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Dancing to Freedom: The True Story of Mao's Last Dancer Hardcover – July 22, 2008

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 5 - 8 years
  • Grade Level: Kindergarten and up
  • Hardcover: 40 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Childrens; 1st edition (July 22, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802797776
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802797773
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.5 x 11.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,266,182 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 3–5—A poignant memoir of a boy caught in the difficulties of life in Maoist China, this is the author's own story of how he was given a chance to break the bonds of his bleak life and become an international star. First told for adults in the bestseller Mao's Last Dancer (Berkley, 2005) and now available in a Young Readers' Edition of the same name (Walker, 2008), this picture-book version is an inspiring tale of the willingness to make the most of one's opportunities, even when it entails tremendous personal sacrifice. Li and his family lived the life that most ordinary Chinese endured during Mao's reign: substandard housing with little to eat and less to hope for. When his teacher recommended him for the Beijing Dance Academy, he got his chance to break free, but he had to train far away from his home and family. Li's intense training paid off, as he was offered the chance to dance with the Houston Ballet, and his greatest dream was realized when his parents were finally able to come to the U.S. to see him perform. This fascinating, heartfelt story is perfectly matched by Spudvilas's masterful paintings. The somber grays and blues of the first part of the story underline the bleakness of Li's life, giving way to bursts of color when he defects to America. The figures are beautifully drawn, with infinite care given to details of expressions and surroundings, resulting in a realistic portrayal of the people and places.—Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, LaSalle Academy, Providence, RI
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

As a boy in China, Li identified with the trapped frog in one of his father’s stories: “Even though the frog jumped and hopped, the well was just too deep.” Li’s own leaps proved more successful; his selection for a rigorous dance-training program led him from his impoverished village to ballet stardom. The absence of political references in this picture-book autobiography, based on Li’s Cultural Revolution memoir for adults (Mao’s Last Dancer, 2005), sometimes leaves confusing gaps, as when the dancer’s “dramatic defection” (mentioned on the jacket flap) is presented only as an unexplained, lengthy separation from his parents. The historical note delivers more information, although most children will need an adult’s help to connect the facts with Li’s experiences. Worlds away from her abstract work in Woolvs in the Sitee (2007), Australian award-winner Spudvilas’ delicate, inked line-and-wash illustrations, influenced by Chinese brush painting, will register strong emotions, even among readers unfamiliar with the tale’s political subtexts. Her paintings make an attractive, resonant package that will especially enhance collections supporting Chinese-language and culture curricula. Grades 2-4. --Jennifer Mattson

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Yana V. Rodgers on January 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover
During China's Cultural Revolution, a young boy named Li Cunxin endured extreme hunger, bitter cold, and a tiny bare living space that he shared with six brothers and his parents. They survived while countless others did not. Yet Li dreamed his life would differ from that of the fabled little frog who could not get out of the deep, dark well in which he lived.

An extraordinary and completely unexpected opportunity to live a better life came Li's way when a small delegation visited his school searching for children with potential to become ballet dancers. They chose Li, and at the age of eleven he left his family to study ballet at the Beijing Dance Academy. Although he missed his family terribly, years of rigorous training led him to become one of China's best dancers, which in turn generated an invitation to study ballet in the United States. Li had managed to escape from the dark well, but he did not know for a long time if he would see his family again.

This beautifully-crafted children's book, which Li Cunxin adapted from his adult memoir, offers a gripping portrayal of life during the Cultural Revolution and a moving depiction of his progression to adulthood and fame. To bolster the realism, the illustrator traveled with Li to China to visit his old village and the dance academy, and she trained in traditional Chinese painting techniques. Dancing to Freedom makes a valuable addition to any collection of children's books that rank highly on artistic merit and substantive content.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on September 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Dancing to Freedom: The True Story of Mao's Last Dancer is a children's picturebook based on the true-life story of author Li Cunxin, who was selected by Chairman Mao's officials to become a dancer. His arduous training allowed him to travel to America and around the world. Even though he was not permitted to see his family, he kept them in his heart and dreams. "One day a wonderful thing happened. I learned that my parents could come from China to see me dance! Could it be true that after all this time I was to see them again?" A final page tells young readers more about the China that Li knew growing up in the 1960s - a very strict place in which the government firmly controlled people's lives and possessions, and a place that has since changed greatly. Illustrator Anne Spudvilas traveled with Li to visit Li's village, family, and friends as well as studying Chinese brush painting to grace Dancing to Freedom with a truly authentic touch. Also highly recommended is the "Young Readers' Edition" of Li's autobiography, "Mao's Last Dancer".
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Kemie Nix on December 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Li was one of seven Chinese brothers, sons of a peasant farmer. They were wretchedly poor. They never had enough to eat, but somehow they managed to survive. One day, officials arrived at Li's school looking for students to study something called "ballet." Out of millions of students, Li was chosen. He was ripped away from everything and everybody he knew and loved and sent to the Beijing Dance Academy. Knowing it was his only chance o help himself and his family, he endured. Not only did he become a stellar dancer, "Mao's last dancer," he was chosen to go to Houston in America where he flourished and
became one of the world's greatest dancers. His parents were allowed to travel to the United States to see him dance, the culmination of his years of grueling work.

It's inspiring story is exquisitely illustrated in Chinese ink and watercolor on rice paper. The palette is composed of soft grays and blues, capturing the cold apoverty of his youth. The pictures brighten with his sucesses.The flowing ink lines of his body convey the fluidity of the dance.
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