From Russia with battling mice and waltzing flowers.
In the early 20th century, three brothers from Utah caught dancing fever and went on to join the vaudeville circuit, performing all across America. One of the brothers went on to Portland, Oregon, to start a ballet school and, following the advice of a Russian émigré conductor, used music from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker to choreograph dances for his students. Two of the three siblings found themselves in San Francisco in 1944 in search of a big-ticket number for the San Francisco Ballet. Everyone helped on the production, but it was not until 1949, with all three brothers working together, that The Nutcracker as an annual Christmas tradition began. Barton writes with an easygoing, folksy style with, perhaps, an overreliance on the phrase “the whole shebang.” Though Barton ably does here what he did for the inventor subjects of Sibert honoree The Day-Glo Brothers, illustrated by Tony Persiani (2009), balletomanes will regret that he doesn’t go into greater detail about the actual San Francisco Ballet production. Gendron’s oil paintings present scenes from the lives of the brothers and from the staging of the ballet. A swirling ribbon is an appropriate ongoing motif, but too often the dancers appear in stiff, cardboard poses.
Nutcracker aficionados can enjoy a background overture to a Christmas classic. (author’s note, illustrator’s note, timeline, summary, photographs, further reading) (Picture book/biography. 5-10)