Picture Book Review “Lola’s Fandango”

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Lola’s Fandango

Written by Anna Witte

Illustrated by Micha Archer

Picture book; ages 4-10. Barefoot Books, 2011.

I came across Lola’s Fandango when gathering books for a weekly dance activity I was going to be leading for a small group of elementary-aged kids here in the South Bronx.  I gave it a test run with a friend’s 3-year-old daughter and we were both promptly charmed by the story’s colorful world and plucky protagonist.

Lola is a little sister (as was my reading partner) and at the beginning of the story she lives in the shadow of her older sister, the long-haired and infinitely more-gifted (at least from Lola’s point of view) Clementina.  Retreating to her parents’ closet in frustration, Lola discovers a pair of red polka-dot dancing shoes.  She learns that her mother was once a flamenco (not flamingo) dancer.  Showing a new spark of resolve and confidence, Lola convinces her father to teach her flamenco, and through their secret lessons, Lola comes into her own.

The illustrations of Lola’s Fandango are vibrant–canary yellows, sizzling reds, lush greens.  Illustrator Micha Archer does a beautiful job of layering images of the characters, settings and events with patterns and shapes that represent Lola’s flamenco journey–numbers bursting around Lola and her father as she learns the rhythm of the dance, explosive starbursts and swirls as her feet learn to stomp, her arms learn to move like wings.  Even the pigeons who watch Lola and her father practice on the roof are beautiful!

All these warm, joyful colors complement the story nicely.  Writer Anna Witte subtly hints that there perhaps is another story besides the one of Lola’s journey to find her place in the family.  Lola’s mother no longer dances flamenco, and we never find out exactly why, but we sense that there may be pain or loss there.  There are some really beautiful and nuanced moments in the story.

At the end, as the family surprises Mami with a birthday party, she is overwhelmed and moved.  “‘Oh! Oh!’ says Mami.  But she smiles.”  When it’s time for Lola to share her dance, and is needing to rally some courage, her father surprises her with her very own polka dot dress and shoes.  Like Mami, Lola is overcome with feeling.  “‘I’m a flamenco dancer,’ Lola whispers.  Then she twirls into the living room.”

It is a lovely story.  It reminded me of Vera Williams’ A Chair for My Mother, with its vibrant colors, warm and loving family and the efforts of its small heroine to do something special for her mom.  My young reading partner became a big fan, wanting to read it over and over.  It’s fairly wordy, so the fact that it engaged a three-year-old audience so completely was impressive.  During one of our readings, we gained two more readers on the way (my little reader’s big siblings, 10 and 15 years old).  There are multiple layers of depth that make the story possible to be enjoyed on different levels by a wide variety of readers.  And we loved clapping along with Lola, stomping our feet, swirling our arms and shouting “Olé” with her at the end.

I highly recommend Lola’s Fandango.  I later got to try it as a group read-aloud with my dancers and it was a hit in that setting as well.   The repetition and natural opportunities for audience participation got them excited to get up and try some basic flamenco moves themselves .  In a classroom, this could be a lovely addition to a reading series on dance, city life, Spanish culture or family.

More to explore…

  • Available in Spanish
  • Comes with a storytime CD narrated by the Amador family

Read-aloud potential? This book makes an excellent read-aloud for elementary-aged children.  They will clap and stomp along with Lola.

If you like this, then check out: A Chair for My Mother

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