Top 5: Ballet Stories for Preschoolers

A great way to introduce a child to ballet is to start with the stories. There are many storybooks based on famous ballets, I’ll include a few specific editions that we’ve read. (All are probably suitable for about age 3 and up.)


 

 

 

 

1. The Nutcracker – This most perfect first ballet for children is a Christmas story with many familiar tunes, adventure and drama, a battle with the mouse king, fairies, magic, and toys come to life. There are many picture book versions out there, one I liked is by Maurice Sendak, who also designed a production of the ballet which I found on video at our library.

Nutcracker, by E.T.A. Hoffman, ill. Maurice Sendak

2. A Midsummer Night’s Dream – It’s a Shakespearian play! It’s an opera! It’s a ballet! It’s a terrific old movie! Another story with lots of magic and comedy, crazy mixups, fairies and a guy with a donkey head. The ballet was based on the incidental music that Felix Mendelssohn wrote for the Shakespeare play.

William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, retold by Bruce Coville, ill. Dennis Nolan

3. Sleeping Beauty – Of course, of course, everyone knows this story. The ballet music was written by Tchaikovsky and is wonderful – many of his musical themes can be heard in the Disney film Sleeping Beauty.

Sleeping Beauty: The Ballet Story, by Marian Horosko, ill. Todd Doney

4. The Firebird -A Russian folktale turned into a ballet by Igor Stravinsky. A prince saves captive maidens from a demon with the help of a magic bird.

The Firebird, by Jane Yolen, ill. Vladimir Vagin

5. Swan Lake – Dreamy beautiful ballet by Tchaikovsky – you know the main tune. Absolutely gorgeous illustrations in the edition below, which I also like because Zwerger tells the story with the happy ending Tchaikovsky originally had to his ballet, rather than the later, better known version with the lovers drowning in the lake.

Swan Lake, retold and ill. by Lisbeth Zwerger

Ballet companies are always eager to win over the next generation of audience members, so they do a lot of outreach work. I found ballet stories and a ‘Ballet ABC’ at the NYC Ballet website, and I’m sure there are many other similar offerings to be found online.

The next step after picture books may be finding ballet clips online, watching ballet DVDs or videos (like the Sendak Nutcracker I found at our public library), and finally going to a Christmas-time Nutcracker performance. One other possibility for the very young is to go to a ballet school year-end concert: less formal, less expensive, but still very exciting for a first-time experience!

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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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