#1284 – I WILL DANCE by Nancy Bo Flood & Julianna Swaney



Written by Nancy Bo Flood
Illustrated by Julianna Swaney
Atheneum BYR 5/26/2020
48 Pages   Age 4—8

Genre:  Children’s Picture Book, Fiction
Themes: Disabilities, Dancing,


Like many young girls, Eva longs to dance. But unlike many would-be dancers, Eva is in a wheelchair. She has cerebral palsy. She doesn’t know what dance looks like for someone who uses a wheelchair.

Then Eva learns of a place that has created a class for dancers of all abilities. From her first tentative moments in the studio to her triumphant performance onstage, Eva knows that this is where she belongs. At last her lifelong dream of dancing has become a reality!  (from inside jacket)

Opening Sentences

“On my birthday,
can’t blow out the candles—
.         .not enough strength.
But I have one wish:
.          .          .     .a pink tutu.
.         .I want to dance.”

Why I like I Will Dance

Inspired by a true story – a young girl with cerebral palsy wishes for a tutu; wishes to dance. But she is in a wheelchair. Only her head, arms, and fingers can move. So how will this young girl ever have her wish come true? Not all dreams come true; not for you, or me, or the young girl. Mom tells her to imagine she is dancing. Her teacher tells her to pretend.

The young girl watches dancers as they swirl, spin, and stand on tall toes. She wants to stand on tall toes. She wants to pirouette across the stage with arms like wings. She wants to dance. Not imagine or pretend, and certainly not alone.

Dreams and wishes that do not come true can be difficult to accept, especially if you are young; maybe more so if you are confined to a wheelchair, as this young girl is confined. No one has any good answers for the young girl, until . . . mom reads an ad in the newspaper:

“Audition for Young Dance—
all abilities, all ages.
 All are welcome.”

Someone decided to form a dance troupe with people of many ages and abilities. The young, the old. Those who can walk and those who need help. Wheelchairs, walkers, canes, and crutches. Everyone excited to learn to dance. That I Will Dance is based on a true story makes this heartwarming, especially given that the young girl was never expected to live more than a few minutes. She is now ten-years-old or, as she phrases it, “ten years of minutes.”

The young girl is the narrator. She tells her story with guts, humility, and, once she is with Young Dance, confidence. She knows her limits and so is nervous and ready to run the day of auditions. As she turns to leave, another girl reaches out, then the teacher reaches out. Fingers touch, everyone learns to count beats and listen to the rhythm. They all become dancers.

The fun of dancing; the swirling, the overs and unders, the contracting and expanding all become a reality for the young girl who wishes to dance. On performance night, with a belly full of nervous butterflies, she dances on a real stage, with real lighting, real music with beats to count, and real people watching and applauding. Performance night seals the dream. Her wish comes true. She is a Dancer!

The young girl is an inspiration for other kids wanting to do something or accomplish a goal and not knowing how they could ever do it because . . .

“Because” does not need to hold anyone back. Find a way, find someone who can help you find the way. Like the young girl, do not imagine or pretend. And you definitely do not need to go it alone. (Imagining or “visualizing” yourself doing something can actually help, but not if imagining is all you do.)

Kids in wheelchairs (electric and manual), using walkers, canes, and even an artificial leg are shown learning how to dance. In addition to the variety of children, the young narrator has two moms. The illustrations are beautiful and magnificently show movement as dancers swirl, twirl, and spin across the dance floor. Movement is shown by a stream of small stars flowing from person-to-person. The Young Dance Company is made up of smiling, happy, dancing kids, some who just happen to use an assistive device, but those devices do not define the child.

I Will Dance is perfect for pediatricians’ waiting rooms, clinics, classrooms, and libraries. I Will Dance is a positive story about disability and how one’s disability needs not define or determine one’s life. I Will Dance might have you wondering where the answer is for your dream. We all need to understand not all wishes and dreams will come true, but we also need to understand we should not give up on a dream. When you least expect it, an ad might appear in a paper or online that can help you fulfill your dream.

Favorite Spread

All the pages are beautiful. The spread I most favor is near the end, after the performance, when the dancers are lined up to take a bow. They are not bowing in the traditional sense.  Instead, most hold hands and then raise their arms. One boy raises his arms in a “victory” sign, which is exactly what the moment is for these kids:  a Victory! But mostly, they stay connected to each other by holding hands. They hear “clapping, whistles, and cheers . . . for all of us, together, Dancers. Not imagine. Not pretend. Not alone.”

Back Matter

The “Author’s Note” talks about the Young Dance Company. Ms. Flood writes about the smiles, giggles, and laughter that comes from the dancers, some disabled some not. Performances are filled with joy, not sadness for the dancers situation, but happy for what they choose to do with what they have been given. The real young girl who inspired I Will Dance is Eva, a girl with dreams who longs to belong. Eva is a dancer.

“About Young Dance” is a note from Gretchen Pick, Executive Director of the Minneapolis company. Young Dance began in 1987 to “encourage young people to build body and spirit through the creative art of dance.” Ms. Pick explains how each dancer is encouraged to push the boundaries of their artistic abilities. The Young Dance Company is made up of dancers age seven to eighteen. Some are disabled, some not. Together they dance as one fluid group. For more information go to YoungDance.org

Illustrations Rendered in watercolor and graphite.

Available at Amazon:  I Will Dance

I WILL DANCE. Text Copyright © 2020 by Nancy Bo Flood. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Julianna Swaney. Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers / Simon & Schuster, New York, NY.


Copyright © 2020 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews. All Rights Reserved
[669 word count-review only]

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NEXT UP: PB – All the Birds in the World by David Opie


5 thoughts on “#1284 – I WILL DANCE by Nancy Bo Flood & Julianna Swaney

    • The dance group is located in Minneapolis. If you live near there I bet you have taken notice of the Young Dance Company. The young girl in the story is based on a real girl with CP who wants to dance–and now does!


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