Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 15, 2022

Book Giveaway: PIRATES DON”T DANCE by Shawna J. C. Tenney

Shawna J. C. Tenney has written and illustrated a new picture book, PIRATES DON’T DANCE published by Sleeping Bear Press. They have agreed to send a copy to the one lucky winner in the US.

Just leave a comment. Reblog, tweet, or talk about it on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Let me know other things you did to share the good news, so I can put the right amount of tickets in my basket for you. Sharing on Facebook, Twitter or reblogging really helps spread the word for a new book. So, thanks for helping Shawna.

If you have signed up to follow my blog and it is delivered to you everyday, please let me know when you leave a comment and I will give you an extra ticket. If you want to make sure you don’t miss seeing that you won, please click “Notify Me of Follow-Up Comments by Email” box. I will leave a comment in reply if you win the book. Thanks!


Jack longs to be a pirate. He loves everything about the job, from the peacefulness of the ocean to the opportunity to make new friends to the excitement of exotic travel. Jack also loves to dance, from the graceful glide of the glissade to the energetic leap of the grand jeté; to the controlled kick of the grand battement. In fact, Jack often dances as he does his pirate apprentice chores. Unfortunately, Captain Squinty Eye’s number one pirate-ship rule is PIRATES DON’T DANCE. Dancing is too silly and not fitting for a rough, tough pirate. What will it take for Jack to convince Captain Squinty Eye that dancing is not a bad thing, and may even help Jack be a better pirate? Or will Jack and his dreams get tossed overboard? An empowering and relatable story about staying true to yourself and following your dreams. Back matter includes explanations of dance movements, as well as definitions of pirate speak.


This story started a long long time ago, back in 2014. While brainstorming picture book ideas, I put these two words together: “ballet” and “pirate.”

These two words really sparked and interest for me because of all my years of ballet training as a youth. Somehow the two ideas went to well together for me in a fun, hilarious, and meaningful way. Just as a dancer needs balance to hold an arabesque, a pirate needs good balance on the high rigging. Just as a dancer needs a ton of strength to lift another dancer, a pirate needs a lot of strength to carry heavy anchors and barrels.

Someone with ballet training would make an excellent pirate.

But I also knew there was a lot of stigma around boys who dance. I danced with several boys over the years. These male dancers were some of the strongest people I knew, but sadly, people were often unkind to them because of what they deemed as societal norms.

I had the perfect set up for a story. But the idea had to marinate for a while.

I started writing my story in early 2017. The story took many different iterations. An early version had a hilarious sea monster in it. Several versions ended in a very silly ballet celebration.

But ultimately, my critique partners and eventually my agent and editor helped me  focus the story. In my final iteration, Jack is able to live out  both of his dreams. He is ultimately able to become a pirate who is even better at his job because he is a dancer.

One part of the writing that I had a really fun time with was developing the rhythm of the book. There are a couple parts in the book where I use a stanza to establish a rhythm that Jack is hearing that is making him want to dance:

The slosh slosh slap of the waves,

The flip flip flap of the sails,

The creak creak crack of the ship…

It was my first time playing around with conosance- or repeating the beginning and ending consonants in the words. It was also really entertaining to play with syllables  to create a rhythm for even more danceability!

I also had fun with idioms, which I hadn’t used in my stories  before. I enjoyed the contrast how the idioms are used with how I could use the literal meanings in the illustrations, such as in the case of “Jack and his friends were in deep water.”

Speaking of creating the illustrations, that was a whole different ball game. One of the best, and maybe the most challenging parts of creating this book was drawing all the pirate characters. I wanted all of the pirates to look very different and distinct from all the other pirates. After many hours of sketching my pirates and figuring out their looks and shapes, I put them into a “line-up” to see how they measured up to each other.

Then there was also the problem of making sure the viewer could tell which pirates belonged on which pirate “team.” Then I decided that I would give each pirate “team” a set of colors for their clothing. I dressed Captain Squinty Eye’s crew in red and purple. I dressed Captain Crooked Beard’s crew in blue and green. The art part of this book was difficult to finish on time, because there were so many pirates to paint!

Another interesting aspect of illustrating this book was learning the anatomy of a pirate ship. I gathered many reference photos of pirate ships, but it was ultimately difficult to picture the three dimensions of a ship without standing inside one. So I bought myself a plastic model of a pirate ship (assembly required), so I could visualize how a pirate ship works from front to back. This was so helpful for all my pirate ship illustrations.

I enjoyed adding in fun details for kids to look for and find in the art such as animals. One little nugget I hid in the illustrations playable sheet music. One of the scenes uses the main theme from Swan Lake by Peter Tchaikovsky, and another uses Entry of the Gladiators by Julius Fucik. I’ll give a prize to whichever smart kid finds these hidden treasure in the book on their own!

In the end with the help of my art director and editor, I was very happy with how the book came together. The message I’m hoping kids will get out of this book is that they won’t let naysayers stop them from doing things they are interested in, and that the thing they love might even help them be better at something else they love to do.


​Shawna J. C. Tenney is an author and illustrator with a passion for picture books. Shawna graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Illustration from Brigham Young University and loves telling stories through color, composition, and whimsical characters. She is the author and illustrator of Brunhilda’s Backwards Day.

Photograph of Shawna J.C. Tenney

Besides writing and illustrating Privates Don’t Dance, she has written and illustrated Brunhilda’s Backwards Day, Bugs on Rugs Card Game, Winner Winner Chicken Dinner, and illustrated Blood! Not Just a Vampire Drink written by Stacy McAnulty.

Shawna is represented by Lori at LK Literary.

Shawna, that you for sharing your book and journey with us. I love Jack how Jack follows his passion and convinces Captain Squinty Eye that dancing can be a good thing. Kids love pirates, so I know they will enjoy reading Jack’s funny story. Of course since you are the writer and exceptional illustrator they are perfect for the book. Good luck with getting everyone to see your book.

Shawna was featured on Writing and Illustrating’s Illustrator Saturday in 2013. You might want to take a look. 

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Congrats Shawna on what looks like an amazing premise. Love the illustrations Kathy showed.
    Kathy I subscribe to your blog and I shared on Twitter & FB w/a link to the post. Thanks for featuring this tantalizing post.


  2. So fun! My grand just started ballet last night! She will love this one. 🙂 Congrats!

    I follow by email and I tweeted this, Kathy.


  3. I love this idea and how this book will show readers that it’s cool to be a dancer, especially for boys. I’m an email subscriber and shared on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and tumblr.


  4. Congrats, Shawna, on your book!! It looks so fun, and the illustrations are beautiful!! I love that it challenges societal norms/gender norms. I shared on Twitter, too.


  5. Hi Shawna! It was great meeting you at the Highlights Foundation Workshop last month and even more fun to hear your journey and storytelling process here in this blog. Wishing you much success in the coming years with your books 📚!


  6. Shawna, your book sounds adorable and the illustrations are stunning! So many readers will love it. Congratulations from one Utah-based writer to another!


  7. This looks like a super-fun book!


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