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Dancing to Freedom: The True Story of Mao's Last Dancer

Press: Walker Childrens; 1st edition (July 22, 2008)
Author Name:Cunxin, Li/ Spudvilas, Anne (ILT)


In a poor village in northern China, a small boy named Li Cunxin was given the chance of a lifetime. 
Selected by Chairman Mao's officials from among millions of children to become a dancer, Li's new life began as he left his family behind.
At the Beijing Dance Academy, days were long and difficult.
Li's hard work was rewarded when he was chosen yet again, this time to travel to America.
From there his career took flight, and he danced in cities around the world―never forgetting his family, who urged him to follow his dreams.

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

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Li Cunxin was born in 1961 in northeast China. 
The sixth of seven sons from a poor rural family, his life changed forever when he was chosen to study ballet at the Beijing Dance Academy.
Following a scholarship to train in America, and a dramatic defection, he became principal dancer for the Houston Ballet.
Later, Li married fellow star dancer Mary McKendry and moved to Australia where he was a principal dancer for the Australian Ballet.
Li now lives in Melbourne with Mary and their three children, Sophie, Tom, and Bridie.
His life story was originally published as Mao's Last Dancer, which became an international bestseller.
Anne Spudvilas is one of Australia's foremost picture book illustrators and painters.
In 2006, Anne traveled with Li to China to visit Li's village, his family, his friend The Bandit, and the Beijing Dance Academy.
She then studied traditional Chinese brush-painting to bring authenticity to her illustrations.


Children's Books,Biographies,Multicultural

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Comment List (Total:6)

  •     I do like this book, although it is obviously a children's book. The story is still good and the pictures are beautiful. I believe that it is a true story, but I would like to know if that is correct.

  •     I was disappointed to learn that this edition is for young readers.The story is wondeful, which formed the basis of a motion picture with the same title. The account is autobiographical and tells the story of the rise of a young, Chinese peasant boy to principal dancer of the Houston Ballet.This would make a wonderful gift for a young ballet fan.Sadly, not being a young reader, I returned this book in favor of the adult edition at a significantly higher price.

  •     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".

  •     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.

  •     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 andbecame 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.

  •     I was looking for the autobiography, not the children's book. So, I think it's unfair that I have to rate this as a 1, but I can't give it a 5, either. Amazon needs to specify that something is a children's book. I wasted time and money having to return this book.


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