Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Review - Jan Brett's The Nutcracker

Jan Brett's The Nutcracker

by Jan Brett
Date: 2021
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Jan Brett's striking illustrations and the Christmas classic The Nutcracker are a match made in picture book heaven.

When Marie and her brother Fritz receive a special Christmas nutcracker from their uncle, Marie immediately feels something magical. He looks like a real boy, she mused. A real boy with a secret, who came from far away.

This feeling is only the beginning of the epic adventure she goes on with the Nutcracker--into the cabinet, through the battle with the mice, and finally to the magical land of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Jan Brett makes this classic her own by setting it in snowy Russia and adding whimsical touches to the favorite elements of the traditional ballet. Enjoying this book will be an instant Christmas tradition for families who love the ballet and those new to the story.

As perfect a gift as Jan Brett's classics The Mitten and The Night Before Christmas.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This was... too much.

I've enjoyed some other picture books by Jan Brett, especially The Mitten. Taking on The Nutcracker in picture-book form was an ambitious task. I'm not sure it worked.

In trying to condense the story into 32 pages, much is skimmed over, seemingly in favour of getting to the parts of the story that would look good as full-page illustrated spreads. When Marie doesn't want to say goodnight to the guests, we're told it's because she's been taking care of the Nutcracker that her brother, Fritz, had broken. This seems like an important aspect to Marie's devotion to the toy, so it feels odd that it would be skipped over.

The rest of the book is kind of like a fever dream. The overall emotion I'm feeling after reading this book is overwhelm. Don't get me wrong: I enjoy picture books where there's lots to look at in the illustrations. But in this case, it's just too much. Brett's signature style of using smaller illustrations in the side panels to show some parallel aspects of the story is used here, but the technique makes the book feel cluttered because there's already so much going on in the main illustrations. I'm also not a fan of the way the characters are drawn. The facial expressions don't seem consistent and lead to a look that almost seems like two different artists were at work; sometimes the faces almost seem cartoonish, while others are more realistic.

The story rambles, and if you're not familiar with the original story or ballet, you might not have any sort of clue what's going on here. Basically, a child shrinks, battles a mouse king, then goes on a journey through a winter landscape populated by anthropomorphized animals. Was it all a dream? In the case of this book, I'm almost tempted to say it was a drug trip.

Fans of Brett's catalogue of work will no doubt want to add this one to their collections. But those looking for a strong picture book based on The Nutcracker, or those who want an easy-to-follow story for holiday reading, might want to look elsewhere.

Premise: 3/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 2/5
Illustrations: 3/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.5 out of 5

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