I have loved the story of the Nutcracker ever since I was a little girl and Grammy gave me a copy of the book when she came to visit. So let’s start our list there with the story of the Nutcracker.
#1 The Story of the Nutcracker Ballet by Deborah Hautzig WW
I love this version of the Nutcracker story! It’s the one I read aloud to my students. It covers the important events, but isn’t too wordy. And I adore Diane Goode’s pictures!
One thing that seems a little silly is that the main character’s name is Marie. In Hoffman’s original 18th century Nutcracker story, the girl is named Marie. In the ballet version, she is rechristened Clara. Since this picture book is supposed to be the “story of the ballet,” then it seems she should be called Clara. It’s not a big deal, I just switch the names when I’m reading it aloud.
There are many, many (MANY!) other illustrated versions of the Nutcracker story. Some of my particular favorites are:
The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers
Mary Engelbreit’s Nutcracker by Mary Engelbreit
Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffman and Maurice Sendak
Back in the 80’s, Sendak (of Where the Wild Things Are fame) illustrated a retelling of the original Nutcracker story. I love this book, but it’s not meant for small children. First off, the language is very dated (it is 200 years old, after all!). Second, the original story is much darker than the ballet version. Seven headed mouse king, anyone? And, of course, Sendak’s illustrations are rather bizarre, but we love that about him, don’t we?
#2 The Berenstain Bears and the Nutcracker by Jan & Mike Berenstain WWW
It’s Christmas morning at the Bear house and Brother and Sister are excited by their new, electronic toys. When they open the nutcracker, at first they’re disappointed, but since this is a Berenstain book there’s bound to be a good lesson. The cubs learn they can use their imaginations to have fun, too.
#3 Ella Bella Ballerina and the Nutcracker by James Mayhew WWW
Ella Bella’s ballet class is dancing to the Waltz of the Snowflakes. As they dance, the teacher shares the story of the Nutcracker. After class, Ella stumbles across a sleeping Clara and is magically transported into the story of the Nutcracker. It’s a cute story and the illustrations are charming.
#4 A Nutty Nutcracker Christmas by Ralph Covert WWWW
If your students/kids are already familiar with the traditional Nutcracker story, this is a fun, modern-day, boy-centered, twist.
All Fritz wants to do is play his video game–Mouse Hunter 3000. But, it turns out, the game sets the evil Mouse King free. Now Fritz has to team up with a mysterious nutcracker girl in order to defeat the Mouse King and save Christmas.
It’s a wacky story, but the kids (especially the boys) really like it.
#5 Tallulah’s Nutcracker by Marilyn Singer WWW
This fun glittery read is a behind-the-scenes look at a ballet.
Tallulah is thrilled to be chosen as a mouse in a professional ballet company’s production of The Nutcracker. She brags to her friends that she will be the star of the show. When the big night arrives, disaster–Tallulah trips! Through it all she learns that everyone makes mistakes and that being a real star means that you keep dancing, even if things don’t always work out right.
Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite by Anna Harwell Celenza WWWW
This is the story of how Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington convinced the band to try something new by giving the Tchaikovsky classic a 1960s jazz update. There’s not a lot of action, but it tells a good story about imagination. A fair amount of background knowledge about the traditional nutcracker, jazz, and 1960s Vegas is helpful in making meaning of the text. The book comes with a CD which is a fun listen.
Want more Christmas book recommendations? We’ve got you covered!