Paperscapes: The Nutcracker (Lauren Holowaty & Margarida Esteves)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Paperscapes: The Nutcracker, retold by Lauren Holowaty and illustrated by Margarida Esteves, an early-reader version of the classic Christmas tale with an interactive spin.

A new retelling of the beloved ballet adaptation, this edition follows the familiar tale of Clara and the Nutcracker, their journey to the Land of Sweets, and their battle against the Mouse King and his army. Part of the Paperscapes series, readers can even make the story come alive with pop-out paper dolls of some of the main characters.

Better in theory than in practice. The adaptation of the story itself isn’t a bad one; Holowaty does a commendable job of condensing the classic ballet down to a five-chapter early-reader book with engaging text. Esteves’s illustrations are colorful and graceful, and fit the tone well. However, what should be the main draw of the book – the pop-out paper dolls – are actually to its detriment. While the book does conveniently provide an envelope on the back cover to store the dolls, removing them from the book still leaves gaping holes in the pages that display the next or previous spread’s text, making rereading confusing for young bookworms. There is also the matter of representation: the majority of the characters present white, with the main exception being the performers of the “festival of dance” – characters in ethnically-inspired ballet outfits. Holowaty and Esteves do their best to handle this part of ballet delicately, but it still has the uncomfortable taste of appropriation. Otherwise, the length is fine for elementary readers, and JJ did enjoy the paper dolls for a bit. This would make a nice activity near Christmas – just don’t expect it to be a repeat tradition. Not our favorite version of this tale, but still worth a look for fans. Overall, Baby Bookworm approved.

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

The Nutcracker (E. T. A. Hoffmann)

Hello friends, and merry Christmas Eve! We picked a classic tale for our review today: The Nutcracker, from the story by E. T. A. Hoffmann and illustrated by Don Daily.

This condensed version of the classic fairy tale opens on Christmas Eve, where Marie and her brother Fritz peek through a keyhole to watch the adults decorate for a grand party. As the children are welcomed in to share dancing and sweets with the adults, Marie takes interest in the present her beloved Godfather Drosselmeyer has sent: a handsomely-crafted nutcracker. Testing out the toy’s abilities, Fritz cracks nut after nut, until an especially tough one breaks the nutcracker’s jaw. Marie tenderly cares for her broken toy, even sneaking out of her bed to check on him in the middle of the night. But what she will find in the otherworldly hours of Christmas Eve is that magic is afoot, and there is far more to her little nutcracker than meets the eye…

Cute, but… This abbreviated version of Hoffmann’s classic story cuts out a fair bit – the battles with the mouse king, the exposition of the nutcracker mythos, and the troubling “child bride” ending, most notably – giving a shorted version that follows Marie through the party and her visit to the fairy world. In many ways this works, giving kids a fun fairy tale without the more adult themes, and Daily’s classic illustrations, as lovely and detailed as ever, fit the tone perfectly. However, this version chooses to portray Marie’s adventure as only a dream and without the fairytale ending, completely removing the fantasy aspects of the tale. It’s a disappointing choice, and one that robs the fable of its magic. This choice might have been more understandable if the book was geared toward very young bookworms (which the board book binding would suggest), but this is at odds with the lengthy, verbose text and the intricate and more mature illustrations (JJ, for instance, lost interest with the visuals fairly quickly, and the story soon after). This is a nice version to look at, but it’s hard to ignore that that are more complete and/or better-balanced ones out there, and those are the ones we would recommend.

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)