With some books, it’s the cover that gets you. With this one, it was the title that sold it: The Dancing Pancake. A-dor-able. (Not that there’s anything shabby about the cover here. It’s Joanne Lew-Vriethoff’s handiwork, and the whimsical sweetness is perfect match for Spinelli’s story). Everything about this little gem is sweet and carefully crafted. It’s a lovely middle-grade read.
When I saw it was a verse novel, I confess, I was a tiny bit disappointed. In general, I don’t enjoy verse novels as well as prose, and middle grade verse novels can be particularly tricky because I often think that it’s hard to create a believable middle grade voice through poetry. Spinelli’s The Dancing Pancake proves the exception. She gets her main character’s voice just right. There’s nothing in the poetry that seems a stretch given the age of the main character.
Bindi’s life changes in a big way with her parents’ separation. Her dad moves to another city to look for a job and Bindi and her mom have to move out of their house into an apartment. Bindi’s mom and aunt decide to open a café in the shop beneath the apartment, and The Dancing Pancake fills Bindi’s life with even more unexpected people and situations.
The pen-and-ink illustrations add even more heart and humour to Spinelli’s words. They made me think a little of Clementine. I liked that the novel succeeded in communicating the complexity of emotion that a child feels when change happens. Change can be exciting and awful all at once, and you really get that in this novel. Spinelli manages to create a verse novel that is accessible, engaging and thought-provoking, where family makes life difficult and better all at once.
The Dancing Pancake is published by Knopf.