Although I have zero professional dance experience, I love middle-grade books about dance! Sadly, though, new middle-grade books about dance are far and few in between. Often, there’s a side character who dances and she has an eating disorder (which happens a lot with ballerinas, but still)! My favorite middle-grade about ballet and dance in general so far has been Paula Chase’s Turning Point which comes out next month. I loved it because it focuses on two girls in a summer ballet intensive, and touches on how some Black girls may struggle with ballet because of what society thinks their bodies should look like to dance.
However, in this list of best middle-grade books about dance, I hunted down a few other excellent recommendations. Not all the books here are about ballet — some feature hip-hop, square dancing, and even one about a Mexican dance. The books all feature dancing as a central theme, and protagonists who either love dancing or at least come to appreciate it by the end.
I also included several chapter books about dance for readers ages 6-9. I tried hard to avoid dated books, so I hope you find these picks relevant and diverse enough for your kids. You’ll find that many of these titles are part of a series. I’ve also included an exciting 2021 middle-grade novel about a Native-American ballerina recovering from an injury!
Chapter Books About Dance (Ages 6-9)
Lola Levine and the Ballet Scheme
When new classmate Bella, a ballet dancer, walks into Lola’s class at Northland Elementary, all Lola can see is pink everywhere–pink ribbons, a pink sweatshirt, and pink tennis shoes. Yuck! Pink is Lola’s least favorite color. Plus, Ballet isn’t nearly as hard as soccer, is it?
Lola and Bella can’t seem to stop squabbling. But when a mishap during class lands them in Principal Blot’s office, Lola’s mom comes up with a scheme–a ballet scheme–that just might make these classroom rivals realize that ballerinas and soccer players have more in common than they ever thought possible.
But is it too late for Lola to make a new friend?
Ballet Stars (Step into Reading)
From ballet class to rehearsal for the big show to the final curtsies—budding ballet stars show emergent readers each step and pirouette along the way! This Step 1 story has big type and easy words, rhyme and rhythm, and picture clues and two sheets of irresistably adorable stickers. It’s a natural for young readers who are learning ballet or aspire to take ballet classes.
Dancing Queen (Kylie Jean)
Kylie Jean wants to be a ballerina more than almost anything in the whole wide world! So when there are auditions for the Swan Queen part in Swan Lake, she just knows it’s the perfect part for her. Will Kylie Jean dance like a prima ballerina?
Plum Fantastic (Sugar Plum Ballerinas)
Alexandrea Petrakova Johnson does not want to be a beautiful ballerina, and she does not want to leave her friends in Apple Creek. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop her ballet-crazy mother from moving them to Harlem, or from enrolling Al at the Nutcracker School of Ballet. Life is hard when you’re the new ballerina on the block, and it’s even harder when you’re chosen to be the Sugar Plum Fairy in the school recital!
Candy Kisses (JoJo and BowBow Book #2)
There’s no holiday like Valentine’s Day…
…At least according to JoJo Siwa—candy hearts and frilly tutus are two of her favorite things! This year she’s hosting a Valentine’s-themed sleepover with BowBow and her friends. (Party time!!!) Best of all, JoJo has a new dance workshop to look forward to, with a big performance at the end. When the news breaks that one dancer will get to shine in a solo, the snarky Queen Bs—Bree, Bahi, and Belle—begin to stir up trouble. Enter, JoJo and BowBow! Can the dazzling duo come up with a plan to hold the drama and deliver each dancer the sweetest Valentine’s Day surprise yet?
Ivy and Bean Doomed to Dance (Book 6)
Finally! After begging their parents for ballet lessons, Ivy and Bean finally get what they want…well, not exactly. Much to their surprise, it turns out ballet lessons do not include karate chops and roundhouse kicks to the villain’s heart. The girls have no interest in learning how to dance gracefully, but they promised their parents they would finish the entire ballet course! When it comes time for Ivy and Bean to participate in the ocean-themed class recital, the girls must figure out a way to get out of it without breaking their promises.
Amelia Bedelia Chapter Book #8: Amelia Bedelia Dances Off
All of Amelia Bedelia’s friends love to dance. She has friends who are ballerinas, friends who do modern dance, and friends who tap. But Amelia Bedelia isn’t sure what kind of dance is right for her. After all, if she is going to dance to a particular tune, she’d like it to be her own! Amelia Bedelia’s funny search for the perfect dance fit involves friends, family, teachers, and pets, and it will have readers dancing on air! The Amelia Bedelia chapter books star Amelia Bedelia as a young girl, are great for building vocabulary, and feature a guide to some of the idioms and expressions introduced in the story.
Middle-Grade Books About Dance (Ages 8-13)
The Magic in Changing Your Stars (Out October 20, 2020)
Eleven-year-old Ailey Benjamin Lane can dance—so he’s certain that he’ll land the role of the Scarecrow in his school’s production of The Wiz. Unfortunately, a talented classmate and a serious attack of nerves derail his audition: he just stands there, frozen. Deflated and defeated, Ailey confides in his Grampa that he’s ready to quit. But Grampa believes in Ailey, and, to encourage him, shares a childhood story. As a boy, Grampa dreamed of becoming a tap dancer; he was so good that the Hollywood star and unofficial Mayor of Harlem, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, even gave him a special pair of tap shoes. Curious, Ailey finds the shoes, tries them on, taps his toes, and makes a wish. In the blink of an eye, he finds himself somewhere that if most definitely no place like home! Featuring an all-African-American cast of characters, and infused with references to black culture and history, this work of magical realism is sure to captivate and inspire readers.
Ten-year-old Katarina is a New York City girl through and through, but the buzz of the city drives her to feel that she is meant for more than her ordinary day to day routine. Her big dream? To become a prima ballerina.
With the help of a few new friends, Katarina finally puts on her first pair of ballet shoes and she’s more than determined to make it work. But her feet don’t quite move the way she would like them to, the twirls and spins make her dizzy, and her classmates aren’t exactly welcoming. When the head of the dance studio announces that there will be a competition to earn a spot in an upcoming international dance camp, Katarina knows this could be her big chance to make her dancer dreams come true. Does this tiny dancer have what it takes to stand out in the ballet world of blending in?
Poppy’s Secret Wish
Ten-year-old Poppy wants nothing more than to advance to the next ballet grade, but when a new girl, Rose, arrives in class and causes her to mess up during class, she is not sure she will be able to move up with her best friend, Jasmine.
Ballet Breakdown (Academy of Dance)
Jada isn’t thrilled to leave her old life in Philadelphia behind. Not only is she saying goodbye to her school and her friends, she also has to leave her dance team. Jada lives for ballet, and thankfully, she finds a way to keep dancing at Ms. Marianne’s Academy of Dance. But when an injury threatens to sideline Jada before the big competition, she has to find a way to overcome her anxiety and her injury or risk letting down her new team.
My Seventh Grade Life in Tights
All Dillon wants is to be a real dancer. And if he wins a summer scholarship at Dance-Splosion, he’s on his way. The problem? His dad wants him to play football. And Dillon’s freestyle crew, the Dizzee Freekz, says that dance studios are for sellouts. His friends want Dillon to kill it at the audition—so he can turn around and tell the studio just how wrong their rules and creativity-strangling ways are.
At first, Dillon’s willing to go along with his crew’s plan, even convincing one of the snobbiest girls at school to work with him on his technique. But as Dillon’s dancing improves, he wonders: what if studios aren’t the enemy? And what if he actually has a shot at winning the scholarship?
Dillon’s life is about to get crazy . . . on and off the dance floor in this kid-friendly humorous debut by Brooks Benjamin.
Turning Point (Out September 15, 2020)
Best friends Rasheeda and Monique are both good girls. For Sheeda, that means keeping her friends close and following her deeply religious and strict aunt’s every rule. For Mo, that means not making waves in the prestigious and mostly White ballet intensive she’s been accepted to.
But what happens when Sheeda catches the eye of Mo’s older brother, and the invisible racial barriers to Mo’s success as a ballerina turn out to be not so invisible? What happens when you discover that being yourself isn’t good enough? How do you fight back?
Paula Chase explores the complex and emotional issues that affect many young teens in this novel set in the same neighborhood as her acclaimed So Done and Dough Boys. Friendship, family, finding yourself, and standing your ground are the themes of this universal story that is perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds, Rebecca Stead, and Renée Watson.
What Happens Next (MC’s sister is a ballerina)
Astronomy-obsessed Abby McCourt should be thrilled about the solar eclipse her small town of Moose Junction is about to witness, but she’s not. After her older sister Blair was sent away for an eating disorder, Abby has been in a funk.
Desperate to dull the pain her sister’s absence has left, she teams up with a visiting astronomer to help track down his long-lost telescope. Though this is supposed to take Abby’s mind off the distance between her and Blair, what she finds may bring her closer to her sister than she ever thought possible.
Daphne Definitely Doesn’t Do Dances
A few months into the school year, Annabelle Louis is starting to find her place at McManus Middle School. But Annabelle’s therapist, Dr. Varma, still thinks there’s room for improvement in Annabelle’s social life, especially since Mom will be leaving soon for an overseas assignment. Knowing there’s a school dance coming up, Dr. Varma challenges Annabelle to learn how to dance. What keeps Annabelle interested in the challenge are the hilarious videos she posts on her vlog, Daphne Doesn’t, making fun of the various styles of dance she’s learning. The videos are a hit, and as Daphne Doesn’t goes viral around McManus Middle School and elsewhere, Annabelle’s alter ego won’t stay secret for long. Will Annabelle continue to live a double life, or can she find a way to combine her two identities into one?
Ballet Bullies (Jake Maddox Girl Sports Stories)
Marissa has always loved dancing. But lately, she feels clumsy and awkward when she dances, and she feels bigger and taller than the other girls. She doesn’t even bother trying out for the Rose Fairy ballet. But someone else thinks Marissa has what it takes to play the Rose Fairy!
Lupe Wong Won’t Dance (Out September 8, 2020)
My gym shorts burrow into my butt crack like a frightened groundhog.
Don’t you want to read a book that starts like that??
Lupe Wong is going to be the first female pitcher in the Major Leagues.
She’s also championed causes her whole young life. Some worthy…like expanding the options for race on school tests beyond just a few bubbles. And some not so much…like complaining to the BBC about the length between Doctor Who seasons.
Lupe needs an A in all her classes in order to meet her favorite pitcher, Fu Li Hernandez, who’s Chinacan/Mexinese just like her. So when the horror that is square dancing rears its head in gym? Obviously she’s not gonna let that slide.
Pauline, Petrova, and Posy love their quiet life together. They are orphans who have been raised as sisters, and when their new family needs money, the girls want to help. They decide to join the Children’s Academy of Dancing and Stage Training to earn their keep. Each girl works hard following her dream. Pauline is destined for the movies. Posy is a born dancer. And Petrova? She finds she’d rather be a pilot than perform a pirouette.
This beautiful children’s classic is perfect for girls who love to dream about ballet, friendship, and finding their own special talents. Adult readers may remember them as the “Shoes” books from You’ve Got Mail!
Ellie’s Chance to Dance
Ten-year-old Ellie Brown is an American girl living in London. For Ellie, ballet isn’t just a dream, it’s become a way of life. She’s danced for almost as long as she can remember and started ballet lessons when she was four. Now Ellie is presented with the opportunity of a lifetime-a chance to audition for a spot to dance with the Royal Ballet. But Ellie knows that even if she won a place, it would mean moving to London and leaving her ill-stricken mother behind with no one to care for her. When the day of the audition finally arrives, Ellie must decide between pursuing her dreams or sacrificing her goals of joining the Royal Ballet to be with her mother. What will Ellie do?
No Ballet Shoes in Syria
Aya is eleven years old and has just arrived in Britain with her mum and baby brother, seeking asylum from war in Syria. When Aya stumbles across a local ballet class, the formidable dance teacher spots her exceptional talent and believes that Aya has the potential to earn a prestigious ballet scholarship. But at the same time, Aya and her family must fight to be allowed to remain in the country, to make a home for themselves and to find Aya’s father – separated from the rest of the family during the journey from Syria. With beautiful, captivating writing, wonderfully authentic ballet detail, and an important message championing the rights of refugees, this is classic storytelling – filled with warmth, hope and humanity.
Georgie has waited for this moment her whole life–to dance the part of Clara in The Nutcracker ballet. And when she finally gets the part, it’s like a dream come true. . . .
Every time Georgie dances with the Nutcracker doll, she leaves the ballet studio and enters a world where everything around her-the old wooden furniture, the Christmas tree, the carefully wrapped presents-is larger than life. It’s so magical, Georgie can’t wait to return again and again.
Then the Nutcracker’s magic seeps into the real world, putting Georgie’s friend in danger. Everything is falling apart, and it’s almost Christmas! Can Georgie save her friend, the Nutcracker, and most of all, herself?
Mexico may be her parents’ home, but it’s certainly not Margie’s. She has finally convinced the other kids at school she is one-hundred percent American—just like them. But when her Mexican cousin Lupe visits, the image she’s created for herself crumbles.
Things aren’t easy for Lupe, either. Mexico hadn’t felt like home since her father went North to find work. Lupe’s hope of seeing him in the United States comforts her some, but learning a new language in a new school is tough. Lupe, as much as Margie, is in need of a friend.
Little by little, the girls’ individual steps find the rhythm of one shared dance, and they learn what “home” really means. In the tradition of My Name is Maria Isabel—and simultaneously published in English and in Spanish—Alma Flor Ada and her son Gabriel M. Zubizarreta offer an honest story of family, friendship, and the classic immigrant experience: becoming part of something new, while straying true to who you are.
Out of Step (Jake Maddox JV Girls)
After a big growth spurt, dancer Mercy Smyth feels completely out of step. Her new height has thrown off her center. Now dance moves that used to be easy are challenging and gymnastics skills that were always tricky are nearly impossible. It’s going to take a lot of extra work–and money that Mercy doesn’t have–to bring her skills back to competition level. Will Mercy ever feel graceful again?
The Audition (Maddie Ziegler Presents, Book 1)
Twelve-year-old Harper has been dancing practically since she could walk. She loves her dance studio and team, and just won her first ever top junior solo in a regional competition. But right before the school year starts, Harper’s parents drop a bombshell—the family has to relocate from their cozy town in Connecticut to sunny Florida for their jobs. That means goodbye to her friends, dance team, trips to see shows in NYC—and did she mention dance team?
When she arrives at her new dance school and new team, it feels like everyone has better feet, quicker turns and faster taps than Harper. And it doesn’t help that a group of girls, who nicknamed themselves The Bunheads, wonder how the heck she made the team if she can’t even do a simple turn sequence in front of the class.
Thankfully, Harper befriends Lily, a fellow newbie in the studio who is just as eager to make her mark and find a friendly face. With a big competition coming up for the dance team, Harper is determined to show everyone—especially those Bunheads—what she’s made of. And when a very badly timed injury threatens all of the work they have done, The Bunheads, Lily, and Harper must learn to truly work together to give them their best shot at the top spot!
The Sea in Winter (Out January 5, 2021!)
It’s been a hard year for Maisie Cannon, ever since she hurt her leg and could not keep up with her ballet training and auditions.
Her blended family is loving and supportive, but Maisie knows that they just can’t understand how hopeless she feels. With everything she’s dealing with, Maisie is not excited for their family midwinter road trip along the coast, near the Makah community where her mother grew up.
But soon, Maisie’s anxieties and dark moods start to hurt as much as the pain in her knee. How can she keep pretending to be strong when on the inside she feels as roiling and cold as the ocean?
There they are: 25 of the best middle-grade books about dance (and some chapter books too)! We definitely need more dance books for kids, whether they’re about ballet or some other kind of dance. Several of these books will only be out in the fall and early next year. I hope you’ll pre-order them!
Have you read any of the books on this list? I’ve read LUPE WONG, TURNING POINT, and just started KATARINA BALLERINA! I love seeing so many Black kids on these covers. I’d love to find more Asian rep in dance books, so if you have any recommendations, please leave them in the comments.