cover image First Ballet

First Ballet

Deanna Caswell, , illus. by Elizabeth Matthews. . Disney-Hyperion, $16.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-1-4231-1353-9

The title refers not to stage debut, but rather to a little girl's maiden experience as an audience member at The Nutcracker . Wearing a dressy red coat and Mary Janes, and accompanied by a regal matron in a Margaret Dumontesque fur, the girl soaks up the auditorium's opulence and the electricity in the air. But as soon as the ballet starts, Caswell, a debuting author, and Matthews (Different Like Coco ) focus on the dancers, and the book sags. Their Nutcracker comprises mostly haughty ballerinas; there's little sense of the work as a magical smorgasbord or (more egregiously) that its central character is a young girl. Matthews's dancers look chunky, inert and detached, and Caswell's text is equally problematic. She writes in minimal, literal couplets composed almost entirely of noun-verb pairs (“Lights dim. Curtains rise./ Hushed lips. Watchful eyes.”), an approach that turns an exciting rite of passage into an oddly dry catalogue. It's only on the last page, which shows a charming and spontaneous pas de deux, that the book conveys how deeply the pair has been “captivated by the dance.” Ages 2–5. (Oct.)