All around them, people danced and sang, celebrating how Marie had rescued the Nutcracker Prince.

I’m going to be incredibly blunt here: as a reading educator, this book really annoyed me. In fact, it actually made me a little mad. Step Into The Nutcracker by Words & Pictures is the kind of “introduction to reading” book that can seriously damage a young reader’s self-esteem if they’re struggling. The language in this book is not acceptable for an introductory reader. There was not a single page in which numerous words I would never put in front of an emerging or struggling reader existed.

The Problem

You see, I’m thinking of the parents out there who don’t know the breakdown of how kids develop the ability to read. These are the parents who are going to see the “Step Into” part of this book’s title and think it’s a great starter book with a story they love to give their little kid. They’ll put this book in front of them and it’s going to be too hard. This book is appropriate for advanced young readers or a third grader. It is not appropriate for emerging readers.

Very specifically, unless your child has a broad sight word base and knows how to decode 3-syllable words, this book is going to be a struggle. On the first page alone words like Christmas, parents, were, having, party, brother, wondering, what, wonderful, present, their, Godfather, would, and year all have the potential to be difficult depending on what your child’s skill level is.

It just gets worse as you go.

Words like Nutcracker, Drosselmeyer, soldiers, fairy, and sugar are somewhat unavoidable in a Nutcracker story. But why are you using the word almond when you could use a much simpler word like nut? Why are you using the word presented when you can use the word give or gave? Why use the word beautiful when you can use the word cute?

And there numerous other instances of this very problem. Shouted instead of yelled. Worry instead of fret. Downstairs instead of out. Amazed instead of shocked or stunned. Spring instead of come. Approaches instead of comes. Scurrying and scuttled instead of runs/running. Gnawed instead of ate. Using words like opportunity, lemonade, celebrating, and chocolate in general. Lifted instead of broke. Whisked instead of went to. Followed instead of walked. Arrived instead of got to. Palace instead of castle. Danced instead of had fun. Rescued instead of saved.

It took me five minutes to edit this story to a more appropriate reading level. What was the writer thinking?

Art and Presentation

I’ll give Step Into The Nutcracker this much. I really enjoyed the design layout. It was exceptionally exciting to see how the layers of images all fit together to make the front cover. It was even more thrilling to peel away the outer wrapping, as it were, to delve more deeply into the confines of this story that I’ve loved for many years. That was clever.

But, I also didn’t even like the artwork. Cynthia Alonso did a great job, I’ll admit, but it’s not my style or taste. I will say, though, that this is the kind of artwork that young children will love. While the text may not be gentle or engaging in the slightest, the illustrations certainly were. These bright and colorful pictures are going to grab and hold the attention of any young reader who picks it up.

Incredibly Disappointed

As a regular children’s book that was solely meant to be read to a kid or something specifically targeted toward an older kid, I don’t have as many problems with this book as a whole. As a Step Into Reading suggested book as this one is, I have huge problems with it. Again, it took me five minutes to edit down this book to the point that it was appropriate for readers who are just getting started. So why was the writer of this book so insistent upon flowery language that would be too difficult for many emerging readers?

This is the kind of book that well-meaning parents sit down in front of their children expecting them to be able to read. And the situation devolves all too quickly into one where both parent and child are frustrated because they don’t understand why it’s so difficult. It’s a kid’s book, they say. It’s a book for early readers! And yet a large portion of the language is too difficult.

So, suddenly, the child feels terrible and thinks they are stupid and they no longer want to learn to read. They turn up their noses whenever mom or dad asks them to read. They decide school sucks. And I think it would bother me less if I hadn’t seen this so often with young children in my line of work. It’s one thing for parents to pick up a regular children’s book that was written to be read out loud to kids and not understand why their child can’t read it. It’s another thing entirely when the book is one marketed for the purposes of “step into reading.”

I honestly can’t say for sure what the author was thinking. But I am really disappointed that this is being marketed as a book for newer readers because, quite simply, the language used does not account for that at all.

I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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