry and her own sister is part of a movement which wants to bring about real change in the country. Perhaps being a part of the ballet world is not enough after all, and perhaps Sylvie has to find a place for herself that is all her own.

In this story Kathryn Lasky has created a gripping tale about the life of a young ballerina. Set against the backdrop of the Franco-Prussian war, readers will come to see how absorbing the ballet world can be and how startling it is for Sylvie to discover that a real world exists away from the boards, the footlights, and the practices. Often in the background readers will meet a little man wearing a black top hat, an artist who painted the ballerinas of the Paris Opera and whose painting “L’Etoile” inspired this story. The artist’s name was Edgar Degas.

Kathryn Lasky’s obvious love and appreciation for ballet can be found throughout her wonderfully crafted story.