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Waltz of the Snowflakes

by Elly MacKay

Visual storytelling takes centre stage in Waltz of the Snowflakes, a wordless picture book about what it’s like to see the Nutcracker ballet for the first time.

The story begins with gloomy shades of grey and blue as a young girl is presented with a ticket to the ballet. Soon she’s dressed in her best clothes and her grandmother ushers her outside into a cold, rainy evening. They make their way to the theatre, where a boy patron teases the girl as they take their seats.

Then the magic begins. A swell of colour rises from the orchestra, illuminating the stage in red and gold. The Nutcracker has begun, and the nameless girl in the audience becomes transfixed by the gifting of the titular doll, the battle with the Rat King, and the journey to the Land of Sweets. By the time the final curtain falls, the girl has befriended the boy who teased her and fallen in love with the ballet. As grandmother and granddaughter make their way home, the gloomy rain transforms into gently falling snow.

The story here is quite simple, as befits a narrative told entirely though illustration. The images from The Nutcracker are very effective, readily evoking the magic of the source material. If anything, the book might have benefitted from more scenes of escapism in the theatre and slightly less focus on the greyness of reality.

That said, Elly MacKay’s cut-paper technique mixed with dreamy colour washes creates images that are both soft and precise, and just as effective in greys and blues as in the colourful riot of the dance. Especially beautiful is a page where we see grandmother and granddaughter standing at the base of the steps that lead to the theatre doors, with the rain swirling in mirror-puddles beneath their feet.

This is a lovely holiday story that will appeal to the nostalgic side of those who’ve already experienced the beauty of the classic ballet, or give an enticing magical introduction to the uninitiated.