José! Born to Dance

Illustrated by Raúl Colón
Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster, 2005
ISBN 978-0689865763
Buy from an independent bookstore
Buy from

This picture book biography for kids ages 5-9 was eight years in the making and features spectacular art by the award-winning illustrator Raúl Colón, and a lyrical, poetic text. Winner of the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award and the International Latino Book Award.

Now available in Spanish!

¡José! Nacido para bailar

Translated by Alexis Romay
Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster, 2022
Buy from an independent bookstore
Buy from

Awards and Honors

Here’s what the reviewers are saying:

Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2005, Starred Review
“This first introduction for children to renowned dancer and choreographer José Limón pairs equally soaring text and visuals. Born ‘kicking like a roped steer,’ young Limon moved with his family from Mexico to California during the Mexican Revolution, made his way to New York during the ’20s, and after searching for an artistic vocation, found his life’s work in the modern art dance of Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman, creating ‘dances sweet as birdsong– TRILLIA-WEET!/ Hot as the desert sun– Si! Si / Sad as broken dreams– O, sonador.’ Focusing mainly on Limon’s childhood, Colon takes him from cradle to curtain call in a series of portraits that captures his strength and grace perfectly. Reich’s narrative neatly draws together both his search for a medium of artistic expression that was right for him (he was talented in music and visual arts, too), and the influence of early incidents, sights and even sounds on his mature style. She closes with a triple ‘BRAVO!’ that readers will certainly echo, plus an extended biographical note and a select list of resources in several media. An inspiring tribute to a major figure in the arts, featuring some of Colon’s most moving, powerful work yet.”

Booklist, August 2005, Starred Review
“This picture-book biography tells the story of young Jose Limon, who became a legendary figure [in] the history of American dance. Reich punctuates the scenes of Jose’s childhood in Mexico with sensory details, especially sounds: the ‘TRILLIA-WEET! TRILLIA-WEET!’ of his grandmother’s canary singing, the clicking heels of flamenco dancers, the cries of “Ole! Ole! Ole!’ at the bullfight, and his Mama’s bedtime lullaby; ‘SORA-SORA-SO, SORA-SO.’ Later, Reich shows how the rhythmic sounds from Limon’s childhood became inspirations for movements expressed in his dance. When civil war in Mexico leads to fighting in the streets of their town, Jose’s family flees to the U. S. In elementary school, laughter at his poor English fires his determination to succeed. As an adult, he moves to New York City, discovers his passion for dance, and works hard to become a dancer and choreographer. Sensitively written and beautifully illustrated, this picture book offers a soaring portrayal of achievement, Colon’s distinctive watercolor and colored pencil artwork includes many strong compositions that are fundamentally narrative, yet emotionally resonant and often memorable. An expressive, stately tribute.

Book cover of Jose! Born to Dance, written by Susanna Reich