Sunday, December 7, 2008

Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, The Day Before Christmas

Years ago I met an aged musician who played with the San Francisco Symphony. He dreaded the holiday season because he had to play The Nutcracker endlessly over. How could you ever tire of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker?!!!! I've been waiting until the girls are old enough to truly enjoy the performance. In Eve Bunting's precious story, The Day Before Christmas, the best age for the first Nutcracker is seven. This is a delicate, old-fashioned sort of picture book and not necessarily one very young children will like. (One alternate is The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers) But, older children and adults will find this relatively sad story comforting at Christmastime.

Beth Peck's oil paintings remind me of my grandmother who was also a painter. I remember her working with a wooden palette and little tubes of rich colors, all of which were mixed with white at some point either on the palette or on the canvas. And I remember the smell- that strong turpentine-like smell.

Getting back to the story... Eve Bunting is a writer who can tell a sad tale to warm your heart. In, The Day Before Christmas, seven-year-old Allie has a special day alone with her grandfather. They take the train to the city to see The Nutcracker. Allie's mother died when she was three and she is aware that her grandfather may feel sad on this day because he used to take her mother to see the Nutcracker when she was a girl. This excerpt is one of my favorites. I find the sparse dialog profound in its simplicity. Who was the mother she never knew?

"Grandpa?" I ask. "Can you tell me about the special day you had with Mom?" Grandpa closes his eyes. "It was Christmas Eve, all those years ago. Your mom was seven, same as you. She loved The Nutcracker too." "What was her favorite part?" "The snow fairies."

Somehow we're with this little girl and her grandfather on the train in this moment. This is a book I treasure whether my kids like it or not. In fact, this is a book I savor for myself. And how can anyone tire of The Nutcracker?!!!


  1. Thanks for this post! I hadn't heard of the Eve Bunting book before. We're headed to the library today, so I'll look for it and give it a spin.

  2. I think you'll enjoy it. Especially as an historical fiction writer. There is some sentiment of nostalgia to it.

  3. I'm excited about this recommendation as I love Beth Peck's paintings that illustrate Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory" and my eight year old daughter are going to see The Nutcracker in about two weeks!

  4. "A Christmas Memory" is another precious book. Have a joyous time with your daughter at the ballet!


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