Any other bargain shoppers out there? Just me? Oh, I'm sure some of you will join me in enjoying a good sale! Black Friday and Cyber Monday have become synonymous with bargains. Here are some of the things that I have found useful for me and for my classroom.

**This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. I only recommend products that I know and love.

 I love telling the story of the Nutcracker Ballet! Mostly, I love reading a book aloud and using voices and actions to build excitement and bring it to life. This is an important part of our preparation to see the ballet on a field trip or video. 

For years, I used and loved this book that I found at my school book fair. I love it because it follows the story of the ballet, closely matched what my students would see at our local production, and there weren't too many words on each page. The text was short and straight to the point. Clara is the main character. Unfortunately, it seems that this book may be out of print. I have seen a few copies on eBay or Thrift Books, but they are generally used, sometimes cost way too much, and are not always in great condition (my own copy is now falling apart from so much use!). 

One of the benefits of using a read-aloud book instead of a video is that you can easily pause to check for understanding. Another benefit is that you - the master teacher - can keep your students engaged in the story by adding excitement to your reading style, speeding up or slowing down the presentation, or (gasp!) paraphrasing a portion of text to meet the needs of your students. 

As I searched for a replacement for my worn out book, I found that there are so many new books on the Nutcracker! Originally, I focused my Nutcracker unit on third grade because they were the students who would participate in the live production field trip. Over the years, however, I found myself expanding my Nutcracker activities to both younger and older students. Of course, I needed some variety and differentiation in the books I read! 

Here are some of my new favorite versions, along with their key features. (This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. I only recommend products that I love!)

Books about Dancing in the Ballet

The Night Before the Nutcracker (American Ballet Theatre)
The rhyming text, told in the style of "Twas the Night Before Christmas," will give your students a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to prepare for a ballet performance.  Auditions, rehearsals, and costumes are all part of the preparation for the big event. The rhyming text is easy to follow, and the illustrations present a diverse cast of characters. This book is a perfect addition to any "careers in theatre" discussion as you can see the directors, choreographers, dancers, and costume designers.

Charlotte and the Nutcracker: The True Story of a Girl Who Made Ballet History
by Charlotte Nebres (Author), Alea Marley (Illustrator)  This book is the true story of 12-year old Charlotte Nebres, the first Black girl to play Marie in the New York City Ballet's production. The book weaves Charlotte's story together with the story of the ballet. What a great find! 

Book that Integrates a Fiction Storyline with the Nutcracker

The Nutcracker in Harlem: A Christmas Holiday Book for Kids by 
T. E. McMorrow (author) and James Ransome (illustrator)
This award-winning book (Bank Street College of Education Best Children's Book of the Year) is set in the Harlem Renaissance and gives recognition to several of the jazz artists of the era.

Books that Tell the Story of the Ballet  

  The Nutcracker by New York City Ballet (Author), Valeria Docampo (Illustrator).   This beautiful book is by the New York City Ballet and presents the story of George Balanchine's Nutcracker. Marie is the main character. The artwork is beautiful, and the book follows the story of the ballet. My one caveat: There are LOTS of words on each page in this story. Even though the Amazon customers say this book is for ages 3-7, my own experience in the elementary music classroom tells me that older students would have an easier time maintaining attention to the amount of text on each page and the vocabulary. I would use this in a class setting with 3rd -5th graders, ages 8-10.

Jan Brett's The Nutcracker
The Nutcracker story is illustrated in Jan Brett's distinctive style and set in snowy Russia. While the storyline follows that of the ballet pretty closely, it is not set in a ballet. Animals cast as the dancers in the second act add a whimsical touch to the story. 

The Nutcracker: A Christmas Holiday Book for Kids  This one is my new favorite. Susan Jeffers is a Caldecott Award-winning artist and the illustrations in this book are worthy of that honor. Marie is the main character. The artwork is beautiful, the book follows the story of the ballet, and there is a smaller amount of text on each page. This book is my favorite for classroom use. I find it easy to keep the attention of a group of students with the sparse text and beautiful illustrations.

The Story Orchestra: The Nutcracker: Press the note to hear Tchaikovsky's music (Volume 2) (The Story Orchestra, 2) 
by Katy Flint (Adapter), Jessica Courtney-Tickle (Illustrator)  I have other Story of the Orchestra books and they are all well done. This one tells the story of the Nutcracker Ballet and includes 10 sound buttons that will play brief excerpts from the ballet music. 

The Original Story of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King

Nutcracker by E. T. A. Hoffmann (Author), Maurice Sendak (Illustrator), Ralph Manheim (Translator)
Maurice Sendak adds his amazing illustrations to the classic 1816 tale by Hoffman. This is the longer story that The Nutcracker Ballet is based on. It is translated from the original German language. The illustrations are reminiscent of the sets and costumes designed by Sendak for the Pacific Northwest Ballet's production. While this is a great book to have in your adult collection, it will take more work to use this in an elementary classroom setting. 

Just for Fun! 

A Nutty Nutcracker Christmas
by Ralph Covert  This book presents a different side of the story - Fritz is the main character! The story is based on a full length musical of the same title and is set in modern times. Fritz is a video gamer who loves playing Mouse Hunt 5000.  Definitely check in with your English/Language Arts teachers to see how they approach point of view in their lessons! A Nutty Nutcracker Christmas would be perfect for older grade students who may think they are too cool to listen to the same old Nutcracker story one more time. I would use this with my 4th or 5th grade students. 

Duke Ellington's Nutcracker Suite (Once Upon a Masterpiece)
Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn rose to the challenge of transforming Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker music from classical to jazz. This story, written by musicologist Anna Harwell Celenza, takes us through the process of composing and recording the jazz setting of The Nutcracker Suite. As there is more text on each page than many of the other books in this article and my class time was short, I treated this as a chapter book and split the reading across several class sessions, with listening and movement to the music with each lesson.

Extra Support for Reading Comprehension

My classes that were to attend the live production of the ballet needed some extra support with their comprehension and keeping track of the plot lines. To support comprehension and to facilitate a post-trip writing activity, I designed some graphic organizers especially for this story. In practice, the story graphic organizer served as a perfect personal word wall for any writing activities to follow. 

Dive into the magical world of Nutcracker Ballet storybooks! 

Explore versions with behind-the-scenes insights, true stories of ballet history, or festive twists set in the Harlem Renaissance. Classic approaches with beautiful illustrations and just the right amount of text for classroom engagement are also available. Experience the joy of Tchaikovsky's music with a storybook that includes sound buttons.

Whether it's whimsical animal dancers or the original tale, there's a Nutcracker storybook for every classroom and every grade level. Check them out and keep the magic alive in your music class!

Musically yours,

Social emotional learning in the music room is gaining traction. It helps students express themselves and builds connections. Both of these things are important life skills. Social Emotional Learning is a very broad topic, so I will be focusing on a few basic strategies that you might implement right away in your music classroom. We will be learning about embedding Mindful Listening, Mindful Breathing, and Mindful Movements into your warm-up routine and as brain breaks for your students.