Guest contribution by Kerry Aradhya of Picture Books & Pirouettes
The Nutcracker season may be winding down, but that doesn’t mean you have to put all of your Nutcracker music and books away just yet.
In fact, if you are looking to expand your collection of picture books about this classic holiday ballet (and the wonderful Tchaikovsky score that goes with it), you may be interested in the following four books. Just as each ballet company has its own interpretation of The Nutcracker story, so too do the authors and illustrators of these one-of-a-kind picture books.
Author & Illustrator: Mary Englebreit
Even if you don’t recognize the name Mary Englebreit, when you see this book you will probably recognize her warm and festive style of illustrations, which have appeared in countless books, greeting cards, calendars, and other crafts and gifts over the years. Englebreit begins this story from the unique perspective of the Nutcracker and then focuses on the close relationship between the Nutcracker and Marie (known as Clara in some versions of the story) throughout the rest of the book. The sweet, sparse text and gorgeous, expansive illustrations make this one a keeper. On her website, Englebreit also has Nutcracker cut-outs and instructions on how to make the gingerbread house from the book!
Author & Illustrator: James Mayhew
Patterned after the other books in the Ella Bella Ballerina series, this book is perfect for introducing young dancers to the wonder and magic of The Nutcracker. In the book, Madame Rosa begins to tell her ballet students (including Ella Bella) about the Nutcracker, but she runs out of time before she can share the whole story. After class, Ella Bella opens Madame Rosa’s special music box and is transported to the opening scene of the ballet, where she meets Clara and follows along in her adventures with the Nutcracker Prince in the Land of Sweets. Other books in the series introduce Ella Bella to other famous ballets – Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Swan Lake.
Author: Geraldine McCaughrean
Illustrator: Kristina Swarner
This interactive book reminds me of a pop-up book in some ways, but nothing actually pops up and the pages are not as easily destroyed by little bitty hands. Several pages at the beginning and end of the book contain an empty circular window that fills with characters from the book when you turn the pages. On one page, for instance, Marie and Professor Drosselmeier slide into the window when you turn the page. On another, the Nutcracker and the Mouse King appear in the window, ready for battle. In the middle of the book, the Nutcracker Prince tells Marie the story of how he became the Nutcracker (in more detail than I have heard before) and how he is nervous to return to his father’s kingdom – the Land of Sweets. Of course he has nothing to worry about, and his father the King welcomes him with open arms. He even throws a party for Marie since she was able to break the Prince’s long-lasting curse! The color palette and the mixture of linoleum print, watercolor, and colored pencil give this book a dreamy, wintery feel.
Author: Anna Harwell Celenza
Illustrator: Don Tate
Tchaikovsky’s Nutracker Suite is just as famous as the actual ballet, but did you know that a jazz version of the suite was created in the early 1960s? Based on historical fact, this picture book tells the story of how American jazz musician and composer Duke Ellington collaborated with Billy Strayhorn to compose the new suite of eight songs, which includes “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” and other favorites, but all renamed for the new collection. This is a fun, educational, and beautifully illustrated book. Plus it comes with a CD, which you can groove to as you listen to the saxophone, brass, bass, and drums make beautiful music together!
Thanks to Barron’s Educational Series for a review copy of Ella Bella Ballerina and The Nutcracker, and to Chronicle Books for a review copy of The Nutcracker: A Magic Theater Book. All of the opinions expressed in this post are my own.
You may also want to read the guest post by Heather Desaulniers on the recently re-released 120-page Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffmann (the original author of the story) with illustrations by the legendary Maurice Sendak.
Kerry Aradhya is a science writer and children’s poet who has danced professionally with the Houston Grand Opera, the Natasha Carlitz Dance Ensemble in the San Francisco Bay area, and several other small dance companies. She is currently a member of Kinor – the resident Israeli folk dance company of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington. Kerry also writes regularly about integrating children’s literature and dance at her blog, Picture Books & Pirouettes.