Andi’s Valentine Tree is a story about Andi, who loves dancing more than anything. He spends most of his mornings by himself. On the way to school, he crosses a forest where he became friends with a squirrel, Lou. His connection to nature is enhanced when his favorite tree speaks to him. His lack of true friendship at school and ballet school is supplemented by Lou and Gloriana, the tree. He finally finds company that appreciates his love for ballet and rejoices in his dance moves. The moral of the story is that true friendship will support what you like and be there for you. Luckily, in the end, Andi finds friends who become fascinated with Gloriana and her powers.
This is the second story I have read by Once Upon a Dance, and I still am enthralled by the dynamic and modern structure of the book. Stepping away from the standard story-telling techniques is a tricky move, but Once Upon a Dance does it and does it excellently. There is something about a children’s story that comes with actual physical activities that not only makes sense but surprises me that I have only just found out about its existence. Andi’s Valentine Tree is the perfect story about misfits that are not understood by their fellow classmates; we must have all been like that at least once. Andi’s perseverance to do what he liked, regardless of what everyone else thought, is a courageous trait that every child should have. As an adult, I can truly say that I thoroughly enjoyed these stories.
—Readers' Favorite (Carolina Restrepo)
Andi loves dancing and is most at home when practicing on their own or in the studio. But at school, things are different; nobody else seems to understand Andi’s enjoyment of dance, and with few friends, Andi often feels as though the school day lasts forever. Because of their parents’ busy schedule, Andi often walks to school on their own, and one day, they come across a beautiful tree who becomes an important companion. When bullying finds its way into Andi’s life, it is Andi’s new arborous friend who steps in at just the right time.
This book is slightly longer and more poignant than other stories in the Once Upon a Dance canon; it incorporates both the joy of dance and the challenges that come from school-aged misunderstandings. Andi uses they/them pronouns and finds themself to be completely at home in the dance studio, as is evidenced by the illustrations. However, Andi encounters mean-spirited classmates who judge Andi’s love of dancing, making the school day even more difficult to endure. Readers who have ever experienced bullying like this will empathize deeply with Andi in this story as they attempt to retain their individuality even as they are ridiculed by their peers.
Like the others in this collection, this book incorporates three components: the narrative itself, a full-page illustration, and movement guidance with accompanying photographs. Appearing in three vertical columns, this design gives readers the option to read everything at once or to navigate the story in pieces as they wish. A purple shadow of a tree appears behind the movement instructions, beautifully linking the story with Ballerina Konora’s dance-inspired interpretation of it. Warm, colorful illustrations showcase Andi and their experiences, offering a delightful visual element for readers of all ages.
Elementary school-aged readers will get the most out of this story as the length of the text and the depth of the plot will resonate best with this age group. However, any readers who enjoy stories and movement will be able to interact with the individual elements of the book that speak to them. A glossary of French ballet terms is included at the end of the book to help readers better understand the dance terms used within the text, whether they are ballet dancers themselves or not. As in the series as a whole, every body is encouraged to participate in this book in whatever way feels best to them. This inclusive and touching story is an important addition to library collections for elementary school-aged readers.
—Mary Lanni, Independent Librarian Reviewer
Andi loves to dance. He lives for the time he spends with his friends at the dance studio. But, during the day, he attends school, a place where no one understands his passion. In fact, they mock him. The walk to school is a magical journey. One grand tree along the path bonds with Andi. In fact, it begs Andi to dance – in the forest, for only the trees (and of course Andi’s trusty friend, Lou, a squirrel). Andi obliges and blossoms on his before and after school performances for the tree he names Gloriana. After Andi performs solos in the dance studio’s annual production of The Nutcracker, the bullying at school intensifies and even follows him on his journey home, past the Gloriana tree. That’s when the wonders of nature take hold and comfort is provided for all who can open their hearts to welcome it.
Once Upon a Dance (also known as Ballerina Konora) has written a charming, sweet dance story, Andi’s Valentine Tree: A Dance-It-Out Creative Movement Story. The plot follows Andi’s passion for ballet and his daily journey past a special, magical tree in the forest. The book is formatted to involve the reader in both the plot and the choreography of the dance itself, with illustrations of Ballerina Konora doing the various dance positions chronicled in the story. The illustrations are beautiful and certainly help move the story along. This is a powerful, yet simple story about the creative powers of dance and how it can make things both beautiful and difficult – difficult in the sense that when others don’t understand one’s passion, it often results in bullying, which Andi encounters from some of his classmates. With the help of two special friends, a magical tree and a special squirrel, Andi manages to confront the bullies head-on without resorting to their lower level of nastiness. Overall, a beautiful story, with interactive activities for those who love to dance and those who wish to learn.