The Nutcracker Comes to America

How Three Ballet-Loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition

  • Interest Level: Grade 2 - Grade 5
  • Reading Level: Grade 4

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?

Meet Willam, Harold, and Lew Christensen, three small-town Utah boys who caught the ballet bug from an uncle in the early 1900s. They performed alongside elephants and clowns on vaudeville, immersed themselves in the New York City dance scene, and even put on a ballet featuring gangsters at a gas station. Russian immigrants shared the story of The Nutcracker with them, and during World War II—on a shoestring budget and in need of a hit—they staged their own Christmastime production in San Francisco. It was America’s first full-length version and the beginning of a delightful holiday tradition.

Follow along and learn how The Nutcracker came to be performed all across the United States from these truly humble beginnings.

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Interest Level Grade 2 - Grade 5
Reading Level Grade 4
Genre Picture Books, Social Studies
Category 5 Kinds of Nonfiction, 5KN: Narrative Nonfiction
Copyright 2015
Publisher Lerner Publishing Group
Imprint Millbrook Press ™
Language English
Number of Pages 36
Publication Date 2015-09-01
Text Type Narrative Nonfiction
BISACS JNF039020, JNF026010, JNF019070
Dewey [Fic]
Graphics Full-color illustrations
Dimensions 9.25 x 11
Lexile 920
ATOS Reading Level 5.2
Accelerated Reader® Quiz 178069
Accelerated Reader® Points 0.5
Features Author/Illustrator note, Awards, Bibliography/further reading, Original artwork, Reviewed, Starred Reviews, and Timeline

Author: Chris Barton

Chris Barton is the author of acclaimed nonfiction picture books including Dazzle Ships, Whoosh!, and What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?. His books have won several awards including a Sibert Honor for The Day-Glo Brothers and an Orbis Pictus Recommended for All of a Sudden and Forever. Chris lives in Austin, Texas, with his family.

Illustrator: Cathy Gendron

Cathy Gendron has been an illustrator for more than twenty years. She is also a teacher at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. She lives and works in Ann Arbor, Michigan.


  • Denton Record-Chronicle Best Children’s Picture Book Finalist, Short-listed, 2016
  • The Colonial Dames of America Book Award, Winner, 2016


The Horn Book Magazine

“This is a good book to share with children after seeing a performance of The Nutcracker.”—The Horn Book Magazine

School Library Journal

“This well-researched history [is] . . . a terrific choice for fans of The Nutcracker and all things ballet.”—starred, School Library Journal


“Even readers familiar with The Nutcracker will probably learn a good deal from this engaging picture book. Bravo! Brava!”—starred, Booklist

Publishers Weekly

“Balancing evocative turns of phrase with a crisp, forthright narrative, Barton delivers . . . a fascinating bit of artistic investigation, one with year-round appeal.”—starred, Publishers Weekly

Kirkus Reviews

Nutcracker aficionados can enjoy a background overture to a Christmas classic.”—Kirkus Reviews