Once Upon a Dance - Movement, Joy, Imagination
Brought to you by a mother-daughter team. Konora is a professional ballet dancer and her mother taught creative movement and ballet for decades. She was honored to be chosen and recognized by her local City Council for "embodying the spirit of partnership and commitment to children in our community" for her work with young dancers. She’s breathed dance from every angle: child to pre-professional to adult ballet student, zoom student, dance teacher, dance mom, competition mom, ballet-school parent-guilder, audience member, recital planner, business owner, and board member. As our Author of the Day, she tells us all about their book, Joey Finds His Jump.
Please give us a short introduction to what Joey Finds His Jump is about.
Joey Kangaroo never learned how to jump, and he desperately wants to know the secret. When the other animals go to sleep, he goes searching for his jump. He not only finds what he’s looking for, but he makes a new friend.
One each page of the Dance-It-Out series, a professional ballerina encourages kids to express movement and act out the story alongside the series’ characters/objects.
What inspired you to write this book?
Once Upon a Dance is a partnership between me, a dance instructor, and my daughter. We wanted to bring movement to stuck-at-home kids during the pandemic, and we were both sent home from the ballet world, so had extra time.
Why, would you say, is dance and movement so important for children?
Children are moving less these days. Most have lost their after-school sports and activities, and many (mine included) are sitting behind a screen at home instead of moving among hallways. The books are not only an enjoyable way to get a bit of exercise but also a bonding opportunity with caregivers—who get to sit—as kids get moving.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
Experience with children and education in a variety of capacities helped. This year, I’ve learned many new things outside a dance instructor’s wheelhouse—InDesign, self-publishing, websites, etc.
What has readers' reaction to the book been like so far?
Kids love the books. Joey is one of six available in this series. I knew kids would love them after years of seeing children light up in my dance classes, but I wasn’t sure how the reviews would go. I’m ecstatic with the reception so far: parents, teachers, librarians, and reviewers have all praised the book as ingenious, fun, innovative, and beautiful.
Does the book have an underlying message? What do you hope readers will take away from this?
The main takeaways are that you can find answers if you look for them and that you can make a friend easily when you identify a common interest. One reviewer mentioned “patience and perseverance”—I liked that.
Tell us more about the illustrations and how it came about.
The Dance-It-Out illustrators come from all over the world. Olha is from Canada. I found her online and loved her portfolio. I cried happy tears when I got the first image—she perfectly captured Joey’s friendly warmth and cute quirkiness with a hint of sadness.
Who is Joey Kangaroo? What makes him so special?
Joey’s a bit downtrodden, but he’s sociable and has many good moments, too. I think that’s a good lesson in two ways—empathy for others’ situations/backgrounds, as well as understanding limitations, don’t define you or make you stop living. There are character elements in the images: his pockets are stuffed with supplies, and he carries flowers he gives away throughout the book.
What did you have the most fun with when creating this book?
There’s a lot of laughter when my daughter and I take pictures of her for the books—those are some of my favorite moments. She listens and acts out the stories with no instructions as a test case. Her trying to jump with her tongue was particularly funny.
Joey Finds His Jump! is part of a series. Tell us more about the other books in the series.
We like to highlight diversity in characters, movements, learning concepts, and bonus takeaways throughout the series. The five other published books include:
Brielle’s Birthday Ball is a beautiful was-it-all-just-a-dream adventure packed with movement concepts and subtle life lessons.
Princess Naomi Helps a Unicorn includes sibling squabbles, a horse, a snake, and joyful reunions. Gallops, leaps, and muscle activation are just a few of the movement themes.
Petunia Perks Up is a relaxing story of meditation and gentle movement. Petunia lets elements of her day spark her imagination, and she finds a peaceful calm.
Danny, Denny, and the Dancing Dragon feature Danny and his new baby brother. While Danny enjoys ballet, the story movements are mostly about interactions with Kadessa the dragon.
The Cat with the Crooked Tail highlights the value of practice, friendship, and a good attitude. Merida Brown, the feline heroine, thinks her tail hinders her abilities. With help from a friend, she proves herself wrong. (Kids might want props to set up an obstacle course.)
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
I’m trying to balance writing/design/marketing/ads with learning. I spend loads of time reading/watching articles/books/videos, and sometimes say to myself, “Enough learning, get to work.”
As far as process, I explore the movements with my body when I create a story. One day, I was standing outside my house because someone was working inside, and you know, COVID. I made up all the movements on my front sidewalk for Mira Monkey’s Magic Mirror Adventure. I’m sure the neighbors were like, “What the…”
What are you working on right now?
Working with illustrators on several Dance-It-Out stories:
• Vampires, ghosts and bats, and a sibling pair who learn to tame the critters
• A superhero squirrel and a snarky cat save the day
• Monkeys and fairy mischief—so many ideas with this one, it’s a trilogy of stories
We’re wrapping up book five of the Dancing Shapes series of books for kids 6-10.
We’ve also started a new series of choreography/dance concepts books for ages 8-12.