Read “The Nutcracker” Any Time Of Year With Your Child

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.

Mary Engelbreit’s Nutcracker

Author & Illustrator: Mary Englebreit

Mary Englebreit's Nutcracker
Publisher: Harper (2011)

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!

Ella Bella Ballerina and The Nutcracker

Author & Illustrator: James Mayhew

Ella Bella Ballerina: The NutcrackerPublisher: Barron’s Educational Series (2012)

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.

The Nutcracker: A Magic Theater Book

Author: Geraldine McCaughrean

Illustrator: Kristina Swarner

The Nutcracker: A Magic Theater Book
Publisher: Chronicle Books (2012)

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.

Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite

Author: Anna Harwell Celenza

Illustrator: Don Tate

Duke Ellington's Nutcracker Suite
Publisher: Charlesbridge (2011)

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.

Headshot of Kerry AradhyaKerry 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.

From Ballet to the Barnyard: Picture Books in 2011

Editor’s Note: In 2010, I discovered Kerry Aradhya’s blog, Picture Books & Pirouettes. Two subjects I adore: dance and children’s literature. Happily, Kerry agreed to publish a review of the dance picture book trends of 2010. Since then, I’ve watched her blog develop and couldn’t be more tickled to present her summary of 2011!

It never ceases to amaze me how many picture books about dance are floating —or maybe I should say twirlingaround out there.

When I started my blog, which focuses in large part on these books, people would often ask me if there were really enough dance books available to keep my blog going. And my answer was always yes. There really are!

I love discovering picture books about dance that were published some 10, 20, and even 30 years ago, but handfuls of books are also being published during each new year. When I look through the list of books that were released in the United States in 2011, three unique categories of books stand out to me. Here’s a little more about them…

Series for Little Ballerinas

Angelina Ballerina may still be the most popular picture book character for many young dancers, but several characters emerged this year and in the recent past who could eventually give Angelina a run for her money.

Ella Bella Ballerina and Swan Lake
Author: James Mayhew
Illustrator: James Mayhew
Publisher: Barron’s Educational Series

First published in England, the charming series of Ella Bella Ballerina books introduces young readers to some of the world’s most famous ballets. In Ella Bella Ballerina and Swan Lake, little Ella Bella is transported into the magical world of Swan Lake, where she interacts with the Swan Princess and helps her reunite with the prince. Ella Bella Ballerina also has her own blog, where you can follow all of her adventures!

Miss Lina’s Ballerinas and the Prince
Author: Grace Maccarone
Illustrator: Christine Davenier
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends

In 2010, the book Miss Lina’s Ballerinas introduced the ballet mistress Miss Lina and the nine young ballerinas under her tutelage. In the sequel, Miss Lina’s Ballerinas and the Prince, a male ballet student joins the mix. Rhyming text and gorgeous French-inspired illustrations make both books ones to treasure.

Tallulah’s Tutu
Author: Marilyn Singer
Illustrator: Alexandra Boiger
Publisher: Clarion Books

The only reason Tallulah started taking ballet class was because she wanted to wear a tutu, but over time she realizes there is a lot more to love about ballet. The publisher of Tallulah’s Tutu has also created this great activity kit to go along with the book. And the book’s sequel, Tallulah’s Solo, is scheduled to hit bookshelves in 2012.

Spanish and Latin American Dance [Read more…]

Diversity Defines Dance Picture Books in 2010

Today’s guest article is by Kerry Aradhya. She is behind Picture Books & Pirouettes, a new favorite blog of mine. Kerry combines dance and children’s literature (which compliment like chocolate and peanut butter). If you have or work with kids, be sure to pay her site a visit!

The children’s picture book market is filled with books about ballet—classic titles like Angelina Ballerina newer ones like Miss Lina’s Ballerinas and a myriad of Nutcracker books that have been published over the years. No one can dispute that little girls everywhere love putting on their tutus and ballet shoes every week for dance class—and that they also jump up and down for books about ballet. But, with a growing ethnic population and a range of dance styles being offered at studios around the country, picture books are beginning to more accurately reflect the country’s complex demographics. More and more publishers of children’s books are emphasizing diversity in their lists, and dance picture books are among those benefiting from this trend.

A fair share of the dance picture books published in 2010 still revolved around ballet. (A few of my favorites are Miss Tutu’s Star, Brontorina, and Nutcracker Twinkle Toes.) But just as many picture books about OTHER forms of dance made it onto library shelves, into bookstores, and into the hands of little girls and boys this year. These diverse books are a healthy mix of fiction and nonfiction, poetry and prose, and text and pictures targeting toddlers to tweens. Here is a sampling…

Alphabet of Dance (cover)Alphabet of Dance

Written in rhyme, this alphabet book introduces a variety of dance concepts and styles ranging from A to Z. The poetry is far from stellar in its rhythm and depth, but the concept of teaching the alphabet through dance is appealing. So while it is not the best book from a purely literary standpoint, Alphabet of Dance is educational and could be especially appropriate for teachers who want to integrate more dance and movement into the language arts. The book also comes with a tear-out alphabet poster and a downloadable audio version of the text. Ages 4-8.

Ballet for Martha (cover)Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring

Although the word ballet is in the title of this book, Ballet for Martha is not actually about ballet. Author Jan Greenberg, author Sandra Jordon, and illustrator Brian Floca collaborated to tell the story of another amazing collaboration—that of modern dancer and choreographer Martha Graham, composer Aaron Copland, and artist Isamu Noguchi to create the masterpiece “Appalachian Spring.” The book has received rave reviews from the critics, including starred reviews from Kirkus, Horn Book, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist. Ages 9-12

Dance Stories (cover)The Barefoot Book of Dance Stories

Picture books typically range in length from 24 to 48 pages, but this 99-page book has such gorgeous illustrations integrated throughout the text that I still consider it a true picture book. Famous author Jane Yolen and her daughter Heidi Stemple weave the joy of dance through eight dance folktales from eight different cultures in this charming book for children and adults alike. The book also includes a narrated CD and factual information about the dances from the various cultures. Ages 8 and up.

Dancing Feet! (cover>Dancing Feet!

I haven’t actually read this book by author Lindsey Craig and illustrator Marc Brown, but I would love to get my hands on a copy. It celebrates dance and movement in general, and it looks like so much fun! Here is an excerpt from a starred review by Publishers Weekly: “Spontaneous, onomatopoeic verses ask questions that are answered with a page turn: ‘Tippity! Tippity!/ Little black feet!/ Who is dancing that tippity beat?’ leads into a spread that reveals ladybugs cavorting among leaves and dappled orange flowers…In a satisfying finale, kids wearing clothing that mimics the appearance of the various animals demonstrate their own dancing feet. Fluid repetition and snappy rhythm make this a natural for reading aloud–noisily.” Ages 1-4.

Ole! Flamenco (cover)Ole! Flamenco

This nonfiction book, created by award-winning photographer and author George Ancona, is a dynamic history and portrait of the art form known as flamenco. Readers learn about the Gypsy origins of flamenco and how the various components—song, music, and dance—developed over time. Words and photos also show the intricacies of the dance, including the sharp, strong movements of male dancers and the flair and passion with which women swish their skirts back and forth as they move. Ages 6-9.

Tip-Tap Pop (cover)Tip-Tap Pop

Emma’s Pop taught her to tap dance when she was very small, and the two still love to dance together—back-flapping at the farmer’s market, dig-shuffle-chugging through town, and putting on a special show for the family every year on Emma’s birthday. But when Pop starts to forget things, Emma doesn’t feel like dancing anymore…at least for a little while. Once she realizes that she can use dance as a tool to stay connected to Pop, the hop in her step slowly returns. This book is full of great tap dancing sounds, and the expressive illustrations by Valeria Docampo show the joy in Emma’s face when she is dancing. Ages 4-8.

In the coming year, let’s all embrace the joy dance brings us and the other diverse ways in which dance enriches our lives. Happy dancing!

Headshot of Kerry AradhyaKerry Aradhya is a children’s writer and accomplished dancer. She has poems appearing or forthcoming in Stories for Children Magazine, Ladybug Magazine, and Highlights High Five. After falling head over heels for modern dance in college, she has danced professionally with such groups as the Houston Grand Opera and the Natasha Carlitz Dance Ensemble in the San Francisco Bay Area. When Kerry isn’t writing for children or dancing, she just might be partaking in her newest pastime—blogging. You can read more about dance picture books for kids and other ways to integrate children’s literature and dance at her blog, Picture Books & Pirouettes.