To App or Not to App: Nutcracker Story Books

We’re in the last week before the winter break begins. And, like every other elementary school in the world, our children are wild! Throw in the first snow of the season (with snow day) plus a full moon and we’re all more than ready for a vacation when the last day finally rolls around.

In the music room the final concert has been given. Classroom parties are starting. Students are excitable and you still want to teach! Fortunately we have the Nutcracker Ballet to fall back on – the perfect teaching material for the season. Students recognize the music, love the seasonal story and look forward to it every year. Teachers know and love the numerous supplemental materials available everywhere, from coloring sheets to storybooks. But what to use, especially to give kindergarten students the best introduction? My personal favorite is to read the story so when they watch the ballet they will be able to identify it in the dance.  I use books all the time in my K-2 classes – at least once in every 4 lessons. It gives the class an opportunity to sing with the story, explore new sounds and improvise. The Nutcracker story, however, is different. I would like my students to be able to identify some sections of the music and listen to how the music tells the story. For this task I prefer to use a storybook app that includes the music. I can project and read through the story, allowing students to listen to both the story and the music. 1:1 iPads are not needed! Here are two of my favorites.

I found several possibilities but my favorite is The Nutcracker Musical Storybook by Ichiban Entertainment Inc. ($2.99 in the App Store).  This app is beautifully illustrated by Yoko Tanaka and contains some embedded interactive sound. The detail is quite amazing! This app isn’t “fully animated” as described in the app store. There are elements of each page that are animated while others stay static. For my students this is the perfect amount of motion without becoming distracting. What is the cat watching? A parade of mice in the wall, carrying Christmas trimmings! And I am rather fond of a Mouse King with seven heads.

Another bonus is the ability to return to the menu and choose a specific section of the book. A downside to this app is the music. There are some music clips that are clearly digital and the quality is not stellar. This can be heard mostly in the low brass/strings timbres. I would be more concerned with this if it was our only material for this ballet but since it serves as an introduction to the traditional performance and it isn’t unbearable I’m willing to give on this point.

If you are a fan of the San Francisco Ballet version (available on dvd through Amazon) this is the app for you. This version takes place in 1915 San Francisco, right after the close of the World’s Fair, so it isn’t a traditional version. I am thinking it would be a good purchase to use as part of a comparison lesson for my upper grades. The companion app is available on both iTunes and Google Play (free to $4.99 – watch for the best deals). This app contains many more special features than my first example, from music clips to animation to video links with information about ballet and even some San Francisco history.  Users have the option of reading the story themselves or listening to the story which makes this perfect for all reading levels. The music quality is excellent. However, the animation is rudimentary and visually it isn’t quite as stunning as it could be.  One point I loved about the illustrations is the diversity presented in them. I was not as fond of the modern mousetrap replacing Clara’s shoe, but it could make a great discussion topic for 4th and 5th grade classes.

Which storybook app would you use, or do you have another favorite? Reply in the comments below!














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