Dancing with Daddy
Written by Anitra Rowe Schulte | Illustrated by Ziyue Chen
Elsie was shopping for the perfect dress to wear to her first father-daughter dance. Should she choose the pink one that will make her look like a princess or the red one that’s the same color as her daddy’s soccer jersey? As her mom held them up, Elsie reached from her wheelchair and “grabbed the red dress and pulled it close. This one,” she thinks. “It’s perfect for dancing with Daddy.” She gets a matching bow headband and heads home as snowflakes flurried around them. Elsie was worried the dance would be cancelled.
At home, Elsie’s sisters, Daphne and Rosalie, raced to meet Elsie at the door while Daddy asked her if she picked out a good one. Elsie replied by touching the “special” picture square in her PODD communication book. After dinner – noodle bowls for Daphne and Rosalie and a push of food through a feeding tube for Elsie – the sisters went to Elsie’s room to see her dress and talk about the dance. Soon it was time for bed, and “Daddy read Elsie’s favorite bedtime book,” the Nutcracker. “As the dancer in the story twirled, Elsie’s heart did pirouettes. I can’t wait to see my dress spin,” Elsie thought.
That night Elsie dreamed about the dance, but the snow kept falling. In the morning, Elsie stared out the window with disappointment. She saw snow edging her window panes and heard the sound of snow shovels. She just knew the dance would be cancelled. Then her mom came in and told her “‘the dance is a go!'” All day the sisters practiced dancing and twirling and dipping Elsie’s wheelchair “until she found her groove.”
At last the time came to get ready and leave for the dance. Daddy complimented all of his daughters on their dresses as they made their way to the dance hall. That’s when Elsie realized she didn’t have her bow. While crossing the parking lot, Elsie’s wheels got stuck in a snowbank, but Daddy pushed it through. Once inside, the other girls all reminded her of the dancer in her favorite book. She wished she had her bow and put her hand up to touch her hair. Reminded, her dad pulled the headband from his pocket and set it in place. Then he spun her around; “her ruffles took flight.”
Inside the gym, the music boomed, and everyone was dancing. When a “tender tune began to play, Daphne and Rosalie took a break. Elsie’s daddy picked her up. “Elsie pressed her forehead against Daddy’s, and together they danced. He swung her high and held her tight. It was just like her dream, “except better.” Afterward, Elsie tasted the frosting from her piece of cake, then she touched the “dance” picture in her book. Elsie and Daddy returned to the dance floor and “joined Daphne and Rosalie under the lights and dance and danced into the night.”
An Author’s Note at the front of the book introduces readers to Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, its prevalence, affects, and the tools people with WHS use to eat, communicate, and get around.
Inspired by her own daughters, one of whom has Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome like Elise, Anitra Rowe Schulte’s story glows with family love, support, and encouragement. As Elise gets ready for a father-daughter dance, readers will get caught up in her excitement and universal concerns, such as choosing the “perfect” dress and whether a much-anticipated event will be cancelled because of adverse weather. Schulte’s evocative storytelling beautifully incorporates both emotion and factual information through the use of realistic, uplifting dialogue and intermittent lyrical lines that echo the movement and music of dance. Children also see that while Elsie may be nonverbal, her thoughts are like their own, just expressed differently.
Ziyue Chen’s lovely illustrations shine with sisterly camaraderie and family devotion. As the story opens and Elise chooses the red dress over the pink one by pulling it close, kids can read in her face and body language how important the dress, the dance, and surprising her dad are to her. Likewise, readers will share Elise’s excitement and her worries and celebrate the fun she has at the dance. Particularly moving are two mirrored illustrations: the first, a gorgeous image, lit by golden orbs and tiny stars, of Elise dreaming of the dance to come, and the second a tender two-page spread later on when her dream comes true.
In her illustrations of Elise, Chen realistically depicts the facial features of children with WHS as well as the wheelchair, orthotics, feeding mechanism, and PODD books used by many. Children who use tools similar to Elise will be excited to see themselves represented in these pages, and others will be interested to learn about them and to meet Elise.
A joyous and heartfelt story of a loving and supportive family and which celebrates the common hopes and dreams of all children, Dancing with Daddy is highly recommended for home libraries and is a must for school and public library collections.
Ages 4 – 8
Two Lions, 2021 | ISBN 978-1542007191
About Anitra Rowe Schulte
Anitra Rowe Schulte has worked as a journalist for The Kansas City Star and the Sun-Times News Group, as a staff writer for Chicago Public Schools, and as a publicist. She is the mother of three beautiful girls, one of whom has Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome and is the inspiration for Elsie in this book. She lives in the Chicago area, and this is her first picture book. Learn more about her at www.anitraroweschulte.com and follow her at @anitraschulte on Twitter.
About Ziyue Chen
Ziyue Chen is the Deaf illustrator of a number of children’s books, including Mela and the Elephant by Dow Phumiruk, How Women Won the Vote by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, and Rocket-Bye Baby: A Spaceflight Lullaby by Danna Smith. She lives with her loved ones in Singapore. Find out more at www.ziyuechen.com or follow her @ziyuechen on Instagram.
To see Ziyue Chen bring her illustrations to life on the page, watch these videos.
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