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Love of reading, dance in sync for Books in Motion

Books in Motion 2021

Members of Polynesian Spice teach viewers the choreography of a dance inspired from Karma Wilson's "Hilda Must Be Dancing" as part of last year's Books in Motion. The free literacy program that encourages reading through dancing continues as a digital effort, with plans to return to in-person activities in 2022.

Parents looking for ways to engage their young readers should get ready to dance this summer with the return of Books in Motion.

Created as a joint effort of the Kern Dance Alliance, Kern Literacy Council and Kern County Library, the free literacy program offers read-alongs, dance choreography and simple crafts to engage children.

"Children learn in many different ways and we are so proud to inspire kids to read through movement and dance!," Andrea Hansen, president of Kern Dance Alliance, wrote in an email. "Books in Motion is successful because of our incredible partners and sponsors who believe that literacy is the key to success.

"Especially after a year of delayed learning, Books in Motion is doing our part to ensure children continue to learn, hone their critical thinking skills, and nourish their creativity."

Around 3,000 books have been given away and 6,000 people impacted since the program launched in 2017. 

Hansen said the first three years included over 30 performances each summer, allowing for thousands of children to experience BIM live. In shifting the program to a digital format in 2020, due to COVID, organizers found the videos benefitted not only those in Kern County but were viewed by children from all over the world.

A new film launches each week, connected to a children's book, with a reading, dance performance that viewers can learn and a simple craft. 

The first, out now, is themed around "Ballerina Gets Ready" by Allegra Kent, about a day in the life of a young ballerina named Iris. After the reading, dancers from Bakersfield City Ballet demonstrate adagio (slow movement) for viewers to follow. The video concludes with a craft project led by Sherry Wade, West Kern area regional supervisor for the Kern County Library.

"The crafts coincide with the theme of the book," Hansen said. "For example, in 'Ballerina Gets Ready' the ballerina places a rose in her hair. The craft is a rose made out of pipe cleaners that will inspire the children to continue to role play at home."

Those interested in following along each week can visit one of the 13 library branches serving as pickup locations for the packages, which include a book and related craft kit.

More than 1,100 books (and 1,000 craft kits) are available this year including the titles "Froggy Goes to Hawaii" by Jonathan London, "Groovy Joe: Dance Party Countdown" by Eric Litwin, "Hip-Hop Lollipop" by Susan McElroy Montanari and "The Pied Piper of Hamelin" by Robert Browning.

New this year is the addition of celebrity readers, which kicked off this week with Tiler Peck, Bakersfield-born renowned ballerina and author of "Katarina Ballerina." On Wednesday morning, she and co-author Kyle Harris read their book in a Zoom event, followed by Peck demonstrating some basic movement, and then a Q&A session with the duo.

Hansen was thrilled by the response to the first celebrity session, saying Wednesday, "the children were awestruck that they got to meet a real ballerina, listen to her read to them, teach them basic ballet movements, and ask her their very own questions!"

She said many parents shared that they had bought "Katarina Ballerina" to follow along with the reading and that their children had been dancing all morning in preparation for the Zoom.

The next live celebrity reading will be on July 23, with "Boys Dance!" author John Robert Allman who will be joined by Calvin Royal III of the American Ballet Theater. Hansen said she is also in negotiations for other readings during the program's run this summer.

A new film will launch each Monday for the next six weeks. All were produced in conjunction with Dance Camera West, a Los Angeles-based production company specializing in creating dance for film. This spring they filmed at various locations, including the Fox Theater, Kern County Museum, and Padre Hotel, with Bakersfield City Ballet and six other local dance organizations: DanceNation, DAT KREW, Heather Benes and the East Kern Ragtag Revels, McLaughlin Dance Collective/Civic Dance Center, Polynesian Spice and Spotlight Dance Academy.

Hansen said watching the production team work was one of her favorite aspects of this year's program.

"I was in awe of watching the Dance Camera West crew direct the dancers while also giving them an education in dance for film! I hope that our participating BIM dancers will feel inspired to go into filmmaking as a career too!"

With the program geared toward early readers between kindergarten and third grade — which is a crucial time for learning to read — the engaging stories, dances and crafts should hopefully draw children back to the books themselves, Hansen said.

"Books in Motion is all about inspiring literacy through movement and dance — even if the child cannot read the book, their curiosity is tapped through movement which leads them back to opening the book that inspired the movement and looking at the written words!"

Visit kerndance.org/BIM for videos and more information about Books in Motion.

Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter at @realstefanidias.