The Girl Who Wanted to Dance

Book review by
Dawn Friedman, Common Sense Media
The Girl Who Wanted to Dance Book Poster Image
Haunting fairy tale is dark and confusing for younger kids.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

Ultimately the message is that artistic inspiration and family life are incompatible, and that parental abandonment is OK under some circumstances.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Clara is abandoned when one of her parents makes a selfish choice and the resolution is unsatisfying.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Clara's parents are both more concerned with their own feelings than with hers. Her abandonment is the centerpiece of the book, but isn't satisfactorily resolved.

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What's the story?

Clara wants to be a dancer. In fact, dancing is in her very soul and her grandmother tells her it's no surprise since her mother -- whose absence isn't explained at first -- also loved to dance. But her taciturn father doesn't like to see her dancing or hear the lilting songs her grandmother plays on the piano. When Clara's grandmother dies, she is left alone to deal with her grief and her father's continued distance. Then one day a dancing troupe arrives in town and Clara wants to join them. Will the performer she meets let her become a dancer, too?

Is it any good?

One can't help but wonder if the author of the book was so caught up in her romantic, fairy-tale tone that she missed the story's less-than-satisfying ending. It basically says that parents have a right to emotionally and physically leave their children if their needs are great. Instead of a conclusion that acknowledges and resolves Clara's abandonment, the "happy" ending is that Clara is left alone again only now with the understanding that to dance matters more than family ties; certainly not a message to send to kids whether their own families are intact or not.

Clara's losses are never really addressed. Better to read the book with a critical eye to the story and use it to discuss values around family obligations and explore ways we can meet our professional and personal goals without hurting the people we love the most.

Beautiful illustrations effectively convey the fairy tale tone of the book.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about their own hopes and dreams and how they have learned to make them fit with the needs of their loved ones.

  • Parents can share the things they do for love (favorite hobbies or creative endeavors) and how they do them while still meeting their family obligations.

  • Kids can brainstorm ways that Clara could still see her mother without her mother having to give up her love of dancing.

  • Families can talk about the way Clara could talk to her father about her feelings and imagine what his appropriate response ought to be.

  • Families may want to rewrite the book with a happier ending; one that addresses the needs of all the characters.

Book details

For kids who love fantasies

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