Breaking to the Beat!

By The Horn Book

Acevedo and Morrison provide an engaging, gritty, urban retrospective on the role young people played in establishing break dancing and hip-hop. Set in the Bronx in the 1970s, the story follows Manolo, a “shy Puerto Rican boy who soaked up every bold beat of the conga.” Although not a biography, Acevedo’s work reads like one because, as she explains in the afterword, the character of Manolo is a composite of many real-life young dancers. As Manolo grows, he admires the dances of the b-boys and b-girls (“B stands for BREAK”) and closely follows the “battles,” dance-offs with crowds of teens who moved, grooved, and cheered on their favorites. Although he despairs of ever being good at it, he practices until his “flops turned into flips” and his “goofs into glides.” But as his talent soars (he acquires the nickname “Kid Flex” because he’s so limber), the neighborhood declines: burned-out buildings and broken windows abound as garbage and vandalism fill the streets. Manolo forms a dance crew, the Borinquén Breakers, and a (real-life) white photographer, Henry Chalfant, captures their talent, opening doors to recognition, movie deals, and other markers of fame. This lusciously illustrated picture book, with Morrison’s signature images of characters with elongated arms and legs, effectively captures Manolo’s initial hesitancy and later verve, bravado, and dizzyingly bodacious moves. A wonderful story of an important artistic form that, like jazz, emerged from Black and Brown communities.