Disney’s The Nutcracker and The Four Realms is officially out and we are OBSESSED! From the glittering costumes to the magical worlds, and of course (and maybe especially) the beautiful ballet that features Misty Copeland front and center! Simply put, this Nutcracker retelling is a dream. So, now that we’ve watched and loved the movie, you know you can’t blame us for wanting to dive deeper and stay in the world of ballet even longer.
Solution: More books based on The Nutcracker, other ballets, and the dark corners of the dance world! Scroll through for a list of stories that all cover different aspects of ballet and dance.
13 Dance Books to Read
AFTER THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS
1. The Midnight Dance by Nikki Katz
This book is a combination of a dark suspense story with hints of a fairy tale we know you’ll love.
When the music stops, the dance begins.
Seventeen-year-old Penny is a lead dancer at the Grande Teatro, a finishing school where she and eleven other young women are training to become the finest ballerinas in Italy. Tucked deep into the woods, the school is overseen by the mysterious and handsome young Master who keeps the girls ensconced in the estate – and in the only life Penny has never known.
But when flashes of memories, memories of a life very different from the one she thinks she’s been leading, start to appear, Penny begins to question the Grand Teatro and the motivations of the Master. With a kind and attractive kitchen boy, Cricket, at her side, Penny vows to escape the confines of her school and the strict rules that dictate every step she takes. But at every turn, the Master finds a way to stop her, and Penny must find a way to escape the school and uncover the secrets of her past before it’s too late.
2. Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland
If you loved Misty Copeland in the movie, then you will fall in love with her inspiring autobiography!
As the only African American soloist dancing with the prestigious American Ballet Theatre, Misty Copeland has made history. But when she first placed her hands on the barre at an after-school community center, no one expected the undersized, anxious thirteen-year-old to become a ground-breaking ballerina.
When she discovered ballet, Misty was living in a shabby motel room, struggling with her five siblings for a place to sleep on the floor. A true prodigy, she was dancing en pointe within three months of taking her first dance class and performing professionally in just over a year: a feat unheard of for any classical dancer. But when Misty became caught between the control and comfort she found in the world of ballet and the harsh realities of her own life (culminating in a highly publicized custody battle), she had to choose to embrace both her identity and her dreams, and find the courage to be one of a kind.
3. Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra & Dhonielle Clayton
The world of ballet is never easy, and this drama filled story embraces the life of students in a prestigious Manhattan ballet school while acknowledging how beautiful the art of it is.
Gigi, Bette, and June, three top students at an exclusive Manhattan ballet school, have seen their fair share of drama. Free-spirited new girl Gigi just wants to dance—but the very act might kill her. Privileged New Yorker Bette’s desire to escape the shadow of her ballet-star sister brings out a dangerous edge in her. And perfectionist June needs to land a lead role this year or her controlling mother will put an end to her dancing dreams forever.
When every dancer is both friend and foe, the girls will sacrifice, manipulate, and backstab to be the best of the best.
4. Winterspell by Claire Legrand
This Nutcracker retelling is set in a magical New York City in 1899 that is as intriguing as any of the Four Realms.
New York City, 1899. Clara Stole, the mayor’s ever-proper daughter, leads a double life. Since her mother’s murder, she has secretly trained in self-defense with the mysterious Drosselmeyer.
Then, on Christmas Eve, disaster strikes.
Her home is destroyed, her father abducted—by beings distinctly not human. To find him, Clara journeys to the war-ravaged land of Cane. Her only companion is the dethroned prince Nicholas, bound by a wicked curse. If they’re to survive, Clara has no choice but to trust him, but his haunted eyes burn with secrets—and a need she can’t define. With the dangerous, seductive faery queen Anise hunting them, Clara soon realizes she won’t leave Cane unscathed—if she leaves at all.
Inspired by The Nutcracker, Winterspell is a dark, timeless fairy tale about love and war, longing and loneliness, and a girl who must learn to live without fear.
5. Dark Breaks the Dawn by Sara B. Larson
This fantasy duology is a must-read for fans of the ballet Swan Lake!
On her eighteenth birthday, Princess Evelayn of Eadrolan, the Light Kingdom, can finally access the full range of her magical powers. The light looks brighter, the air is sharper, and the energy she can draw when fighting feels almost limitless.
But while her mother, the queen, remains busy at the war front, in the Dark Kingdom of Dorjhalon, the corrupt king is plotting. King Bain wants control of both kingdoms, and his plan will fling Evelayn onto the throne much sooner than she expected.
In order to defeat Bain and his sons, Evelayn will quickly have to come into her ability to shapeshift, and rely on the alluring Lord Tanvir. But not everyone is what they seem, and the balance between the Light and Dark comes at a steep price.
6. Pointe by Brandy Colbert
Ballet, drama, and more complex, compelling, and lovable characters by Brandy Colbert? Obviously sign us up.
Theo is better now.
She’s eating again, dating guys who are almost appropriate, and well on her way to becoming an elite ballet dancer. But when her oldest friend, Donovan, returns home after spending four long years with his kidnapper, Theo starts reliving memories about his abduction—and his abductor.
Donovan isn’t talking about what happened, and even though Theo knows she didn’t do anything wrong, telling the truth would put everything she’s been living for at risk. But keeping quiet might be worse.
7. Bunheads by Sophie Flack
Like so many other books on this list show us, ballet, despite its beauty, has a much darker side. And Bunheads explores all the ups and downs of its prestigious world.
As a dancer with the ultra-prestigious Manhattan Ballet Company, nineteen-year-old Hannah Ward juggles intense rehearsals, dazzling performances and complicated backstage relationships. Up until now, Hannah has happily devoted her entire life to ballet.
But when she meets a handsome musician named Jacob, Hannah’s universe begins to change, and she must decide if she wants to compete against the other “bunheads” in the company for a star soloist spot or strike out on her own in the real world. Does she dare give up the gilded confines of the ballet for the freedoms of everyday life?
8. The Wrath & the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh
This book is perfect for fans of the ballets Scheherazade and La Bayadere in this One Thousand and One Nights retelling.
In a land ruled by a murderous boy-king, each dawn brings heartache to a new family. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, is a monster. Each night he takes a new bride only to have a silk cord wrapped around her throat come morning. When sixteen-year-old Shahrzad’s dearest friend falls victim to Khalid, Shahrzad vows vengeance and volunteers to be his next bride. Shahrzad is determined not only to stay alive, but to end the caliph’s reign of terror once and for all.
Night after night, Shahrzad beguiles Khalid, weaving stories that enchant, ensuring her survival, though she knows each dawn could be her last. But something she never expected begins to happen: Khalid is nothing like what she’d imagined him to be. This monster is a boy with a tormented heart. Incredibly, Shahrzad finds herself falling in love. How is this possible? It’s an unforgivable betrayal. Still, Shahrzad has come to understand all is not as it seems in this palace of marble and stone. She resolves to uncover whatever secrets lurk and, despite her love, be ready to take Khalid’s life as retribution for the many lives he’s stolen. Can their love survive this world of stories and secrets?
9. Hiddensee: A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker by Gregory Maguire
This Nutcracker retelling is much darker than the ballet, and questions who exactly Clara’s Godfather Drosselmeier was…
Hiddensee: An island of white sandy beaches, salt marshes, steep cliffs, and pine forests north of Berlin in the Baltic Sea, an island that is an enchanting bohemian retreat and home to a large artists’ colony—a wellspring of inspiration for the Romantic imagination . . .
Having brought his legions of devoted readers to Oz in Wicked and to Wonderland in After Alice, Maguire now takes us to the realms of the Brothers Grimm and E. T. A. Hoffmann—the enchanted Black Forest of Bavaria and the salons of Munich. Hiddensee imagines the backstory of the Nutcracker, revealing how this entrancing creature came to be carved and how he guided an ailing girl named Klara through a dreamy paradise on a Christmas Eve. At the heart of Hoffmann’s mysterious tale hovers Godfather Drosselmeier—the ominous, canny, one-eyed toy maker made immortal by Petipa and Tchaikovsky’s fairy tale ballet—who presents the once and future Nutcracker to Klara, his goddaughter.
But Hiddensee is not just a retelling of a classic story. Maguire discovers in the flowering of German Romanticism ties to Hellenic mystery-cults—a fascination with death and the afterlife—and ponders a profound question: How can a person who is abused by life, shortchanged and challenged, nevertheless access secrets that benefit the disadvantaged and powerless?
10. The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan
One of the most famous artists of ballet dancers was Edgar Degas, but who were the dancers behind the paintings and statues? Buchanen brings the beloved artwork to life in this historical fiction story.
1878 Paris. Following their father’s sudden death, the van Goethem sisters find their lives upended. Without his wages, and with the small amount their laundress mother earns disappearing into the absinthe bottle, eviction from their lodgings seems imminent. With few options for work, Marie is dispatched to the Paris Opéra, where for a scant seventeen francs a week, she will be trained to enter the famous ballet. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds work as an extra in a stage adaptation of Émile Zola’s naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir.
Marie throws herself into dance and is soon modeling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her image will forever be immortalized as Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. There she meets a wealthy male patron of the ballet, but might the assistance he offers come with strings attached? Meanwhile Antoinette, derailed by her love for the dangerous Émile Abadie, must choose between honest labor and the more profitable avenues open to a young woman of the Parisian demimonde.
11. A Wicked Thing by Rhiannon Thomas
Rhiannon Thomas’ book is perfect for fans of the Sleeping Beauty ballet! This fairy tale retelling questions everything that happens after Aurora wakes…
One hundred years after falling asleep, Princess Aurora wakes up to the kiss of a handsome prince and a broken kingdom that has been dreaming of her return. All the books say that she should be living happily ever after. But as Aurora understands all too well, the truth is nothing like the fairy tale.
Her family is long dead. Her “true love” is a kind stranger. And her whole life has been planned out by political foes while she slept.
As Aurora struggles to make sense of her new world, she begins to fear that the curse has left its mark on her, a fiery and dangerous thing that might be as wicked as the witch who once ensnared her. With her wedding day drawing near, Aurora must make the ultimate decision on how to save her kingdom: marry the prince or run.
12. Spindle Fire by Lexa Hillyer
A very different retelling inspired by Sleeping Beauty, Lexa Hillyer’s lyrical writing style will transport you into a scene as dark and dazzling as your favorite dance!
Half sisters Isabelle and Aurora are polar opposites: Isabelle is the king’s headstrong illegitimate daughter, whose sight was tithed by faeries; Aurora, beautiful and sheltered, was tithed her sense of touch and voice on the same day. Despite their differences, the sisters have always been extremely close.
And then everything changes, with a single drop of Aurora’s blood, a Faerie Queen who is preparing for war, a strange and enchanting dream realm—and a sleep so deep it cannot be broken.
Perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas and Leigh Bardugo, Spindle Fire is a tour-de-force fantasy set in the dwindling, deliciously corrupt world of the fae and featuring two truly unforgettable heroines.
13. The Looking Glass by Janet McNally
A story of sisterhood, main character Sylvie is trying to carry on her sister’s legacy at the National Ballet Theatre Academy. It intertwines fairy tales, mysteries, and the emotions that only the best executed dances can convey.
That’s what Sylvie Blake’s older sister Julia renamed their favorite fairy tale book, way back when they were just girls themselves. Now Julia has disappeared—and no one knows for sure if she wants to be away, or if she’s the one in trouble.
Then a copy of their old storybook arrives with a mysterious list inside, and Sylvie begins to see signs of her sister, and their favorite fairy tales, everywhere she goes.
With the help of her best friend’s enigmatic brother and his beat-up car, Sylvie sets out to follow the strange signs right to Julia and return to New York with her in tow. But trouble comes in lots of forms—and Sylvie soon learns that the damsel in distress is often the only one who can save herself.