Parenting is a Journey
An Adventure of Discovery Not Only of our Children But of Ourselves as Well
Going to see “The Nutcracker” is a holiday tradition for many families. Introduce the magic of dance with these picture books, and let the power of the moment fill your child’s imagination.
“Bea in the Nutcracker,” by Rachel Isadora (Nancy Paulsen / Penguin; ages 2-5; $16.99; 32 pp.). Adorable toddler Bea (star of Isadora’s Bea at Ballet) returns in the lead of her dance class’s production of “The Nutcracker,” and the resulting story leads to a perfect introduction of the classic ballet for our youngest readers. Isadora, a former professional dancer, conveys “The Nutcracker’s” magic in a wonderfully child-centered story for the youngest audience.
“Danza! Amalia Hernández and Mexico’s Folklorico Ballet,” by Duncan Tonatiuh (Abrams; ages 4-9; $18.95; 32 pp.). Amalia Hernández studied ballet and modern dance, and she blended these styles with folkloric danzas she saw as a child in Mexico City. Forming her own small company, she traveled throughout Mexico to research and create dances that intertwined Mexico’s many traditional and indigenous danzas with modern dance styles. A beautiful, stylistic picture book biography.
“Firebird,” by Misty Copeland, illustrated by Christopher Myers (G.P. Putnam’s Sons / Penguin; ages 6-10; $17.99; 32 pp.). When a discouraged African-American girl looks up to her idol—ballet star Misty Copeland—the older dancer reassures her, saying, “darling child, don’t you know / you’re just where I started.” Their imagined conversation develops as the young child takes center stage. The blend of soaring illustrations and inspiring words will encourage many young dancers.
“Flora & the Flamingo,” by Molly Idle (Chronicle; ages 4-8; $16.99; 32 pp.). This unique wordless picture book is filled with the joy of dance. Endearing Flora at first just imitates and annoys the flamingo, but she slowly makes a friend, and the two create a graceful duet. Young readers love the movement revealed as they lift the flaps and turn the pages. Winner of the 2014 Caldecott Honor Award.
“Lupita’s First Dance / El Primer Baile de Lupita,” by Lupe Ruiz-Flores, illustrated by Gabhor Utomo (Piñata / Arte Publico; ages 5-8; $17.95; 32 pp.). First-grader Lupita can’t wait to dance La Raspa, a Mexican folk dance, in this bilingual story that celebrates the joy of performing. When her partner sprains his ankle, Lupita must decide whether to sit out from the performance or to go on alone. Children will relate to Lupita’s anxiety and delight in the final outcome.
“The Nutcracker,” illustrations by Niroot Puttapipat, text adapted by Kate Davies (Candlewick; ages 6-10; $19.99; 12 pp.). The original Nutcracker story is skillfully retold in this picture book, but it’s the illustrations that will draw readers to this version. Puttapipat sets black cut-paper silhouette figures against jewel-toned scenes, creating a sense of the formal ballet and the intimate, magical story. The longer text makes this more suited for older children. The climax, as Clara and her prince enter the Sugar Plum Fairy’s castle, reveals itself in a majestic pop-up spread.
“The Nutcracker,” by Susan Jeffers (HarperCollins; ages 4-8; $16.99; 40 pp.). Set in Victorian times, this large picture book version of “The Nutcracker” is a beautiful, lush introduction to the story and the ballet. Jeffer’s illustrations bring alive a sense of wonder and enchantment, with their romantic, detail-rich scenes.
“The Nutcracker Comes to America: How Three Ballet-Loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition,” by Chris Barton, illustrated by Cathy Gendron (Millbrook; ages 6-10; $19.99; 35 pp.). When the three Christensen brothers learned ballet, they not only fell in love with dance, they also loved the show-stopping way it entranced audiences. Fast-forward to the 1940s, when the brothers were in charge of the San Francisco Ballet, searching for a big-ticket production and they staged the first American full-length production of what was soon to become an American tradition. Terrific nonfiction set right here in San Francisco.
“The Nutcracker in Harlem,” by T.E. McMorrow, illustrated by James Ransom (HarperCollins; ages 4-8; $17.99; 32 pp.) The vibrant Harlem Renaissance makes a grand setting for this charming reimagining of the classic Nutcracker story. Marie shyly watches as her beautiful Harlem home fills with music and dancing on Christmas Eve, but she can’t bring herself to perform. When she falls asleep and begins to dream, she finds her courage and her voice as she defends the Nutcracker from the army of uniformed mice. Ransome’s lyrical illustrations bring the Jazz Age to life.
“Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova,” by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Julie Morstad (Chronicle; ages 5-9; $17.99; 44 pp.). With beautiful, graceful illustrations and poetic text, this book captures the spirit and charm of one of history’s prima ballerinas. Although Anna was born to a poor family in Czarist Russia, she was determined to become a ballerina. Young children will revel in this resolve, but it’s the imagery that will stay with them in their dreams.
Mary Ann Scheuer is a teacher librarian at Berkeley Unified School District. Find more books Mary Ann recommends sharing with children at her blog, Great Kid Books, http://greatkidbooks.blogspot.com.