A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
- Happy birthday Gloria Kamen (Edward Lear: King of Nonsense) and Margaret Peterson Haddix (Missing series).
- Itâ€™s the birth date of Joseph Krumgold (1908-1980), ...And Now Miguel, Onion John; and Leonard Wibberley (1915-1983), The Mouse That Roared, Flintâ€™s Island.
- In 1865, Robert E. Lee surrenders at the Appomattox Court House to Ulysses S. Grant, ending The U.S. Civil War. Read Marching to Appomattox: The Footrace that Ended the Civil War by Ken Stark and A Ballad of the Civil War by Mary Stolz, illustrated by Sergio Martinez.
- In 1939 Marian Anderson sings at the Lincoln Memorial after being denied the chance to perform at the Daughters of the American Revolutionâ€™s Constitution Hall. Read The Voice That Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights by Russell Freedman.
On April 9, 1942, fifty-one elephants performed in a ballet in Madison Square Garden. Although at first this idea seems absurd, the strange but true story is explored by writer Leda Schubert and illustrator Robert Andrew Parker in Ballet of the Elephants, published in 2006.
Over the last ten years, picture-book texts have grown shorter, and editors today often say they prefer five hundred to six hundred wordsâ€”allowing ample room for the illustrator to convey the story. If you want to see what a seasoned picture book author can do with only a few words, Ballet of the Elephants showcases a writer who uses brevity and eloquence to convey a fascinating story. Leda introduces three protagonistsâ€”John Ringling North, circus manager who thought of the idea; George Balanchine, ballet master; and Igor Stravinsky, music genius who wrote The Rite of Spring. Although appreciated today, when The Rite of Spring was first performed â€śpeople hissed after the first chord. Fistfights broke out in the audience. Stravinsky said his music was best understood by children and animals.â€ť So the three men came up with an amazing plan: produce a ballet for elephants. Balanchine studied how elephants move. Stravinsky crafted Circus Polka, which ended with a march. And the John Ringling North taught the elephants their paces.
On opening night, the ballet began with Modoc, the largest Indian elephant in America, dressed in a tutuâ€”a very large tutuâ€”and dancing alone, turning and turning. Then Vera Zorina, world-famous ballerina, danced with him. Fifty elephants, the corps de ballet, held one anotherâ€™s tails and danced in an endless chain. â€śThey raised enormous legs to rest one anotherâ€™s backs, and trumpeted to Stravinskyâ€™s odd harmonies.â€ť Finally, ballerinas joined in the performance of Circus Polka. They did not hiss or fight. It seemed Stravinsky was right: animals understood his music better than adults.
In the authorâ€™s note at the end, we learn that the performance toured 104 cities and more than four million people witnessed this production. A fabulous photo of the elephants in full costume adds just the right touch at the end of the bookâ€”readers get a glimpse of the actual event.
After reading Ballet of the Elephants, adults and children alike wish they lived in 1942 and could have been one of those four million in the big top. Until time travel becomes possible, the best way to experience Circus Polka is simply to reread Leda Schubertâ€™s magnificent textâ€”and watch Robert Andrew Parker use watercolors to bring this performance to life. Few picture information books contain such a naturally interesting subject for children. Drama, dancing elephants, actionâ€”it has everything. As P. T. Barnum, circus guru himself said, â€śWhen entertaining the public, it is best to have an elephant.â€ť Ballet of the Elephants has fifty-one!
Thank you Leda Schubert and Robert Andrew Parker for giving us such a satisfying look at what happened on April 9, 1942.
Originally posted April 9, 2011. Updated for .