Cover image for Tallchief : America's prima ballerina
Tallchief : America's prima ballerina
Tallchief, Maria.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Viking, 1999.
Physical Description:
28 pages : color illustrations ; 29 cm
Ballerina Maria Tallchief describes her childhood on an Osage reservation, the development of her love of dance, and her rise to success in that field.
Reading Level:
750 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 5.1 0.5 32702.

Reading Counts RC 3-5 4.9 3 Quiz: 30840 Guided reading level: S.


Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GV1785.T32 A3 1999 Juvenile Non-Fiction Biography
GV1785.T32 A3 1999 Juvenile Non-Fiction Biography
GV1785.T32 A3 1999 Juvenile Non-Fiction Biography

On Order



Music flowed through young Maria Tallchief as naturally as the wind in her hair. She had only to hear a melody and out it came under her fingers on the piano or through her body in dance. When she was twelve her father told her that she would have to choose between piano and dance. "One or the other", he said, "but follow that one star". So Maria chose from the heart -- and she chose dance. It was a decision that would change not only the course of her life but the face of classical ballet in America forever.

From her early years on an Osage Indian reservation in Oklahoma to her departure for New York, where her professional career was launched, the fascinating story of Maria Tallchief's rise to America's prima ballerina is sure to captivate the hearts of young readers and dance lovers alike.

Author Notes

Rosemary Wells was born in New York City on January 29, 1943. She studied at the Museum School in Boston. Without her degree, she left school at the age of 19 to get married. She began her career in publishing, working as an art editor and designer first at Allyn and Bacon and later at Macmillan Publishing.

She is an author and illustrator of over 60 books for children and young adults. Her first book was an illustrated edition of Gilbert and Sullivan's I Have a Song to Sing-O. Her other works include Martha's Birthday, The Fog Comes on Little Pig Feet, Unfortunately Harriet, Mary on Horseback, and Timothy Goes to School. She also created the characters of Max and Ruby, Noisy Nora, and Yoko, which are featured in some of her books. She has won numerous awards including a Children's Book Council Award for Noisy Nora in 1974, the Edgar Allan Poe award for two young adult books, Through the Looking Glass and When No One Was Looking, and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Shy Charles.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 3^-5. In picture-book format, Tallchief's story begins with her childhood on an Osage Indian reservation in Oklahoma, where she took her first piano and dance lessons. After moving to Los Angeles, her parents found excellent teachers for the young dancer, who loved expressing the music with her body and worked hard to fulfill her aspiration to dance with the best, the Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo. The book ends with 17-year-old Tallchief leaving for New York to follow her dreams. In addition to the people and places remembered from childhood, Tallchief discusses the gift of music, which she and her parents recognized early as a driving force in her life. The joint authorship may cause some readers to wonder whose words are whose, yet the voice of the text speaks with great clarity, dignity, and power, occasionally lit by flashes of imagery and memory. Equally powerful and well crafted are the illustrations in heavily applied pastels. Gary Kelley grasps forms with a cubist's awareness of the solidity of people and objects, then arranges them to make an effective representational picture in two dimensions. Despite the book's large format and many illustrations, the length of the text and sophistication of the artwork indicate an older readership than the usual picture-book audience. A stirring choice for children (and perhaps some adults) who take their ballet seriously. --Carolyn Phelan

Publisher's Weekly Review

Despite its subtitle, this picture-book biography focuses on the childhood and adolescence of Maria Tallchief, not on her groundbreaking career. The text itself is poetic, almost like a fairy tale in its scene-setting. Tallchief's father, an Osage, "could spot a rattlesnake out of the corner of his eye... and shoot the snake from fifty yards away while still walking." Her mother, of Scots-Irish descent, "was small as a bird, and beautiful. My father loved to give her diamond rings." Oil fields have made the Tallchiefs and the others on their Oklahoma reservation "the wealthiest people on the face of the earth." In metaphorical language, Tallchief and Wells (Mary on Horseback) describe young Betty Marie's twin passions for music and dance, and her mother's role in developing them. The language can be abstract ("The secret of music is that it is something like a house with many rooms"), but the story is gripping. The Tallchiefs move to Los Angeles so Betty Marie and her sister can receive better trainingÄonly to discover that everything their Oklahoma teacher has taught them is wrong. Later Betty Marie enrolls in a class given by the sister of Nijinsky ("He was like a god, and so she was the sister of a god"); at 17 she leaves for New York, to join the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, and there the book ends. Her fame is discussed only in Wells's foreword, and comments in the text such as "I became a pioneer for American dance" go unexplained. Kelley's (The Red Heels) softly focused paintings underscore the lyrical tone, enveloping the characters and settings in gauzy, dreamlike light and concentrating, provocatively, on stillness as opposed to movement. Ages 4-9. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Gr 2-4-A picture-book autobiography of the early years of America's first internationally significant ballerina. Through eloquent words, readers are immediately drawn into this first-person narrative. The story opens with Tallchief's birth on an Osage Indian reservation. Her Scots-Irish mother made sure that Maria and her sister received dance and music lessons, and eventually her father persuaded her to choose between piano and dance. The rest is history. The story ends when, at age 17, Maria left home to seek her fame and fortune in New York. As beautiful as the text is, so too are Kelley's pictures. The large illustrations, several covering double-page spreads, are rendered in soft pastels. The text and artwork combine to make a pleasing introduction to a fascinating person. Wells's personal connection to ballet and Tallchief, explained in the introduction, makes this effort all the more stirring. All told, a simple, lovely offering.-Anne Chapman Callaghan, Racine Public Library, WI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.