cover image Ballet of the Elephants

Ballet of the Elephants

Leda Schubert, , illus. by Robert Andrew Parker. . Roaring Brook/ Brodie, $17.95 (34pp) ISBN 978-1-59643-075-4

A memorable piece of circus history takes center ring in Schubert's (Here Comes Darrell ) fact-filled tale. The author explains how composer Igor Stravinsky, choreographer George Balanchine and circus leader John Ringling North—all famous in their own right—came together to create a ballet for 50 elephants in 1942. Several spreads feature separate brief histories of the three men: readers learn of Stravinsky's misunderstood music and Balanchine's homesickness when he was sent away to ballet school at age nine. North, who envisioned the pachyderm performance, called upon Russian-born Balanchine, who then involved his friend and fellow countryman Stravinsky. A gatefold opens to reveal the momentous dance. Modoc lifts ballerina Zorina in his trunk in a standout painting that recalls Toulouse-Lautrec's Moulin-Rouge posters; he and the other elephants "wore fluffy pink tutus and jeweled headbands." (The World's Greatest Elephant , reviewed below, offers a chilling backstory to elephant star Modoc's tale.) Parker's (Cold Feet ) ethereal artwork evokes the lightness and movement of ballet, as watercolors bleed out of the pen-and-ink outlines. While the narrative casually uses a few terms (e.g., "bull men," "droshkies") without explanation, and the artists' backgrounds may seem like a bit of a detour, Schubert manages to put the show in a broader cultural context. Author notes contain black-and-white photos of the ballet along with additional fascinating facts (e.g., it took 7,000 yards of fabric to make the elephants' tutus). Ages 4-8. (Apr.)