KidLit Book Review: Kiki MacAdoo and the Graveyard Ballerinas by Colette Sewall


Synopsis

When eleven-year-old Kiki MacAdoo and her talented older sister go to Mount Faylinn Dance Conservatory for the summer, they ignore the brochure’s mysterious warning that “ballets come alive” in the nearby forest.

But after her sister disappears, it’s up to Kiki to brave the woods and save her sister from the ghost sylphs that dance young girls to their deaths. As Kiki unlocks the mysteries of Mount Faylinn, the ballet of the ghost sylphs, Giselle, simultaneously unfolds, sending Kiki on the adventure of a lifetime.


Details

  • Title: Kiki MacAdoo and the Graveyard Ballerinas
  • Author: Colette Sewall
  • Cover Artist: M.E.L. Tongol
  • Publisher: Owl Hollow Press
  • ISBN: 1945654554
  • Publication Date: August 4, 2020
  • For Ages: 7-12
  • Category: Middle Grade
  • Spooky-Scary or Spooky-Fun? 🎃 Fun.

I’d like to thank Colette Sewall and Owl Hollow Press for providing an advance copy in exchange for review consideration.


Review

Kiki MacAdoo and the Graveyard Ballerinas is a charming and spooky story about love, bravery, and learning to believe in yourself. Eleven-year-old Kiki and her sixteen-year-old sister Alison are spending three weeks at the illustrious—and mysterious—Mount Faylinn Dance Conservatory. After receiving a cryptic invitation that may or may not be written in magical ink, Kiki discovers that the woods around the conservatory contain all kinds of creatures…some of whom are quite dangerous, especially after midnight. Kiki explores the forest with a new friend and learns to navigate some of the rules of magic, and when Alison gets drawn into a deadly dance in the woods, Kiki must use what she’s learned to save her sister.

The woods around the conservatory are eerie and fascinating. There are fairies, monstrous birds, ghosts, a curiously ill-tempered squirrel, and many other creatures that roam the forest at night. I always appreciate stories that emphasize fairy etiquette, and Kiki learns the hard way how to interact with the good folk. The book suggests that there are a lot more stories to tell at Mount Faylinn…now that Kiki is on the fairies’ good side (though the jury’s still out on that squirrel), hopefully we can see further adventures and learn about more of the magical beasties that lurk in the woods.

I also appreciated the book’s emphasis on hard work and personal improvement. Alison is a ballet prodigy, while Kiki is a passionate but much less advanced dancer. People have told the long, willowy Alison her whole life that she looks like she was born to be a ballerina, but Kiki—with her bowlegs and short stature—has never been told anything of the kind, even though she desperately wants to be a great ballerina. As a dancer who absolutely does not have a dancer’s build, I really related to Kiki’s insecurities as she struggles with form, flexibility, and hopelessness in the face of what feels like an impossible dream. But her teachers tell her that the only person she needs to compare herself to is herself: as long as you’re trying your best to improve, you’re winning.

I do have one issue with the book, though. All of the characters are assumed white, and the ballet conservatory dress code is black leotards and pink tights only. Throughout the book, pointe shoes are described as being pink and only pink, as if any other option were unthinkable. Ballet tights and shoes are usually (though not always) flesh-colored, and by assuming that every single person’s flesh is a pale pink tone, the book excludes dancers with darker skin. Dancewear companies are finally offering clothing and shoes in wider ranges of colors, and I believe it’s detrimental to young readers of color for the author to ignore that and assume pink as the default. Ballerinas of all races want—and deserve—to see themselves in stories. I would love to read a sequel to this book, but I hope that it would be more inclusive of non-white dancers.

Kiki MacAdoo and the Graveyard Ballerinas is an engaging, fun, and spooky middle grade novel that encourages kids to pursue their passions and believe that they can do incredible things. It emphasizes the importance of loyalty, friendship, family…and never angering a fairy. It just needs to address its lack of inclusivity to make sure that all readers feel like the inspirational themes are aimed at them.


Rating

Seriously, never steal from a fairy. I give this book 3.5 out of 5 coffins.

3.5 Coffins


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