Monday, August 29, 2016

The Christmas Gift You're Probably Not Thinking About Right Now (But You Should)

First, the Book
Chris Van Allsburg published "The Polar Express" in 1986 and won the Caldecott Medal for being the most distinguished American picture book for children. Since then it has sold more than 12 million copies worldwide.

Then, the Movie
In 2004 a movie adaptation of the book was released with oomph from Hollywood powerhouse Tom Hanks acting as lead executive producer and voice actor.

Now, the Train Ride
Since 2004 railroads and train companies across the US have begun seasonal Polar Express-themed rides. Children and their families can wear their pajamas, drink hot chocolate, and ride a real train to a nearby "North Pole" where Santa might board and distribute Van Allsburg-inspired sleigh bells to believers.

Tickets often go on sale between July and August and I am happy to share that has compiled a list of train rides state by state:

The Christmas Gift You're Probably Not Thinking About Right Now (But You Should)
You could give a book, a DVD, a train ride, a sleigh bell, or some combination thereof. But if you are thinking about taking a small child on the train ride of a lifetime, I recommend you buy your tickets sooner rather than later!

Fall in Love with these Four Fabulous Ballerinas: 14 Must-Read Books

More than once Anna has opened my eyes to new ways of seeing STEAM learning. She has challenged my framework, putting the "A" in STEAM. She has recognized patterns in fashion and music that takes me out of my comfort zone, inviting me to learn new things. And ultimately her interest in stereotypically "girl" contexts like sewing, tea parties, princesses, and relationships, set in contrast to her brother's obsession with mechanical things, has brought forth what I call "Princess Engineering." This list is born from her interest in dance, where we have learned about shapes (different dance poses), grit (working toward something great), and, above all, culture.

For Beginners

Molly Idle has written/illustrated three books that feature Flora, a young girl who explores dance alongside a flamingo, a penguin, and some peacocks. The wordless books show Flora and the birds mimicking each other, moving away from one another, and ultimately demonstrating the give-and-take of partnership. The images are beautiful and the stories are heart-warming.

The Trials and Tribulations of Young Dancers

Tallulah is a young aspiring dancer. She covets a tutu, toe shoes, and the opportunity to perform a solo. In each story, she wrestles with the patience, discipline, and commitment it takes to become a "real" ballerina. Your young dancer will likely connect with Tallulah's desire to be great. The text is easy-to-read and the illustrations add dimension to the story, showing Tallulah's imagination and aspirations in a gentle but relatable way. There are two other books, too: one about performing in the Nutcracker and another when Tallulah explores tap dance. Altogether, there are five books for you to enjoy with your young dancer.

James Mayhew has written and illustrated five books that feature Ella Bella and a magic music box. In each book, Ella Bella listens to the tinkling of a magic music box. As the music plays, Ella Bella meets a character from a classic ballet story - for example, Puck from "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Together with her escort, Ella Bella learns all about classic ballet stories including A Midsummer Night's DreamSleeping BeautyCinderellaThe Nutcracker, and Swan Lake. Mayhew successfully weaves Ella Bella's real world where she practices under the guidance of a patient teacher and her imaginary one where she dances with the stars.

Historical Fiction

I saved this historical fiction picture book for last for one simple reason. It follows Anna Pavlova's entire life story to her death. It is a beautiful book that shows the patience and discipline required to be a ballerina. But it also shows how utterly talented and extraordinary Anna Pavlova was as a dancer and international ambassador of dance culture. It ends on a nearly empty page with gentle words that elude to her death. This euphemism is an exact representation to how she chose to die, performing as a swan one last time until the final scene when the curtains opened to an empty stage. I recommend "Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova" to more mature audiences.

Excerpt from "Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova."