Gloria's Promise, the newest picture book from sisters Robin Preiss Glasser and Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman, is a particularly meaningful one for the longtime collaborators. Based on Glasser’s childhood experience of falling during her audition for the American Ballet Theatre Summer Intensive, and filled with her signature exuberant art, the story, written by Glasser with Weitzman, follows a passionate young New York City ballet dancer vying for a spot in the company’s summer program. Glasser, an alumna of the ABT School scholarship program, danced professionally with the Pennsylvania Ballet (now the Philadelphia Ballet) before becoming a children’s book illustrator. The two introduced the book, the most recent title from the partnership between Random House Children’s Books and the American Ballet Theatre, to students at the dance company’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School on March 20.
Lee Wade, v-p and publisher at Random House Studio, had approached Glasser—with whom she had worked two decades earlier on Lynne Cheney’s America and succeeding titles—about a ballet picture book as soon as the RHCB/ABT partnership was formed in 2019. “I jumped at the idea of doing a picture book with ABT because I was hoping I could convince Robin to make a picture book with me,” Wade recalled. “I had always thought she should write and illustrate a book for children that would draw on her experiences as a professional dancer. I knew she could write truthfully about the hunger to dance, and what it truly takes to become a ballet dancer.”
Glasser loved the idea, but had her hands full at the time. She was finishing up work on the popular Fancy Nancy series by Jane O’Connor, and illustrating Escape Goat, the second of three picture books by novelist Ann Patchett. Still, she began searching for models online and sketching ideas. “I was looking for my muse,” she explained, “a young dancer with talent, drive and personality.” She found her via Instagram: Yeva Hrytsak, a ballet student in Dnipro, Ukraine, whose photos showed her dancing in the street, on a bridge, against a tree in a park—“basically, this kid just needed to dance wherever she went!”
Glasser and Weitzman are the oldest and youngest, respectively, of four sisters brought up in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., whose mother’s love of dance and literature informed their childhood. “We grew up in a house with books on the shelves and images of dancers on the walls,” Weitzman said. “Our mother began taking Robin to ballet classes before I was even born. All four of us took lessons, but we all knew Robin was the one with the talent.” Their mother’s passion for the arts evolved into a career in arts management, which included being the manager of former New York City Ballet dancer Edward Villella when he founded the Miami City Ballet in 1985. Movingly, the book’s publication date coincides nearly to the day with the one-year anniversary of their mother’s death, creating a particular poignancy to the book’s debut. “Our mother would have loved to have been at this event,” noted Glasser during the afternoon.
The sisters, who previously worked together on You Can’t Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum (Dial, 1998) and follow-up books, said Gloria’s Promise was a true collaboration, with words and pictures coming simultaneously. “We start by brainstorming together about the story we want to tell, and how our character evolves,” Weitzman explained. “And we need to know how our story ends before we begin. Once we do, I begin the words and art notes and Robin begins drawing. We’re both seeing a movie in our minds. Robin is my hand for the pictures I’m seeing. As Robin draws, we take words out. The finished book is a little of me, a little of her.”
Launching the Book—and Meeting the Muse
The March 20 kick-off for the book’s tour included Glasser and Weitzman meeting with teenage students in ABT’s pre-professional division, followed by a read-aloud and crafts activity with seven- and eight-year-old students in the children’s division. Glasser playfully challenged the teens to replicate the poses in Gloria’s Promise while holding a copy of the book—a challenge they happily took up. She asked for their stories about embarrassing auditions, agreeing that laughing at your mistakes, then persisting through them is the best attitude, and with one student’s statement: “My teacher told me she’s looking for passion, not perfection.”
The afternoon was also the scene of a moving encounter for Glasser: one of the pre-professional students was none other than her muse, Hrytsak. “Because she lived in Ukraine when I was sketching her,” Glasser said, “I accepted that I would never meet her. Then the war started, and I couldn’t stop worrying about her.” Hrytsak, though, had been temporarily studying at a dance academy in Zurich when Russia invaded Ukraine. Her family told her not to return home; stranded, Hrytsak was evacuated to the U.S. along with other Ukrainian dance students, by Russian-born Larissa Saveliev, founder of the Youth America Grand Prix, a student ballet scholarship competition. “When she turned up in New York, safely ensconced in the highest level of the ABT JKO School,” Glasser said, “I was gobsmacked by the serendipitous fortune of actually getting to meet her in person. And she was even lovelier than I’d drawn her!”
After talking with the older dancers, Glasser and Weitzman met with a dozen younger students who had just finished class. Still wearing their practice clothes, they huddled on couches and armchairs in the school’s dancers’ lounge with their own copies of Gloria’s Promise, following along as Glasser and Weitzman read aloud, then lining up to have their books signed and finally decorating black-and-white images from the book with crayons, glitter, and feathers.
The next day the sisters headed to Montclair, N.J., for an event at Watchung Booksellers, and visited the Brookdale Elementary School in neighboring Bloomfield. From there, they traveled to Ann Patchett’s Parnassus Books in Nashville, the start of a national book tour that includes Chicago, Atlanta, New Orleans, Houston, and a few stops in Nebraska. For all their potential readers, aspiring dancers or not, Weitzman and Glasser have the same message: “This book is for anybody who has a passion—something they want to do all the time,” Weitzman said. “Even if you don’t pursue it professionally, following that passion will enrich your life and inform it in ways you can’t even imagine yet.”
Gloria’s Promise by Robin Preiss Glasser and Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman. Random House Studio, $18.99 Mar. ISBN 978-0-593-18100-3