Although I write extensively about fiction for young readers elsewhere, I don’t usually cover it in The Stage. Now a new title for which I’m going to make an exception has arrived on my desk. It’s about boys, ballet, taking part in professional shows and family support or lack of it, so I hope you can see the relevance.
Celia Purcell’s Jonathan’s Leap is the story of a fairly ordinary twelve year old with stressed, mildly dysfunctional parents because his dad is out of work and his mum struggling with her own job. But despite being overweight he is mad about ballet and pretty good at it, thanks to a fine local teacher. Then he gets a dance part in a local professional pantomime and promoted to a larger role when one of the older boys falls by the wayside. It’s pretty affirmative stuff and although not quite as dramatic in its outcomes as Billy Elliot it is still making points which need to be made about boys who want to dance.
Also rather nicely done in Jonathan’s Leap are the gay relationship between the pantomime director and MD, the illness of Jonathan’s feisty ballet teacher and the family mystery which underpins his father’s objection to ballet. There’s a great deal here to make theatrically inclined young people think and it would work for anyone over about 10.
Reservations? Yes, I don’t think Purcell – herself a dancer – should have completely ignored the legal requirement for professionally performing children to be licensed and chaperoned. Jonathan’s Leap includes some totally implausible incidents in which Jonathan is alone, for example, with adult cast members. The mother of one of the girls is always around (even getting in the way in the wings) but it is never made clear why she’s there. It gives a rather sloppy impression of the way professional theatre works when children are involved.
Nonetheless there’s a lot here to help educate (and change attitudes of) young readers and maybe older ones too. I’m a great believer in fiction as an educative source of easily absorbed information and learning and Jonathan’s Leap is a good example.
Jonathan’s Leap by Celia Purcell, Hulton Books, ISBN 9780992749705 rrp £6.99