Thursday, December 13, 2012

Lili on Stage by Rachel Isadora - Nutcracker book review

Tiny Tot -Waiting to perform in the Nutcracker
We've been living and breathing Nutcracker these past few weeks and months. My daughter performs the part of a Party Girl and a Mirliton in our local Nutcracker production this December.  My son plays a smaller role, but he's super cute nonetheless as a Tiny Tot in the party scene.  They've both spent a lot of time both back stage, below stage and on stage during rehearsals. Now that the performances have started, we've been spending even more quality time at the theater.

Participating in the Nutcracker production has provided both of my kids with a valuable opportunity to witness first hand all that goes on behind the scenes during a live performance.  Most audience members remain blissfully unaware of the hustle and bustle of activity back stage.  Make-up and hair, costumes, props and set, lighting, warm-up - the magic begins long before the curtain opens.

As I was researching Nutcracker themed children's books, I came across a wonderful picture book title by Rachel Isadora that provides a unique look at the Nutcracker ballet from a performer's point of view.  Lili on Stage follows a young girl named Lili as she gets ready to perform as a party girl in Act I of a Nutcracker production.  She and her friends warm-up, put on their make-up and costumes and wait in the wings until finally they walk on stage and join the fabulous party scene, watching as Drosselmeyer gives the gift of a nutcracker. Off stage, as she heads back to the changing room, Lili sees all the dancers who will perform in Act II - Marzipan, Dew Drop, the Sugar Plum Fairy, and more - dressed and ready to dance.

Isadora beautifully captures all the preparation, awe and excitement a young dancer experiences when getting ready to perform in a ballet production.  Her lovely watercolor illustrations suit the theme particularly well, realistically and expressively illustrating the dancers. Both boy and girl dancers are portrayed, and Isadora also shows racial diversity of the cast in her depiction of the performers. Isadora herself was a professional dancer before she began a career in children's books.  Her first-hand knowledge of ballet and the dancer's life is evident in every single page of this book.  Ballet instructors may want to read the story aloud to students before a performance because the book offers plenty of helpful advice for performers: no speaking on stage, hold your head high, don't eat or drink while in costume.  Isadora provides readers with a short summary of the Nutcracker story in the beginning of the book.

Mirliton - Dance of the Reed Flutes
My daughter loves this book because it shows all of the different character dancers in Act II of the Nutcracker ballet.  She performs as a Mirliton (a.k.a. Marzipan or Shepardess) during the Dance of the Reed Flutes, and surprisingly we've had a hard time finding this particular piece depicted in Nutcracker children's books. Luckily, Isadora included the divertissements, although she uses some different terms for the characters than we are used to -- the Russian (Trepak) I believe is depicted as Candycane?!

Lili on Stage is part of Isadora's "Lili" series, a picture book series perfectly suited for young ballerinas.  The book is currently out-of-print, but can be found at a reasonable cost used. Other books in the series include: Lili at Ballet and Lili Backstage.
Lili on Stage by Rachel Isadora. Putnam (October 1995); ISBN 9780399226373; 32 pages
Book Source: Personal copy

Related links:
Rachel Isadora - Website

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Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Nutcracker Musical Storybook App By Mouse King Media

This December I plan on reviewing several different versions of E. T. A. Hoffman's The Nutcracker.  Before I start with the book reviews, I've decided to highlight something a little different, an awesome Nutcracker storybook app that happens to be available for free today on Apple itunes! If you're a fan of the Nutcracker ballet and enjoy the music and the story, this is an app you must absolutely download!

The Nutcracker Musical Storybook is an animated, interactive app based on the ballet version of the Nutcracker.  This app by Mouse King Media combines excerpts of Tchaikovsky's music with a short, picture book format story featuring artwork by Yoko Tanaka. The app can be played as either a storybook or movie version.

Illustrator Tanka channels some of the Sugar Plum fairy's magic and beautifully captures the fantasy elements of the Nutcracker in her lovely, enchanting illustrations. It's a splendid treat to interact with this app -- Clara, the Nutcracker, the seven-headed Mouse King and all the dancers magically to spring to life right on the screen.  The scenes in The Land of Sweets are incredible, particularly the Russian Dancers scene.  The story is not narrated, like other storybook apps, so children will need to read the words themselves or have an adult read aloud the story.

I purchased The Nutcracker Musical Storybook on Amazon for our Kindle Fire last month. Since both my kids are performing in the Nutcracker this holiday season, I thought they might enjoy an interactive version. I highly recommend this app. Even if you can't get it free, it's still a bargain at $2.99. The app provides a nice introduction to both the music of the Nutcracker and also the basic storyline. 

The app is available for ipad, Android, Amazon Appstore, and also Nook.


I am an Amazon affiliate and may receive a very small commission for products purchased through my Amazon links. (View my full disclosure statement for more information about my reviews.)