Ballerina Dreams is a true story about a dance program in Bayside, Queens begun by Joann Ferrara for girls with Cerebral Palsy and other physical disabilities. The story follows five girls in the program as they work hard to achieve their dream of being ballerinas—a dream that is not so easy to accomplish when your body does not move quite like everyone else’s. Ballerina Dreams includes actual photos from the girls’ rehearsals and performance preparation—their performance is tomorrow and it is called “Wishes and Dreams.” The story also talks about, and shows, how these young girls were assisted by “helpers” who stand behind them throughout the performance, right through the end when they close the recital by singing “When you wish upon a star…”
How to Use this Book
I think this book can be used in a number of ways. Online it says that the book is appropriate for ages Pre-K to grade 2 but I definitely think that it is an incredible story that can be used with any age group. It is relatively short yet provides information at the end about Ms. Ferrara, the helpers, and even gives some information about what Cerebral Palsy is. This story can be used in a classroom where some of the students may be differently-abled than their peers to help make all students comfortable. It could be used in a self-contained class to instill a sense of pride in the class and demonstrate the kind of positive environment that we, as teachers, hope to create. It can even be used just as a general talking point about dreams and goals and how important it is to believe in yourself and work hard and not give up. There are many great messages that can be taken from this book.
Social Justice Education
1. Self-Love and Acceptance: This story is absolutely about these five young girls being proud of who they are and recognizing that despite and challenges that may have been put in their way, they are still able to be involved in “regular” childhood activities, such as dancing.
2. Respect for Others: The fact that each girl is supported by a volunteer, whose ages range from 11-16, is just one example of how we can engage others and learn to respect and care about those who are different from ourselves.
3. Exploring Issues of Social Justice: Ability is the theme of this story and as Joann, the head of the program says at the end, “it’s important to focus on the children’s abilities, not their disabilities. At first, the girls have difficulty standing on their own, or even sitting up. But I encourage them to be proud of what they can do, and of any progress they make. Every new ability is a tremendous achievement for them.”
4. Social Movements and Social Change: After reading Ballerina Dreams students are better able to recognize the challenges that some people face and that some activities they love may not come as easily to other people, and sometimes may not even be available to them.
5. Taking Social Action: Joann Ferrara could definitely be the cause of a conversation that is developed amongst students about how, when we have an idea or something we enjoy, we should pursue it and use our strengths and interests to help others.