This adroit amalgamation of two beloved Christmas stories will be best appreciated by children already familiar with both...

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THE NUTCRACKER'S NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS

A Christmas Eve performance of The Nutcracker ballet runs amok with multiple mishaps but is saved in the nick of time by the arrival on set of Santa Claus and his elves.

The familiar rhyme and rhythm of “The Night Before Christmas” serve as the structure for this clever melding of two beloved holiday stories. An all-child cast is about to perform The Nutcracker, but the day of the performance is filled with mishaps, from torn tutus to sick stagehands to a broken nutcracker. Santa and the elves fix everything and even lend the sleigh and reindeer to the Sugarplum Fairy to use in the performance. The play is performed on Christmas Eve, and Santa steps on stage during curtain calls for “a rollicking round of applause.” Large-format illustrations with a double-spread format and horizontal orientation ably capture the backstage and onstage scenes. The multiethnic children who make up the cast seem a little too young to be putting on The Nutcracker, but the roly-poly kids are undeniably cute in their mouse and flower costumes. Two final pages include a plot summary of The Nutcracker and a glossary of ballet terms.

This adroit amalgamation of two beloved Christmas stories will be best appreciated by children already familiar with both tales rather than as an introduction to The Nutcracker ballet. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-58536-889-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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Aims high but falls flat.

WILD SYMPHONY

Through 20 short poems, Maestro Mouse invites readers to meet a series of animals who have lessons to impart and a symphony to perform.

Brown, author of The DaVinci Code (2003) and other wildly popular titles for adults, here offers young listeners a poetry collection accompanied by music: a “symphony” performed, for readers equipped with an audio device and an internet connection, by the Zagreb Festival Orchestra. From the introduction of the conductor and the opening “Woodbird Welcome” to the closing “Cricket Lullaby,” the writer/composer uses poems made of three to eight rhyming couplets, each line with four strong beats, to introduce the animals who will be revealed in the final double gatefold as the players in an all-animal orchestra. Each poem also contains a lesson, reinforced by a short message (often on a banner or signpost). Thus, “When life trips them up a bit, / Cats just make the best of it” concludes the poem “Clumsy Kittens,” which is encapsulated by “Falling down is part of life. The best thing to do is get back on your feet!” The individual songs and poems may appeal to the intended audience, but collectively they don’t have enough variety to be read aloud straight through. Nor does the gathering of the orchestra provide a narrative arc. Batori’s cartoon illustrations are whimsically engaging, however. They include puzzles: hard-to-find letters that are said to form anagrams of instrument names and a bee who turns up somewhere in every scene.

Aims high but falls flat. (Complete composition not available for review.) (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-12384-3

Page Count: 44

Publisher: Rodale Kids

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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ALWAYS MORE LOVE

An interactive book works to get its titular message across to readers.

The narrator, an anthropomorphic cartoon heart with big eyes and stick arms and legs, is nothing if not exuberant in its attempts, clumsy and cloying as they may be. “I love you so much, / but there’s more in my heart. / How is that possible? / Well, where do I start? // Now move in close, and you will see / just how much you mean to me. // My love is huge—below, above. / As you can tell, there’s always more love!” The page following the instruction to move in shows a close-up of the top of the heart and its eyes, one stick arm pointing skyward, though despite the admonition “you can tell,” readers will glean nothing about love from this picture. À la Hervé Tullet, the book prompts readers to act, but the instructions can sometimes be confusing (see above) and are largely irrelevant to the following spread, supposedly triggered by the suggested actions. The heart, suddenly supplied with a painter’s palette and a beret and surrounded by blobs of color, instructs readers to “Shake the book to see what I can be.” The page turn reveals hearts of all different colors, one rainbow-striped, and then different shapes. Most troublingly, the heart, who is clearly meant to be a stand-in for loved ones, states, “I’m always here for you,” which for too many children is heartbreakingly not true.

Skip. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-7282-1376-7

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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