Frances Dean Who Loved to Dance and Dance by Birgitta Sif – Reviewed by Christine Bennett
Every once in a while, you meet a character in a book that you would absolutely be best friends with if they stepped out of their book. Frances Dean, of Frances Dean Who Loved to Dance and Dance (by Birgitta Sif, 2014, Candlewick Press) is one such individual.
You know from the minute you read the title that you’ll be encountering some dance moves in this story. Get ready. Put on your boogie shoes. By the end of this story, you’ll want to do a little jig of happiness yourself.
Frances Dean loves to dance. And dance. And Dance! She is pictured on the title page in an oversized plaid pink shirt with her brown hair in braids. She’s glancing up at the book’s title, which has a purple bird perched and singing on the “E” in “Frances.” She looks like she might be feeling ready to… well, you know… dance!
And she does. She dances with a smile on her face as she listens to birds singing and moves and grooves to their tune. A cat, a swan, some squirrels, and other forest animals watch her with smiling, curious faces. She performs an arabesque as she floats over a park bench. But when people start to walk through the park, she stops dancing, and her free-spirited smile turns into a look of apprehension. She looks around, and forgets how to dance. The outside world, illustrated and full of life in the previous pages, is now blank, with only a park bench and Frances Dean sitting on it, looking down solemnly at her purple sneakers.
The birds haven’t forgotten her dance, though. They catch her eye and lead her to another girl, sporting a blue striped shirt and glasses, who is singing a beautiful song. Although Frances Dean is too shy to introduce herself, she finds herself humming along. She wonders if she’ll ever feel confident enough to share her dance moves like the girl shares her music.
The next morning, Frances Dean looks out the window of her tall, yellow stone house and sees all sorts of birds sitting on the tree outside. They are singing, and the wind is blowing just the right amount. Frances Dean smiles and remembers, “with all her heart”, how much she loves to dance. The next thing you know, she’s weaving through the trees and leaping across the grass, the birds following her in delight. No one is around; but with the tune of the girl’s beautiful song still in her mind, she (shyly) asks the birds if she can show them her dance. And she does.
Then, she asks the cat, a bit more bravely this time.
The neighbor’s dog is next. They do a jig.
When she meets a lady in the square, she shows her how to do the twist.
And then, a familiar girl with glasses and a blue striped shirt taps her on the shoulder. The girl with the song would like a dance lesson, too.
And so, they dance, and dance, and dance.
The story weaves together the beauty of nature, depth of emotion, and the joy of friendship. I (for one) can absolutely relate to the experience of jamming out wholeheartedly in my living room and dancing like no one is watching (because, of the fact, that no one is watching)- but when another person comes into the room, I instantly reach to turn down the music and my body forgets the awesome moves I was doing just a second ago.
Frances Dean doesn’t just show us how to dance. She reminds us, with her hopeful smiles and sharing spirit, of how to live- to be yourself and pursue what you love, even if it feels scary at times. Through her passion, we are reminded to listen to the calling of our hearts- that little voice that is constant, persistent, and wants us to be free to live in all the best ways- that we too often ignore because we are afraid of what others will think.
The illustrations, composed of beautiful pencil and color drawings, bring out the sweet sentiments of the characters and the loveliness of the world surrounding them. Birgitta Sif has created a tale of simple joy and growing confidence that inspires readers of all ages to “live with all their heart”. It’s one of those books that I would recommend to the whole world, if I could. It is my hope that it finds its way into the hands of teachers, parents, booksellers, librarians, teenagers, grandparents, and, most importantly, children- and that everyone who reads it walks with a little more spring in their step. And, you never know- they might even ask YOU if you’d like to dance.
Frances Dean and I hope you’d say yes.
Christine Bennett lives in Western, MA where she spends her time reading, writing, dancing west coast swing, and working at the Eric Carle Museum Shop. In her four years as a bookseller, she’s discovered many wonderful picture books and loves to help people of all ages find their next great read. Check out her website at www.bearsbookshelf.com, and follow her on twitter (@bearsbookshelf). She can also be found jamming out to the radio in the car.