You're On, Sugar Plum! Mary Engelbreit's Nutcracker by Mary Englebreit
AS THE CAR ROLLED THROUGH THE NIGHT, THE NUTCRACKER WONDERED WHAT WAS IN STORE.
THEY STOPPED IN FRONT OF A LOVELY HOUSE ALL AGLOW WITH FESTIVE LIGHT. BEFORE YOU COULD SAY "MERRY CHRISTMAS," THE NUTCRACKER WAS INSIDE.
Popular author/illustrator Mary Engelbreit takes a few liberties with her version of the classic Christmas ballet in her new MaryEngelbreit'sNutcracker (Harper, 2011). As always, the avuncular Drosselmeyer is there, giving Marie a large, droll nutcracker for her gift, and little brother Fritz, jealous in all versions, plays his part in breaking the poor fellow's lower jaw "accidentally on purpose." As ever, Marie mends her Nutcracker, giving him a sympathetic kiss, wakes to strange sounds, and finds her Nutcracker engaged in warfare with the scary MouseKing from the tree and Fritz's battalion of toy soldiers. When the Nutcracker is imperiled by the overwhelming forces, Marie rushes to his aid as ever. And, just as we expect, as soon as Marie throws that shoe, we're off to a never-never land, with dancing flutes and sugar plum fairies, fountains of goodies, exotic dances, and a twirl with the transformed Nutcracker, now the Prince of this magical land.
With all the traditional plot elements in place, Engelbreit takes a couple of liberties with the classic outline of the Tales of Hoffmann, which in its original iteration was far more an adolescent girl's surreal fantasy of romance with a handsome Prince who loves her for her steadfast and loyal heart. Engelbreit's Marie is much younger, a round-cheeked primary-schooler, and the setting is changed to a kitschy 1920s ambiance, one well suited to her intended audience of preschoolers and early elementary school readers. In this version, Marie doesn't awake to find the Nutcracker's broken jaw magically restored while he remains a nutcracker, with only dreamlike memories left of her romantic fugue: here Marie actually gets a royal promisory proposal right on the spot from the Nutcracker Prince:
"YOU FREED ME FROM THE MOUSEKING'S SPELL.
IF YOU AGREE, WHEN YOU ARE GROWN, I'LL RETURN AND MAKE YOU QUEEN OF TOYLAND."
... AND IN THAT MAGICAL PLACE, THEY LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER.
And that Disney-style denouement is not likely to displease the designated audience in this rococo setting. Engelbreit's legions of fans will love this ending, non-traditional as it may be. with her easily recognizable illustrative style in ample evidence and her fulsome line and palette certainly given a tailor-made expression here.
But for my money, the best choice, especially for children who may be planning to see the actual ballet, is Susan Jeffers' lovely classic, The Nutcracker.
With simple but lyrical text and elegantly beautiful full-page illustrations based on the Ballanchine ballet's staging of the dance, this one has it all, doing justice to its classic source while inspiring the imagination of the reader in that way that a nearly perfect picture book has the power to do.