BRAVE BALLERINA & Storytelling Tips (+ Giveaway)

Several years ago, I was overwhelmed with life. I had moved with my husband from Washington D.C. to a small beach town in Delaware. I felt excited about living in a beautiful, new place, but I was having trouble adjusting to multiple changes all at once. In addition to the move, our son left for college. I missed him with my whole heart.

So what turned things around for me? The clouds lifted when I started dancing my stress away in a ballet class. Lovely music swept me away. I focused on holding onto the barre, pointing my toes, and extending my leg along the floor for a tendu.

I ended up making friends in the class and writing BRAVE BALLERINA: The Story of Janet Collins – illustrated by the phenomenal Ebony Glenn.

I’m pleased to share 5 storytelling tips from this amazing journey to joy:

1. Tap into your childhood memories. Taking ballet as an adult brought back fond memories of my mother taking me to ballet class on Saturday mornings when I was a little girl. Here is an old, fuzzy photo of me with my big brother after one of my ballet recitals. EXTRA TIP: Brainstorming a big list of your childhood memories = inspiration & story ideas!

2. Do the thing you’re writing about (if possible) – and/or observe it. There was something about doing and feeling the movements of ballet that seeped into my writing. Along with dancing in class, we performed in shows. I’m here in the middle with our ballet teacher (on your left) and another friend. I also observed teen classes to see how they moved across the floor.  

3. Consider whether your writing style reflects your book topic. For some writers, this might mean using a snappy style for a funny book. For another writer, it might mean using a serious style for a sensitive topic. In my case, a gentle, rhyming approach worked for BRAVE BALLERINA given the movement involved in ballet. When Janet Collins was a little girl, she stretched her arms to the sky and danced to the rhythm of palm trees swaying in her yard. Opening lines: This is the girl who danced in the breeze to the swoosh, swoosh, swoosh of towering trees.

4. No trouble = no story. This is a common expression in the writing world, but sometimes I forget it. I get attached to my characters and want to go easy on them. But in fiction and narrative nonfiction, conflict is part of the mix. Readers flip those pages to see how it all turns out. For Janet Collins, the trouble was the racial segregation and discrimination she experienced when she was aspiring to be a ballerina in the 1930s and ‘40s. White dancers and black dancers weren’t allowed to dance on the same stage. Still, Janet pursued dance with a passion. When she could not get into prominent ballet schools because of the color of her skin, she found a teacher who gave her private lessons. Despite the obstacles, Janet kept on dancing…and became the first black prima ballerina with the Metropolitan Opera House in 1951.

5. Picture the children. My husband and I loved visiting the Dance Theatre of Harlem school. How wonderful to see young dancers (shown below) sharing a love of ballet.

When I’m writing and revising a manuscript, I like to picture the children and ask myself: Am I telling a story for children? A story children will enjoy and understand? Can I envision reading this book aloud to a room full of children? I want to always remember the children.

P.S. We all made it through the college years!

***GIVEAWAY***

For a chance to win a copy of BRAVE BALLERINA signed by me, leave a comment by March 10. I’ll announce the randomly-selected winner in my next post.

Congratulations to Emma Price for winning a CLARK THE SHARK book from my last post!

Thanks everyone & see you next time!

-Michelle

Michelle Meadows

Michelle Meadows

Michelle Meadows is the author of 10 picture books -- with more books in the works. Michelle loves creating heartwarming stories that are enjoyable to read aloud. Connection, compassion, and family are common themes in her work. Her latest books are BRAVE BALLERINA: The Story of Janet Collins and FLYING HIGH: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles. Her other books include HIBERNATION STATION, SUPER BUGS, and PIGGIES IN PAJAMAS. Michelle studied journalism and literature at Syracuse University in New York. She is represented by literary agent Rosemary Stimola of the Stimola Literary Studio. Michelle grew up in Washington, D.C. She now lives near the beach in Delaware with her husband and son. To learn more about Michelle's books, visit her website: www.michellemeadows.com

84 Comments:

  1. Congratulations! It sounds like a wonderful book.

  2. What a beautiful book, in so many respects. Thank you for sharing Janet Collins’ story as well as your storytelling tips for writing it.

  3. Thanks for inspiring me. This sounds like a wonderful book and an important contribution to children’s literature.

  4. I would love a copy of this book to share with my nieces!

  5. What a beautiful book. Congratulations Michelle!

  6. This post made my day 🙂 Thank you, Michelle

  7. Avatar
    Debra Kempf Shumaker

    Wow. Your writing is so lovely on the pages that we see here. I cannot wait to see the whole book. And yay for you taking dance lessons as an adult. I’m taking piano lessons, something I always wanted to do. It gives me such a creative outlet. I love it.

  8. This is so lovely! Congrats on making it through the college years 🙂

  9. Such lovely joy in these images and gentle guidance in your tips. Thank you!

  10. Wonderful post, Michelle. I love how it hinges on your personal experience. We get to know you as well as your book. And your book is lovely! Congratulations.

  11. Ebony Glenn is an inspiration. Love her illustrations so much.

  12. This book looks beautiful, Michelle. Congratulations! And thank you for the excellent writing advice!

  13. Congratulations, Michelle. The book looks beautiful, and I am so glad you have adjusted well to your new home.

  14. I’d love a copy of this beautiful story for my granddaughter, who is taking ballet right now.

  15. Thank you for sharing your journey and your beautiful book! I love all the photographs and appreciate your tips!

  16. I have always loved ballet! Four of my granddaughters have taken ballet lessons and one went on for nine years, though she also loved, and eventually prefered, tap.
    I have another granddaughter now with whom I’d love to share this book as she loves dance and music(piano) and singing.

  17. Avatar
    Deborah A Buschman

    So wonderful. I remember my days as a child ballerina. I still dance around the house when no one is home.

  18. I can relate so much – as a dancer and someone who just sent her son off to college last fall. Thank you for the super useful tips and the inside scoop on your story. I can’t wait to read it! Congrats!

    • Thanks, Elizabeth! Happy dancing! And what a joy when the college kids come back to us – something to look forward to…

  19. Congratulations, Michelle! I love the lyrical language, and I’m so glad to hear you survived the college years. I’m in the thick of that myself right now.

  20. Thank you for the post and for the tips on voice and writing style. I also needed the reminder about conflict. Your book is beautiful and your writing is lyrical and will be mentor text for me.

  21. Thank you for a wonderful, inspirational book! I’m a first year elementary school librarian with a ballet dancing daughter and a daughter looking at colleges, and your book is a must have for my library!

  22. A beautiful person in a beautiful book. Thank you for sharing.

  23. Congratulations! I look forward to reading this book. I took adult ballet and wrote a story (very different) about it, too.

  24. Such an inspiring story. And great reminders for writers. Dance on!

  25. Thank you for sharing the inspiration for your ballerina book! Those childhood memories really are a gold mine!

  26. Michelle, this is a lovely book, wonderfully rhythmic. Congratulations! This is one I will add to my personal library.

  27. What a lyrical post. Can’t wait to read, Brave Ballerina. Childhood roots lead to wonderful stories.

  28. Thank you for writing this beautiful book and telling Janet Collins’ story and sharing your personal story. Congrats on all your books and your son’s graduation!

  29. Thank you so much, Michelle, for these wonderful tips. And what a lovely book!

  30. Thank you for a very inspiring post. I love ballet and didn’t know this story so am looking forward to reading it. Best of luck with your ballet, how lovely to take part as an adult.

  31. Michelle, I loved this so much–you were so adorable then and now. I, too, love ballet, and took my firs lessons as a grown-up with a bunch of teenagers. Congratulations!!! The book and story are gorgeous!!!

  32. I love the rhythm you used and the tip about imagining reading the story to children. It is easy to forget who we are writing for!!

  33. Thanks for your accessible writing tips and sharing yourself in this post and through Janet Collin’s story. My daughter, then 14, wanted to try ballet so she joined the only available class at the time – with 9 and 10 year olds! =)

    • Michelle Meadows
      Michelle Meadows

      Thanks, Bridget! So interesting about your daughter’s experience. Sometimes age really just is a number and we get to share a common experience with others — whether young, old, or in between. Enjoy the rest of the weekend!

  34. Thank you for the writing tips. The book looks beautiful. I love the rhythm because it makes me want to dance! : )

  35. What a beautiful post! 🙂

  36. The book looks awesome, and appreciate the advice!

  37. Wonderful! This book looks lovely! It brings back all of those many many hours I spent taking my daughter to dance classes and recitals. Congratulations!

  38. Michelle, BRAVE BALLERINA is an important book to get into the hands of elementary students….Congratulations on being such a successful author.

    • Michelle Meadows
      Michelle Meadows

      Thanks, Kathy! Appreciate those kind words. It is exciting for kids to learn about the amazing Janet Collins!

  39. What a truly inspirational and beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  40. A double gift! An inspiring story and great writing tips! Thank you, Michelle.

  41. Hi Michelle, what a great writing tip! I hadn’t thought about tapping into activities I was involved in as a child. I’ve been struggling to come up with new story ideas. I can’t wait to brainstorm!

  42. Love how your own experiences led to this beautiful book Michelle!

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