Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Once Upon A Christmas Eve

In 1816 E. T. A. Hoffmann published a book titled The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.  Since that time the story has been somewhat altered from the original version.  Now as a traditional and renowned ballet, on a magical Christmas Eve a child's favorite toy, a nutcracker in the form of a soldier comes to life.  He battles the rodent ruler and his army of mice.  After conquering the evil Mouse King, the girl is amazed to discover this victory releases a spell on her beloved Nutcracker.  Before her stands a prince.

As the curtain closes on the first act, the prince and girl find themselves in a snowy fairyland. Waltz Of The Snowflakes (Running Press Kids, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group. Inc., October 17, 2017, conceived and illustrated by Elly Mackay gets its title from this particular portion of the ballet.  In this wordless book, on this particular day, changes, many changes, are in the air.

A bleak and rainy night provides the atmosphere in which a granddaughter is taken to visit her grandmother.  After her arrival her grandmother surprises the child with theater tickets.  Not happy to be going outside in the weather or wearing an uncomfortable dress, the girl plods along umbrella in hand.

As they are making their way to their seats inside the theater, a boy teases the girl.  Imagine both their surprises when they are seated next to each other.  Neither is excited about being taken to a ballet, The Nutcracker.  As the music starts a hush falls over the crowded theater.  A change is happening.

As the tale in The Nutcracker unfolds the children and the adults with them react emotionally to the scenes on the stage. When the nutcracker soldier shifts into a prince and the snowflakes' waltz begins in the forest, the children are completely rethinking their perceptions of this ballet. There are two transformations taking place in the theater.

As the prince and girl reach their destination in another realm the boy and the girl are struck by the wonder being revealed.  Their spirits shift as one dance moves into another dance.  They can hardly contain their laughter when children come from the skirts of Mother Ginger.  As the final splendor and memorable music begins, a gift is offered and received.  The prince and the girl are not the only ones bound by a new friendship.

When the grandmother and her granddaughter exist the theater Mother Nature offers up the final fresh change.  A new dance begins.  And then a new day dawns on the playful celebration of an unexpected evening's events.

The effect of blending The Nutcracker ballet within an evening's adventure is enchanting, satisfying and beautiful.  Author illustrator Elly Mackay flawlessly takes readers from the reality of the girl, her grandmother and the boy seated next to her to the wonder of the theatrical production.  Page by page we view, like the audience watching The Nutcracker, the similarities between the prince and Clara (Marie or Maria) and the girl and the boy in the audience.  It's brilliant.

The invitation for us to be participants in the story begins on the matching, unfolded dust jacket and book case.  In the first image the granddaughter is reaching forward for a snowflake, her spirit lifted in dance after seeing The Nutcracker.  In this illustration we are also introduced to the singular artwork of Elly Mackay. Her pictures begin as sketches, are then colored and cut out and set in a paper theater.  Once the elements are placed as she desires, they are photographed.

To the left, on the back of the jacket and case, framed by red curtains, the prince is placing the crown on Clara's head as the snowflake fairies dance in the background.  The ethereal settings envelope us in the magic we are about to receive from reading this title.  Elly Mackay uses every bit of space to tell us this story.  On the opening endpapers, rain falls from dark clouds overhead.  A car climbs a hill from the city to a more rural setting, a small community.  The closing endpapers offer a continuation of the book's tale.

On the title page a circular image shows the girl waving as the car drives away.  She is climbing the steps to her grandmother's home. Elly Mackay continues this story in a series of illustrations framed in white with the exception of the double-page pictures.  These extend page edge to page edge.

As the tale is told at times one illustration covers two pages or a single page.  Elly includes pages with more than one picture on them to provide pacing.  The theater scenes are in color.  In contrast the images of the girl, her grandmother and the boy are in browns and blues with a little pale color.  On five occasions the boy and girl are shown together with faces mirroring a specific emotion.  These are circular insets within a large picture of moments during The Nutcracker.

One of my favorite illustrations of many is when the very tall Mother Ginger is onstage.  Three of her eight children emerge from her tiered, multicolored skirt.  Each one is wearing a patterned costume, bright and cheerful, as they leap on the stage.  Above them in a circular picture are the boy and girl.  They are facing each other laughing.

In her Waltz Of The Snowflakes Elly Mackay captures the joy of experiencing The Nutcracker for the first time.  Not only does she portray this magical Christmas tradition with luminous illustrations but she allows us to see how a shared evening can change lives by fashioning friendships and strengthening family ties.  This title is a welcome perspective deserving a place on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Elly Mackay and her other work, please follow the links embedded in her name to access her two websites.  Interviews at Ruth Ellen Parlour The Water Dragons, Owl Kids, Canadian Children's Book Week, at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, and Happy Birthday Author tell us more about Elly Mackay and her work.  A detailed interview specifically about this title with Elly Mackay is at Let's Talk Picture Books.  You will enjoy the illustrations of the process.  Take a few moments to watch the two videos below, the first of Elly's Process in making a previous title and the other of the Waltz of the Snowflakes from The Nutcracker.

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