Dear Aunt Debbie,
What an excellent post from Bob! I've never read any Rosemary Sutcliff, but it's clear that I should. She'll go on my maternity leave reading list, for sure.
This weekend has offered the first breather for me in quite a while, after a punishing week of teaching and grading and kids' school holiday parties. Thanks to my most excellent in-laws, yesterday I had a chance to finish my Christmas shopping, including a visit to Book Court, our favorite local independent, to pick up a few last books I'd ordered. Seeing the crowded, cheerful store, I thought happily of the business you've been doing.
In the children's section, there were several Christmas-themed picture books facing out, including one I've been wanting to write about for a few weeks: The Nutcracker, by Susan Jeffers. We discovered this book a couple of years ago, completely unconnected to the Christmas season: Eleanor picked it up at the library, and then wanted to read it every night for three weeks. My general rule on library books is that if they occasion two or three requests to renew them or take them out again, we'll go ahead and buy them, so about a year ago I bought Eleanor this copy.
It's a clearly-told, sumptuously illustrated version of the story which hews closely to the plot of the ballet, and contains lots of good dancing pictures. One of the charming and odd things about it is the number of pages where, if you look closely, no one's feet are touching the ground: everybody seems to be floating.
(Apologies for the slightly cut-off text -- the pages are oversized, and my scanner is not.)
The Mouse King is a little creepy, but not too terribly frightening, and there are pages of dancers in various costumes, allowing both Eleanor and Isabel to announce on reaching each page which of the dancers they'd like to be. (Eleanor is partial to the Sugar Plum Fairy, natch.) We went to see a version of the Nutcracker ballet this year, and Eleanor was slightly confused that the name of the heroine was Clara -- in Jeffers's book, as apparently in Alexandre Dumas's retelling of the original and creepier E.T.A. Hoffman story, the girl is called Marie. Marie or Clara, she points her toes and flies through the air here in a totally winning, slightly cheesy manner which both of my girls adore.
It's a good book for Christmas, or for ballet-loving kids, or for anyone in the mood for a slightly loopy fairy-tale story that ends well.