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The Picture Book Buzz

When Langston Dances - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

Even though it wasn't planned, this feels like the perfect weekend to feature this book.

In a world where so many still find it necessary to impose their beliefs, or ideologies, about who can marry or go to school or participate in certain activities, etc. upon others, this book is a beacon of acceptance and empowerment. A wonderful book about ignoring the naysayers and following one's heart and passion.

When Langston Dances

Author: Kaija Langley

Illustrator: Keith Mallett

Publisher: Denene Millner Books/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (2021)

Ages: 4-8



Ballet, empowerment, following one's passion, and diversity.


A young Black boy dreams of dancing in this exuberant, buoyant picture book celebrating the beauty of dance, and the wonder of Black Boy Joy—perfect for fans of Firebird and Crown!

Langston likes basketball okay, but what he loves is to dance—ever since he saw the Alvin Ailey Dance Company perform. He longs to twirl into a pirouette, whirl into a piqué. He wants to arabesque and attitude, grand battement and grand jeté. When he walks, the whole street is his stage.

With his neighborhood cheering him on, will Langston achieve his dream?

Opening Lines:

Langston liked basketball, but he adored ballet.

He fell in love the first time his mother took

him to see the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. So

many bodies soaring across the stage. Spinning,

leaping, twirling dancers everywhere

What I LOVE about this book:

After a young black boy accompanies his mother to the Alvin Ailey Dance Company and sees male and female dancers of many ethnicities, he falls in love with ballet.

Text © Kaija Langley, 2021. Image © Keith Mallett, 2021.

Kaija Langley masterfully exudes acceptance, encouragement, and deep love when Langston's mom not only affirms that he can do what he "sets his mind to," but that he can “dance until your heart’s content.” Not to, but until, his heart's content. I love the way Keith Mallett frames the images on each page within a colored circle or oval. Bringing the eye's focus onto the joy and love of dance evident in every inch of Langston's being. He can't help but dance.

Text © Kaija Langley, 2021. Image © Keith Mallett, 2021.

Although he immediately counters another boy's snide remark, that “Boys don’t dance like that,” it causes him to hesitate at the ballet studio's door. Initially, he mimics the other students from the hall. But when he could resist no longer, Langston charges toward his dream. Keith does such an amazing job showing this moment. Notably, it is the only illustration in the book not framed within a circle or oval, but with an important starry swoosh. Which creates a wonderful visual thread from that fantastic cover through the opening scene of making a basket to this moment of decision and then through to the stunning ending.

Text © Kaija Langley, 2021. Image © Keith Mallett, 2021

The book does an excellent job embracing diversity in the almost portrait-like illustrations and its quick nod to other forms of dance. If you think his mother was encouraging and these illustrations few are amazing, wait until you see the rest of the book! I absolutely adore the last three spreads.

This is an excellent book for any child - boy or girl - (or adult) whose passion in a career, activity, or sport bucks any societal or gender norm! It is affirming and encouraging; radiating the sheer joy of pursuing one's dream. A book I hope finds a home in many libraries, schools, and homes.


- if you could do anything, what would you like to do? Draw a picture or write a story of you fulfilling this dream.

- the book mentioned tap, hip-hop, African dance, and obviously ballet. What other forms of dance do you know? What is your favorite type of dance, move, or music?

- do you know any dance games? Wax Museum/Freeze dance, Hokey-pokey, or create a dance.

- why do you think the other boy told Langston, “Boys don’t dance like that.”? Why would he say that? How might he think boys dance? How would you have responded to a similar comment? Would it make you give up on your dream?

If you missed it, be sure to check out Monday's interview with Kaija Langley (here).

This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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