Ella Bella Ballerina and Swan Lake by James Mathew, published by Orchard Books
For World Book Day, children across the country went to nursery and school dressed as their favourite book character, and took the related book in to read with their class. It's a fun way to bring stories to life, and an opportunity for parents to try their hand at costumes.
This year, when our now four-year-old daughter insisted on wearing her Elsa dress, we enthused her with the idea of being the Princess and the Pea - on the condition that she could take with her a single pea in a small plastic pot. She also chose the costume for our one year old - a Sophie la Giraffe tutu onesie - on the basis that her book character must be 'Ella Bella Ballerina and Swan Lake'.
This book is one of a series of Ella Bella stories based on real ballets, a perfect showcase of Author illustrator James Mayhew's love of art and classical music (read his biography here). As well as the hugely popular 'Katie' series, James has written for the fabulous CBeebies series 'Melody' (where a girl listens to classical music and unlocks her vivid imagination).
Ella Bella Ballerina presents a version of the magical, majestic and at times quite dark Swan Lake. It starts on a rainy evening when Ella Bella is dropped at her ballet lesson. She joins in with Madame Rosa's class as they dance to the melody from Tchaikovsky's evocative score (a composition that is now more than 140 years old).
As the class ends, the other children filter out to change, and Ella finds herself alone on stage. Suddenly, the theatre transforms into another world, of watery reeds, ballrooms, the night sky and, first, a flock of swans who become white ballet princesses. Odette, the swan princess, leads Bella on an adventure to secure the true love of her prince and break the sorcerer's spell that is cast to commit her to her half-swan form forever.
The dreamy, washed illustrations are beautiful and full of movement, and reminiscent of the Madeline books. When we read the story, it is brought even more to life by playing a clip from the denouement of the score - which (like Melody) proved to be an ideal way to introduce our young children to classical music.