Ballet with Heart, an inclusive children’s book by Emily Joof
We are delighted to stock the children’s book Ballet with Heart as part of our retail range. We love this sweet, uplifting story which celebrates that ballet and classical dance are for everyone, regardless of ability, gender or race. The book is written by Emily Joof and illustrated by Sawyer Cloud. The story follows siblings Louis and Ella as they go to ballet class for the first time, and overcome initial shyness and self-doubt to dance in their end-of-term performance of The Nutcracker.
The book also includes profiles of some dancers of colour, one of whom, Gina Tse, is a Royal Ballet School alumna. Gina danced with The English National Ballet before joining The Royal Swedish Ballet Company in 2004, and was promoted to Principal in 2011. She founded The International Ballet School (as Ballet International) in Stockholm in 2016, as a place for children from bilingual households or not living in their own country to come together and meet friends from similar backgrounds, with ballet as a common language. The School, where Emily’s children Louis and Ella now attend ballet class, works to develop and support the dancer in each individual no matter the age and level.
Emily Joof is an African-diaspora author who works as the Associate Director of Programs for Luminos Fund, leading their work in West Africa on inclusion of out of school children. Emily writes stories with a focus on inclusion and diversity from an afro-diasporan perspective. Emily answered some of our questions here:
What led you to start writing children’s books?
“Mummy where is me?” That was the phrase that pulled at my heart strings. With beautiful dark eyes, ebony skin and tiny locs, my son searched for himself in the stories we read. Stories about adventure, or dance. Stories about discovery or history, and even at the tiny age of three he knew his story was missing.
I never dreamed of being an author, it is something I never aspired to. I didn’t even know I could write. I never met writers who looked like me, it was never discussed, and in fact no teacher ever pointed out the possibility or my ability. However, in 4 years I have published 7 titles, translated my books into 4 languages, sold them across all continents, and created my own publishing house.
I write stories to inspire. Stories that reflect my multicultural heritage and stories that include those who are so often left out. I am a multicultural mom. I am Gambian, Malian, French, Swedish. In my stories you will find a space for identities to connect. A space for home to transcend geographies. A space for the arts to include all genders. And beyond my stories you will find me advocating for inclusion, representation for all and storytelling as a powerful medium to teach, to share love, and to unite.
Why do you think it’s important for children of all backgrounds to have access to ballet? What do you think ballet gives to your children?
Truth be told I have learnt all I know about ballet thanks to my children’s interest and their wonderful teacher and Director of The International Ballet School in Stockholm, Gina Tse. My son was a slow walker and went to rehab to strengthen his legs and arms and I noticed how ballet helped him develop his tiny physique. But beyond all the wonderful physical benefits of ballet, and perhaps most importantly, I noticed how both my children have developed a strong sense of self and courage. Neither are natural extroverts, it took time, patience, and child centred pedagogy to bring them to a place where they bloomed, and that was thanks to Ms Gina and ballet.
Dance is the most natural expression of human emotion. It is therapeutic, exhilarating and devoid of boundaries. I truly hope my picture book will inspire others to take a leap. We want to inspire dance for everyone, dancing for joy, dancing with your soul, hence Ballet with Heart.
Tell us a bit more about why you wanted to write this book?
I had done my best to curate picture books with brown ballerinas for my daughter and even that was hard – trying to find some with a little brown boy was nearly impossible.
With the book I wanted to put both the brother and sister front and centre as too often we see children with brown skin in supporting roles. I wanted to show close parenting, parents with different body shapes, different afro hair, tall children, rounder children, children who are differently able. I wanted to include children who were shy and hesitant but also those who are simply passionate and jump in at moment’s notice.
Ballet with Heart is multi-layered with inclusion in the story itself and the brilliant illustrations by Sawyer Cloud, yet it remains a simple story about starting dance class and performing at the Christmas show.
Do you have any plans for future books on ballet?
Writing this book has brought me such joy and I am already developing a sequel in my head. Very shortly perhaps, we might meet the gang on a wonderful school trip to London!