'The Nutcracker' Comes to America: How Three Ballet-Loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition

Coming in September 2015. Written by Chris Barton, illustrated by Cathy Gendron, and published by Millbrook Press. Every December, The Nutcracker comes to life in theaters all across the United States. But how did this 19th-century Russian ballet become such a big part of the holidays in 21st-century America?
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Jocelyn Vollmar as the Sugar Plum Fairy in Christensen's 'Nutcracker', 1949 (courtesy SF Museum of Performance & Design)

Jocelyn Vollmar as the Sugar Plum Fairy in Christensen's 'Nutcracker', 1949 (courtesy SF Museum of Performance & Design) (my ballet teacher in my teen years )

San Francisco Ballet: Celena Cummings and Joaquim Felsch in Lew Christensen's 'Nutcracker', 1944 (courtesy SF Museum of Performance & Design)

San Francisco Ballet: Celena Cummings and Joaquim Felsch in Lew Christensen's 'Nutcracker', 1944 (courtesy SF Museum of Performance & Design)

San Francisco Ballet in the first-ever Nutcracker, 1944 (courtesy SF Museum of Performance & Design)

San Francisco Ballet in the first-ever Nutcracker, 1944 (courtesy SF Museum of Performance & Design)

San Francisco Ballet: Gisella Caccialanza and William Christensen backstage in Christensen’s 'Nutcracker' 1944 (courtesy SF Museum of Performance & Design)

San Francisco Ballet: Gisella Caccialanza and William Christensen backstage in Christensen’s 'Nutcracker' 1944 (courtesy SF Museum of Performance & Design)

Celena Cummings as Lead Rose, SFB Nutcracker 1944

I'm looking forward to the plays, ballets and music. :) (shown: San Francisco Ballet's 'Nutcracker', 1944 (courtesy SF Museum of Performance & Design))

Sample art from Cathy Gendron

Illustrator Saturday – Cathy Gendron

An illustration from The Nutcracker Comes to America and interview with illustrator Cathy Gendron!

This is what the front of my upcoming book with Millbrook Press, ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America: How Three Ballet-Loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition, will look like. It’s illustrator Cathy Gendron‘s first picture book, and I think she’s done just an astounding job.  I love how Willam, Harold, and Lew Christensen pop right off the page even amid the terrific onstage action. I love the shade of blue that the scene is bathed in. I love the swords. I love everything about this cover.

The Nutcracker Comes to America: How Three Ballet-Loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition (Millbrook Picture Books)

The Christensen Brothers (circa1950s) L-R: Harold, Willam and Lew Photo by Cristof Studio Photo Courtesy of SF Performing Arts Library and M...

San Francisco Ballet celebrates its 75th year

The Christensen Brothers L-R: Harold, Willam and Lew Photo by Cristof Studio Photo Courtesy of SF Performing Arts Library and M.

Autographed image of Celina Cummings as the Rose from “Waltz of the Flowers” in Willam Christensen's Nutcracker, 1944; Image courtesy Museum...

Autographed image of Celina Cummings as the Rose from “Waltz of the Flowers” in Willam Christensen's Nutcracker, SF Ballet, Image courtesy Museum of Performance & Design

"In The Nutcracker Comes to America, author Chris Barton introduces us to the remarkable Christensen brothers, Willam, Harold and Lew, whose "dance-loving, violin-playing grandfather" emigrated from Denmark and settled in Utah. We follow the young men's zigzagging journeys from the ballet studio to vaudeville stages across the country, to New York to dance for the greats like Balanchine and Fokine, and into the army, against the backdrop of World War II."

Setting the Record Straight: The Nutcracker Comes to America

Russell Hartley as Mother Buffoon, SFB Nutcracker 1944

Russell Hartley as Mother Buffoon, SFB Nutcracker 1944

"Cathy Gendron did a launch signing at the Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor a bit ago and it was really something special. We’d highlighted some images from her debut picture book, The Nutcracker Comes to America, by Chris Barton, but wanted to show two pix of the signing and talk too. WHAT a blast …wish I could have been there! Kudos Cathy!"

Oct ARTIST news:

"Cathy Gendron did a launch signing at the Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor a bit ago and it was really something special. We’d highlighted some images from her debut picture book, The Nutcracker Comes to America, by Chris Barton, but wanted to show two pix of the signing and talk too. WHAT a blast …wish I could have been there! Kudos Cathy!"

Afterwards, we walked over to Dolly’s Bookstore so that I could sign copies of ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America. With Sue Fassett at Dolly's Bookstore. I was delighted to see Jennifer’s Revenge of the Angels on prominent display at Dolly’s. It made me miss her all the more. It had been a great week, but I was glad to get home that night.

The Salt Lake Tribune interviewed me a couple of weeks ago about ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America, but I’ve done more in Utah this month than just appear in print.

But an even bigger surprise came when, onstage with Scott Altman and Adam Sklute before the curtain rose, Gov. Herbert showed off and talked up my book before the entire crowd — immediately becoming my second-favorite politician, after John Roy Lynch.

The Salt Lake Tribune interviewed me a couple of weeks ago about ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America, but I’ve done more in Utah this month than just appear in print.

That evening, it was showtime. Ballet West executive director Scott Altman provided a backstage tour of the company’s operations — including the costume shop — for an audience that included Utah Governor Gary Herbert and and First Lady Jeanette Herbert. At the beginning of the tour, to my surprise, Sarah West handed the Herberts a signed copy of ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America, which the governor carried throughout the tour.

The Salt Lake Tribune interviewed me a couple of weeks ago about ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America, but I’ve done more in Utah this month than just appear in print.

I received this most excellent, highly personalized nutcracker (delivered to me by four ballet-dancing students!).

I received this most excellent, highly personalized nutcracker (delivered to me by four ballet-dancing students!

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