6 Performing Arts Books for Theater Kids
Jenna Gavigan | The Children’s Book Review | January 25, 2019
Broadway performer Jenna Gavigan, author of Lulu the Broadway Mouse, shares 6 (and a few extras) of her favorite books for theater kids.
Written by Tim Federle
What are we calling these books? The Nate Series? The Nate Trilogy? The Nate Books? I’m going to call them whatever I please because Tim Federle is like my brother, and little sisters will do as they will. While, yes, I am biased, there is no denying the simple fact that these books are exquisite love letters to the theatre and its worshippers. The Nate Books follow Nate Foster as he chases his dream all the way from Jankburg, Pennsylvania to Broadway and back again. Supporting characters include his best bud Libby (Libby and Nate’s version of cursing is naming Broadway flops); Aunt Heidi, a struggling actress who lives in Queens; and a boy named Jordan who is Nate’s nemesis turned… well… you’ll have to read to find out.
Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers | February 5, 2013 | ISBN-13: 978-1442446892
Written by Noel Streatfeild
You know that scene in You’ve Got Mail when Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) is wandering around the “big, bad Fox Books” and she spies a customer asking an inept employee about “The Shoe Books” so she intervenes with a sniffling, “Noel Streatfeild wrote ‘The Shoe Books.’” Hear me now, reader: If Nora Ephron or one of her characters mentions a book, I go buy that book. The series is made up of: Ballet Shoes, Dancing Shoes, Theater Shoes and Skating Shoes. Theater Shoes was published in 1945 and follows three World War II orphans who are forced by their grandmother to enter theater school. Their grandmother just happens to be a famous actress, so the pressure is on. Kids who love performing and also love cozying up to watch British period piece dramas on PBS—this is the book for you.
Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Yearling | November 15, 1994 | ISBN-13: 978-0679854340
Written by Helen Craig
Illustrated by Katharine Holabird
Oh, how I loved the Angelina Ballerinabooks as a child. Beautifully illustrated—sparkly, even—and full of heart and whimsy. In Angelina on Stage, Angelina is cast in the ballet, but so is her cousin, Henry, who’s clumsy yet charming and attention-stealing. While I myself am an only child, I can only imagine how tough it would have been to be suddenly eclipsed by a younger, fresher sibling. Perfect bedtime reading for one-on-one time with your budding performer first born. (Did I mention these books are absolutely gorgeous? Worth mentioning again and again. And again.)
Ages 3-5 | Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers | 2006 (Reprint) | ISBN-13: 978-0670060580
Written and Illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
As Lulu mentions early on in the book, the crew who work behind the scenes are just as important as the cast who perform onstage. Hence, Lulu’s fondness for the all-encompassing term, “company.” Drama by Raina Telgemeier is a graphic novel that follows a gal who takes on the backstage role of set designer for her high school production. It’s full of all the onstage and offstage anticsyou’d expect from theatre people, and from teenagers. (Put ‘em together and what have you got? Bibbidi–bobbidi–drama.) To me, this book reads like super detailed movie storyboards; FYI: Company members who like working behind the scenes might also find that they like working behind the camera…
Ages 10-14 | Publisher: Graphix | September 1, 2012 | ISBN-13: 978-0545326988
Written by Ted Sennett
I was absolutely obsessed with this coffee table book when I was a tween. It was published in 1998 (and, ahhhh, that was twenty years ago) so it’s missing a lot of this generation’s favorite shows, but perhaps that’s the perfect reason to buy it. It will introduce the young thespian in your life to decades of Broadway history that they might not be familiar with, but really should be. It’s full of lush, swoon-worthy photographs, plus inside scoop on how shows came together, details on the casts and creative teams, and even how many performances a production played. Everything from Show Boat to Cabaret to Rent. (Plus, Bebe Neuwirth in full “All That Jazz” mode is on the cover. To me, this alone is a reason to own and cherish this book.)
Ages 10+ | Publisher: Metro Books | November 28, 1998 | ISBN-13: 978-1567996425
Written by Sophie Flack
Alright, so this one also happens to be written by a good friend of mine. (What can I say? I have talented pals!!) Sophie was a company member at the New York City Ballet for the better part of a decade, and her real life experience shines through in this YA novel. (The protagonist, Hannah, is nineteen.) This is the novel to read if you want to know what it’s really like to be a professional ballet dancer. (Hint: it’s not all snowflakes and sugarplums.) There’s competition between company members, anxiety, physical and emotional stress. Hannah struggles with if she should just stick it out as a member of the corps de ballet or if she should push for a solo—which could affect a friendship. A romance reveals a universal struggle of all performers: do I want to keep doing this or do I want to be “normal?”
Ages 14+ | Publisher: Poppy | October 10, 2011 | ISBN-13: 978-0316126533
About Jenna Gavigan
Jenna Gavigan, a fourth generation New Yorker, grew up dreaming of Broadway. At age sixteen she made her Broadway debut in Gypsy, opposite Bernadette Peters. Since then she’s appeared in a half-dozen films, on more than a dozen television shows, and on east and west coast stages, most recently Off-Broadway in the world premiere of Straight. Jenna graduated from Columbia University with a BA in Creative Writing, where she focused on fiction, television, and screenwriting. She lives in a teeny tiny Manhattan apartment with her husband, Kevin. This is her first novel.
Find Jenna online at IamJennaGavigan.com and on Twitter and Instagram @Jenna_Gavigan.
Written by Jenna Gavigan
Publisher’s Synopsis: Ratatouille meets Broadway in this charming new middle grade novel about a little mouse with big dreams.
Lulu is a little girl with a very big dream: she wants to be on Broadway. She wants it more than anything in the world. As it happens, she lives in Broadway’s Shubert Theatre; so achieving her dream shouldn’t be too tricky, right? Wrong. Because the thing about Lulu? She’s a little girl mouse.
When a human girl named Jayne joins the cast of the show at the Shubert as an understudy, Lulu becomes Jayne’s guide through the world of her theatre and its wonderfully kooky cast and crew. Together, Jayne and Lulu learn that sometimes dreams turn out differently than we imagined; sometimes they come with terms and conditions (aka the company mean girl, Amanda). But sometimes, just when we’ve given up all hope, bigger and better dreams than we’d ever thought could come true, do.
Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Running Press Kids | October 9, 2018 |ISBN-13: 978-0762464616