When Langston Dances

by Kaija Langley (Author) Keith Mallett (Illustrator)

Reading Level: K − 1st Grade

Inspired by watching a performance of the Alvin Ailey Dance Company, a young black boy longs to dance and enrolls in ballet school.

A young Black boy dreams of dancing in this exuberant, buoyant picture book celebrating the beauty of dance, and the wonder of Black Boy Joy--perfect for fans of Firebird and Crown!

Langston likes basketball okay, but what he loves is to dance--ever since he saw the Alvin Ailey Dance Company perform. He longs to twirl into a pirouette, whirl into a piqué. He wants to arabesque and attitude, grand battement and grand jeté. When he walks, the whole street is his stage. With his neighborhood cheering him on, will Langston achieve his dream?

Select format:
$16.19 $17.99

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review

The absolute embodiment of Black boy joy, this is a beautiful and important book. 

Publisher's Weekly

Starred Review

"Langston liked basketball, but he adored ballet." A Black boy recognizes his love of ballet after his mother takes him to see the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. When, post-performance, Langston asks whether he, too, could dance like that, his mother offers an encouraging response: "You can do whatever you set your mind to doing." Thus begins Langston’s journey toward balletic excellence in this firmly uplifting narrative. Though a child on the way to Langston’s first dance class attempts to bring the burgeoning dancer down with a gendered sneer, Langston perseveres, in spreads showcasing an engrossing flipbook-like progression of his moves. Langley utilizes plentiful dialogue and repetition to draw readers in: "And Langston danced... and danced... and danced," the final spreads read, showing the maturing protagonist continuing to dance over the years. Mallett’s lively, realistic illustrations, characterized by airbrushed strokes and dynamic dancers of varying skin tones, help further bring the story to life. Notable is Langston’s unwavering passion for ballet-and his mother’s just as steadfast support-in this richly affirmative picture book. Ages 4-8. 

Copyright 2021 Publisher’s Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes


I love this book

It made me feel like I could do anything you put your mind to .He never gave up on his dream.You can do anything you want to do.

Kaija Langley
Born and raised in East Orange, New Jersey, Kaija Langley has been writing since she fell in love with words at age seven. She knew she was onto something when she wrote her first poem and her grade school classmates thought she'd copied it from a book! A proud alumna of Morgan State University, a historically black college and university in Baltimore, Maryland, she received her MFA in fiction from St. Mary's College of California in 2005. She's called many places home over the years--New Jersey, Maryland, DC, California, Louisiana--and currently lives, writes, and plays in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her two bonsai and her beloved.

Keith Mallett has been drawing and painting for as long as he can remember. The NAACP Image Award-nominated artist and designer has created posters and fine art prints for more than forty years. As guest artist, he crafted the 2017 Google Doodle commemorating Martin Luther King Day. Keith Lives in San Diego with his wife and German Shepherd.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Denene Millner Books/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication date
September 20, 2021
BISAC categories
JUV031020 - Juvenile Fiction | Performing Arts | Dance
JUV039090 - Juvenile Fiction | Social Themes | New Experience
JUV011010 - Juvenile Fiction | People & Places | United States - African-American
Library of Congress categories
African Americans
Sex role
Ballet dancing

Subscribe to our delicious e-newsletter!