Footwork: The Story of Fred and Adele Astaire


Follow the footsteps of two persevering siblings who danced their way into a cherished place in the spotlight.

In 1905, four-and-a-half-year-old Fred Astaire put on his first pair of dancing shoes — and from that moment, his life was filled with singing, dancing, and fancy footwork. Fred’s older sister, Adele, was the real dancer, but Fred worked hard to get all the steps just right, and it wasn’t long before he was the one capturing headlines and stealing the show. In this ...

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Follow the footsteps of two persevering siblings who danced their way into a cherished place in the spotlight.

In 1905, four-and-a-half-year-old Fred Astaire put on his first pair of dancing shoes — and from that moment, his life was filled with singing, dancing, and fancy footwork. Fred’s older sister, Adele, was the real dancer, but Fred worked hard to get all the steps just right, and it wasn’t long before he was the one capturing headlines and stealing the show. In this fascinating story of child stars who hoof their way to knockout success on Broadway and beyond, Roxane Orgill and Stéphane Jorisch team up for a bravura performance, capturing the sophistication, fluidity, and grace of two of the biggest names in dance history.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Barbara L. Talcroft
Fred Astaire and his sister Adele comprised a famous and enchanting pair of dancers before Adele retired and younger brother Fred turned to the movies. This story of their childhood struggles, early years in vaudeville, and successes on stage in New York and London has now been adapted to fit the smaller format of the "Candlewick Biographies" series. The text remains the same as in the original picture book format, and the subject matter is a good fit for a series that aims to present "a defining moment" in the life of an outstanding achiever. Of the siblings, Fred was the hard worker and perfectionist, ever striving to improve their act and his own technique. For example, fifteen-year-old Fred met tap dancer Bill Robinson on tour and spent hours exchanging steps outside the theater. Adorable Adele enjoyed the fun of being onstage, but found practice boring; though audiences loved her, at the height of their theatrical fame, she decided to marry her English lord and leave Fred on his own. It was indeed a turning point for the brother who had danced with her for thirty years. As Orgill explains, Fred refused to be discouraged, plunged into his work, and soon decided to try his luck in Hollywood where, still the perfectionist, he invented spectacular dances with new partners. (Fred: "Hard work is great fun!") The typeface has been reduced in size, pages numbered and text divided into chapters. Jorisch's delightful illustrations, created in pen-and-ink with highly saturated watercolor and gouache, do not fare quite so well. Besides being smaller, full-bleed spreads are actually cropped by two or more inches, losing some of the picture as well as sweep and detail of street scenes and the sense of space on stages. Fortunately, Orgill's excellent resource pages have been retained. Still, inclusion in the series may keep Footwork in print for a longer time. Reviewer: Barbara L. Talcroft
Abby McGanney Nolan
Orgill's lively words and Stephane Jorisch's illustrations, with their delicate inkwork, Art Deco stylings and ingenious mix of black-and-white and color, manage to get the Astaire magic right.
—The Washington Post
Children's Literature
Fred Astaire is everyone’s favorite American dancer. With his mature dancing done mostly in movies, dance-lovers can view him in action on DVDs and documentary films, pore over photographs in books, even buy Astaire paper dolls. What young dance enthusiasts are less likely to know about are the early years and the partnership with his older sister Adele. Fred began to dance when he was four years old after trying on a pair of toe shoes at his sister’s class--she was the one with the talent, but their immigrant father saw possibilities for a team. The kids moved to New York with their mother, took classes, and embarked on the vaudeville circuit. Orgill and Jorisch follow their careers through bad times and good, as the Astaires travel the country, take a few years’ break for Fred to grow taller, experience failure and, finally, success. Fred meets and learns from tap-dancer Bill Robinson, becoming a perfectionist and workaholic, always trying to improve the act and his own technique. At last, with spectacular acclaim in London (the Prince of Wales saw their show ten times) came financial security, though the partnership was dissolved when Adele married a British aristocrat. As the story ends, we find Fred eager to go on to Hollywood and dance to new heights. Orgill’s text is vivid and well researched; Jorisch’s glowing ink and watercolor illustrations evoke in saturated colors city streets, theaters, trains, stages, and backstages--the early twentieth-century show business world of the fabulous Astaires. Reviewer: Barbara L. Talcroft
School Library Journal

Gr 1-4
In 1905, when Fred Astaire was five and his sister, Adele, was seven, they traveled with their mother from Nebraska to New York City so that they could attend dancing school. After only one year, their teacher put them in a show. Next thing they knew, they were in vaudeville and traveling by train with only each other as friends. Although they went through some tough times, they persisted and finally were offered a Broadway show. They wowed crowds in New York and London until Adele married an English nobleman and gave up performing. Fred continued on and became a movie star. This picture-book biography highlights the youthful years of the two talented siblings. The pleasantly written text and appealing, detailed ink, watercolor, and gouache illustrations provide a charming glimpse into the world of vaudeville and show the hard work and talent that was needed for Fred, in particular, to become one of the most renowned dancers of the 20th century.
—Carol ScheneCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
Focusing on Fred and Adele's childhood and acts, Orgill chronicles the siblings' hard work as child dancers on the vaudeville and small-time music-hall circuits. Interesting details-such as the break taken so that the younger Fred could catch up with Adele's physical development-are delivered in engrossing, if occasionally inelegant prose. ("The children went to school. For the first time, Fred sat at a desk in a classroom smelling of chalk.") The narrative concludes by touching on Fred's success as a solo artist and film star, as his and Adele's paths diverge after 30 years as a duo. Jorisch's digitally enhanced, mixed-media illustrations feature delicately inked line and a color palette evoking vintage costumery-a lovely approach for spotlighting both the dancers on stage and the architectural details of early-20th-century cityscapes. The handsome layout alternates pages of text facing bordered illustrations, with bordered text blocks against full-bleed double spreads. Pair this with aural and visual treats from the performers' stellar careers. (selected bibliography of adult titles, selected discography, suggested films, television, website) (Picture book/biography. 6-10)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780763662158
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Publication date: 3/12/2013
  • Series: Candlewick Biographies Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 48
  • Sales rank: 799,513
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Roxane Orgill is an award-winning writer whose music reviews and articles have appeared in the WALL STREET JOURNAL, the NEW YORK TIMES, and BILLBOARD. She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Stéphane Jorisch has illustrated many books for children, including Lewis Carroll’s JABBERWOCKY, ANANCY AND THE HAUNTED HOUSE: AN ORIGINAL STORY, and I REMEMBER MISS PERRY. He lives in Montréal.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 2, 2009

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    A reviewer

    Both Balanchine and Nueyev called Fred Astaire the best dancer of the 20th century. Even today, some two decades after his death, he is well remembered when one of his 30 movie musicals is shown on television, and he is still considered to be one of the world's most debonair gentlemen, an icon of male fashion. We think of Fred and Ginger, as together with Ginger Rogers he made ten memorable films. But, how many remember that his first dancing partner was his sister, Adele? She was the one considered to be a born dancer. So, in 1905 Adele (age 7), Fred (age 5) and their mother boarded a train for New York City so Adele could attend dancing school. Father remained in Omaha where he worked for a brewery. Fred joined his sister in taking lessons and before long their instructor put them in a show, as a bride and groom who 'tap-danced on top of a pair of wooden wedding cakes.' At that time vaudeville was all the rage, and the talented youngsters soon won a spot on the vaudeville circuit. Mother, daughter and son began traveling from town, eventually returning to Omaha where they were enthusiastically received. At that time, Adele was the star of the act. However, the time came when they were no longer children, not 'adorable little kids,' so they were reduced to playing on a small-time circuit. Times were tough as they shared the stage with trained seals. But they worked hard, perfected new acts and finally won the hearts of theater goers. They were offered a part in a Broadway show in 1917. Success followed success until in 1932 Adele announced her intention to marry and retire - they had danced together for almost 30 years. Shortly thereafter Fred flew to Hollywood and the rest is cinema history. Footwork is a charming biography of a persevering family, his talented sister, and the man many consider to have had the most influence on movie musicals. Who else danced on a wall? - Gail Cooke

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    Posted August 2, 2009

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