Alvin Ailey

 by Wendy Bell

alvinAlvin Ailey

by Andrea Davis Pinkney

illustrated by Brian Pinkney

  • Publisher and date: Hyperion, 1995
  • Age/Grade Level: Reading level ages 5-9,
  • Kindergarten through grade 3   
  • Genre: Historical Nonfiction, Picture Book

Author Information and Perspective: The is an African-American writer received a degree in journalism and went on to freelance writing for many major publications. She is well-known for her exploration of African American history in her books. She has won many awards including the Coretta Scott King Award.  In interviews, she explains that she grew up involved in the Civil Rights movement as her father was well-known as a civil rights speaker.

Notes: This was the author’s first published book.

Literary Elements:

Setting: From Texas in the late Thirties to Los Angeles in the Forties and on to New York City in the Fifties.

Characters: Alvin Ailey, Katherine Dunham, Martha Graham

Conflict: A young black man with a dream and a vision learning modern dance in America.

Themes: This book outlines how an artist may find inspiration.     

Plot: “The book profiles the life of the pioneering dancer and choreographer who founded an internationally renowned dance troupe that explores the black experience through movement.  Beginning with Ailey’s boyhood in Texas, the book lets readers follow Ailey as he pursues his dream of being a dancer as he becomes inspired by modern dancer Katherine Dunham, moves to New York to study with Martha Graham, and founds the Alvin Ailey American Dance theatre. ” (

Instructional Elements:



From Publishers Weekly

In their first children’s book collaboration, this markedly talented husband-and-wife team offers a warm profile of dancer and choreographer Alvin Ailey (1931-1989), whose dance company lives on today. The author deftly combines elements of fiction and biography, intertwining Ailey’s alleged thoughts and conversations with facts about his childhood, his introduction to the world of dance in Los Angeles during the mid-1940s and his founding of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City in 1958. This effective amalgam of genres easily draws the reader into Ailey’s life, lending it appeal for those previously unacquainted with the legendary artist as well as for young fans eager to learn how Ailey launched his impressive career. Matching the finesse of the writing are Brian Pinkney’s signature scratchboard renderings handpainted with oil pastels, which manage to convey stateliness as well as quickness, and which culminate in a vivid, motion-filled spread featuring dancers in Ailey’s company reeling across the stage–and seemingly right off the pages. Ages 5-9.

Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Kindergarten-Grade 3-An accessible picture-book biography that recounts Ailey’s boyhood in Texas and his roots in the black church, moves with him and his mother to Los Angeles where he begins to dance, and then proceeds on to New York where he hones his talents and forms his own troupe. Brian Pinkney’s marvelously detailed scratchboard drawings are tinted with pastels to show the sweep and flow of dancers caught in the act of leaping, twirling, and soaring through the air. His figures are large and bold, reflecting the spiritual and creative energy of Ailey himself and the performance artists who brought his choreography to life. As such, the book is both informative and inspiring and will make an excellent addition to most collections.

Carol Jones Collins, Montclair Kimberley Academy, NJ

Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist, 1993, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

Ages 5-9. This handsome picture-book biography pays tribute to modern dancer Alvin Ailey, who’s best known for interpreting African American culture through his dancing and choreography. The Pinkneys tie Ailey’s rural Texas roots, especially the gospel music in his boyhood church, to the development of his individual style as a student in Los Angeles and the flowering of his gifts through his dance company in New York City. Their lightly fictionalized text shows that Ailey rose to prominence not just through talent, but through inspiration, support, and determination. Moving with the rhythm of repeated lines and strong compositions, the scratchboard and oil pastel illustrations create a vivid sense of dance and capture Ailey’s vibrancy and {}elan. (Reviewed Nov. 15, 1993)¾Carolyn Phelan.

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