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FIRST BALLET by Deanna Caswell


by Deanna Caswell and illustrated by Elizabeth Matthews

Age Range: 2 - 5

Pub Date: Oct. 6th, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-4231-1353-9
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

One sure gift of the Christmas season is the annual ritual of picture books in which grandmother takes granddaughter to the ballet for the first time to see The Nutcracker. In this iteration, Grandmother and her fellow theater-goers are decidedly upper-crust snooty and almost entirely white. The ballet is unnamed but is almost certainly The Nutcracker, as Christmas trees comprise the scenery and one scene depicts the fight between the toy soldiers and the Mouse King. Oddly, there are few children in the audience and very few dancers on the stage. The story is told mostly through short sentences: “Crisp air. Breath clouds. / Precious ticket. Eager crowds.” First-time author Caswell would do well to rethink her sentence structure, as the clipped couplets quickly grow old. Matthews’s full-page color illustrations are lackluster and uninspired, though vignettes illustrating various balletic maneuvers do educate. In particular, the image of a yawning Grandma at the end may discourage rather than encourage excitement in little ones. Even a ballet warhorse—perhaps especially this one—deserves better treatment. (Picture book. 2-5)