cover image Noel the First

Noel the First

Kate McMullan. HarperCollins, $14.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-06-205142-4

Ballerina Noel (introduced in Nutcracker Noel) enjoys the most privileged place at the barre in her class. Along with first place comes pressure, however, and Noel loses her coveted spot to a new dancer, Anne Marie. Anne Marie in turn faces a challenge from a third girl, Regina Louisa Belinda. As Noel watches her foes spinning and leaping, she realizes they look ""like a pair of killer whales going after the same sardine."" Competition has brought out their worst; seeing this, Noel recovers her own artistic balance and dances ""with all her heart, the way she used to do,"" thus regaining her teacher's favor. Kate McMullan accentuates Noel's initial vanity (""Noel the First... that's me!""), then comically ups the ante by giving Noel's competitors haughty demeanors. Jim McMullan, too, compares the lanky girls to society ladies, endowing them with ski-slope noses, sugary smiles and mannered postures (Regina even wears a tiara). The more prideful the girls' behavior, the harder and less graceful the images become; as Noel transcends the competition, blurry and delicate watercolor touches soften her features and make her look lighter than air. For all the exaggeration, there is plenty of truth to this tale--not just for prima ballerinas, but for anyone striving for a personal best. Ages 3-up. (Oct.)