For the last of our Christmas books, we take a look at a version of The Nutcracker. Although made most famous as a ballet, the original story, ‘The Nutcracker and the Mouse King’ was written by E.T.A. Hoffmann in 1816. It was in 1892 that Russian composer, Tchaikovsky, together with choreographers Marius Pepita and Lev Ivanov turned a more recent adaptation of the story into a ballet. The book we are reviewing today, is yet another version, first published in 2010.
I’m sure you are all at least vaguely aware of the storyline, but let me briefly summarise:
A young girl (in this version her name is Clara) is at home on Christmas Eve, when her Godfather gives her the gift of a nutcracker, in the shape of a toy soldier. Clara instantly falls in love with her new toy and is devastated when her younger brother breaks the nutcracker’s jaw. Clara mends the jaw and rests the nutcracker on her shelf. She then drifts off to sleep. She wakes to find another of her toys, a mouse, launching an attack on the nutcracker and she steps in to save him. Again she falls asleep and this time wakes to find herself travelling by walnut-shell boat with her beautiful nutcracker. They visit The Land of Sweets and meet the Sugar Plum Fairy. When she finally, and properly wakes in her own room, she finds her nutcracker, jaw fixed, lying in her lap. She declares how happy she is with him and he promptly turns into a handsome prince; the spell that turned him into a nutcracker has been broken. The rest of the story is a typical fairy tale ending, where they marry and live happily together, while Clara and the Sugar Plum Fairy become BFFs.
Why I love it:
I love the first line of this book: ‘It was Christmas Eve, that special night where magic can happen.’ For me, the very best thing about Christmas is that sense of magic and wonder and I love that this version of The Nutcracker immediately prepares you for a magical journey. I also absolutely adore the illustrations in this book. Lisa Evans has created pages full of whimsy and charm. The pictures themselves are beautiful enough, but there is also texture on each page and your children will love running their fingers over the images.
This is a story about Christmas, toys coming to life, magically playing alongside your own toys and visiting lands full of sweets and fairies – it pretty much ticks all the boxes of childhood imagination – what’s not to love?!
Themes to discuss with your child:
- The history of this story and the ballet
- The power and impact of illustrations
- Fairy tales
Questions to ask your child:
- What do you think this book might be about?
- Do you think this is a fiction book (a story) or a non-fiction book (facts)?
- Have you heard of this story before?
- Have you heard of the ballet by the same name?
- What is a nutcracker? Can you see one on the cover?
- Run your fingers over the cover, what do you notice?
- How many candy canes can you count on the cover?
- Does this book appeal to you (do you like the look of it)? Why/Why not?
- Did you enjoy this book? Why/Why not?
- How do you think Clara felt when Fritz broke the Nutcracker?
- Why do you think the Mouse King wanted to attack the Nutcracker?
- Would you like to be able to play alongside any of your toys? If so, which ones?
- If you were to go on an adventure to a different land (like Clara and the Nutcracker went to The Land of Sweets) which land would you want to visit? Why?
- When Clara and the Nutcracker are together, do you think Clara has become small like the Nutcracker, or do you think the Nutcracker has become big like Clara? What makes you think this?
- Were you happy with the end of the story? Why/why not?
- If you could change or add one thing to the end of the story, what would it be?
- What do you think is the most magical thing about Christmas?
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