A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the lessons in this book, especially those about being an individual, are good ones, even for kids not interested in ballet. One girl always tries to talk in backward sentences, which might need to be explained to younger readers.
What's the story?
Alexandra is not happy when her eccentric, costume-designing mom decides to move from Georgia to Harlem. She is also not happy that she is being forced to take ballet when what she really wants is to strap on her ice skates to practice speed skating. Moving to a New York City apartment is bad enough, but taking classes at the Nutcracker School is horrible. Not only does her mother push her to wear outlandish outfits but, when it comes to technique, she feels very much out of her league. When, by chance, she is given the most cherished solo role in the upcoming recital, she nearly cracks. Luckily, the new friends she makes pull her through.
Is it any good?
Rather than being a simple story full of girls who envy one another for looks, talent, or any other superficial quality, this is a story with lessons, many of them. And all of them point back to the basic premise that the girl who stays true to herself and her dreams, the girl who values and helps her friends, is a girl who will succeed. Shallow, mean girls, even those with talent and money, are not the heroes here. Instead, in addition to Alexandra, the main character, the heroic girls are true individuals. One is a Puerto Rican-Italian who tie-dyes her leotards to cover food spills and stains. Another is an young African-American with crooked teeth but a huge dancing talent, yet another is a girl so interested in science that she tries to talk backwards like Leonardo da Vinci in order to expand her genius. And there are others.
This is also the story of Alexandra and her mother and how they learn to appreciate each other for the dreams they have. The narrative itself is simple, but the conflicts are as complex as those kids face in the real world. Surprisingly, this is a pretty good book, one to which girls especially will relate, even if they are not interested in dancing, tutus, or all that goes along with the frilly, girly world.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Alexandra and all of the feelings she feels as she is forced into moving away from her friends to a place unfamiliar to her, taking ballet lessons that she hates, and wearing outfits that make her feel uncomfortable. What did she learn by going along with her mother's plans? How did it change her life? What did you think when her mother made her wear the puffy pink tutu and tights decorated with lightning bolts? How did that affect the kinds of friends she made? What do you think of the girls who became her friends? What about those who made fun of her? Why did she feel uncomfortable being the Sugar Plum fairy? What did she learn by going through with her solo? What did her friends learn?