This introduction to the ballet closely follows the production of the New York City Ballet, as originated by George Balanchine.
Protagonist Marie is introduced on the cover as a blonde, white sylph dancing with her nutcracker toy. All the standard elements of the story are introduced in order, including the transformation of the Christmas tree, cleverly illustrated by shifting the page orientation by 90 degrees to accommodate its sudden growth. Marie and the Prince travel through the Land of Sweets, where they meet the characters from the ballet, such as the Sugarplum Fairy and Mother Ginger, before returning home in their magical sleigh drawn by reindeer. This interpretation has the advantage of a text that is not too long or complicated for young children. The captivating illustrations have an art nouveau look, with swirling skirts, trailing ribbons, and flowing hair styles. A concerning aspect of the style is the noticeable thinness of the female dancers, especially Marie and the other little girls at the party. Stick-thin arms and legs for little girls do not reflect reality and reinforce problematic body-image ideals. The main characters in the story are all white, while some of the party guests and dancers are from other ethnic groups. Two final pages include additional facts and the history of the New York City Ballet production.
An appealing production overall and a helpful introduction for children preparing to see the ballet, but it’s one that needs some real little girls as artist's models. (Picture book. 4-8)