Semi-silly seasonal story follows comic chaos at classic ballet

You know what happens if you’ve been good.

You’ve been singing songs about it. You’ve been extra nice around the house because of it, doing your chores without complaint. Maybe you’ve even helped get ready for it by decorating your classroom. Yes, you know what happens soon, but, as you’ll see in “The Nutcracker’s Night Before Christmas” by Keith Brockett, illustrated by Joseph Cowman, Santa doesn’t bring only gifts.

‘Twas the night before Christmas, but that’s not all. It was also supposed to be opening night for the town’s annual Nutcracker ballet but, well, there were problems.

All day long, everything had been going wrong: the programs were printed with a great big mistake and they had to be thrown out, stagehands weren’t feeling well and they all went home, spotlights had broken, paint was everywhere, the Prince got caught up in ropes that dangled where they shouldn’t be, and there was more.

The theater’s cat had shredded the skirts for the little ballerinas, and the girls were all in tears. Parts of the scenery were broken, props were missing, Clara spilled juice on the backdrop, and costumes had lost their sequins. And if that’s not enough, the Christmas tree that stood high for the ballet’s main scene came down with a bang, the ornaments were in smithereens, and the lights wouldn’t blink.

“The Nutcracker” was a mess on that Christmas Eve night! A “sick sense of panic was growing severe,” and the director of the ballet was thinking about calling the whole thing off. Everybody was very sad about that. They’d all worked so hard but “It had to be canceled. It couldn’t go on.”

And then, suddenly, from the stage’s fake fireplace, “a surprising and strange thing occurred.” Twinkly ashes came flying from the flue, there was a whoosh of cold air, and a giant laugh could be heard throughout the entire place. The whole stage shook like a bowl full of jelly, and you’ll never guess who brought the gift of help…

Is there ever a Christmas season that finishes with 100 percent perfection? And is there a kid alive who doesn’t laugh at slapsticky chaos? No and no — but if you put them together, you’ve got “The Nutcracker’s Night Before Christmas.”

Using a familiar theme that children love, Brockett tells a tale of everything gone awry, and the unlikely hero that saves the night. What’s fun about this book is the utter pandemonium that’s so well portrayed: it follows Murphy’s Law (anything that can go wrong, will) to the letter. Brockett makes the bedlam fit the rhyme, and illustrations by Cowman add to the silliness of it all. The ending is appropriately magical and — in the books’ very final pages — curious kids can learn more about Tchaikovsky’s ballet and accompanying terms of theater and stage.

This book is perfect for little ballerinas, for kids who love “The Nutcracker,” and for children who just want a semi-silly seasonal story. For them, “The Nutcracker’s Night Before Christmas” is pretty good.

— View publishes Terri Schlichenmeyer’s reviews of books for children weekly.

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