Book Review: Swan

Snyder, Laurel.  Swan, the Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova.  2015.  San Francisco.  Chronicle Books.
ISBN-13: 978-1452118901

Laurel Snyder presents the biography of Anna Pavlova, the Russian prima ballerina, using spare text that almost feels like poetry. The careful selection of words used to evoke the feelings of Anna as a young child, working in a laundry-visiting her first ballet-falling in love with dance-spending the necessary years perfecting her craft, spin a story that twirls and breathes ballet.

Critical Analysis:
Capturing the feelings of the young girl, Anna Pavlova, Snyder utilizes the rhythm of the printed word, combined with the artistic renderings of Julie Morstad to create an informative work of art. Morstad’s artwork—done in ink, gouache, graphite, pencil, and crayon invokes a sense of awe and wonder as the child is introduced to the world of dance. Playing with color and movement, each page vividly depicts the different emotions experienced by Anna as she falls in love with dance, learns what it means to be disappointed, works hard and ultimately succeeds in her chosen vocation. Going on to explain how Pavlova desired to bring the art to the masses, Snyder and Morstad’s combination of linear drawings show the passage of time, and help the young reader realize that the best things in life take time.

Following the pictorial story, Snyder’s author notes retell the story in straightforward prose which is useful in filling in the historical details such as the dates, scope of influence, and the tragic end to Pavlova’s life. In effect, this is a dual work of literature, one for the very young–followed by a two page factual telling of the ballerina’s life.

“In spare, verselike prose, Snyder follows the life of Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova from her artistic awakening as a dancer to the height of her fame and her death in 1931. Morstad gives Pavlova the grace of a porcelain doll, whether she is 12113258_10207938185831761_8983141063648950860_odancing as she hangs clothing on a line (“Shirt, shirt, laundry./ Shirt, shirt, laundry”), honing her craft after being admitted to the Imperial Ballet School, or performing her signature role in The Dying Swan.” Publishers Weekly

“Young ballet lovers will be smitten with the story.”
Kirkus Reviews


Reviewed by Jean Lovett