The Nutcracker / The Nutcracker Ballet (Part 2)

The Nutcracker grand tour continues.  Today’s versions follow the ballet fairly closely for children who want their storybook to match their viewing experience.

First up is the version by Geraldine McCaughrean and illustrated by Nicki Palin.  The lead is called Clara (as in the ballet).  Clara’s brother Fritz is also a right pain in the rear (as you may remember in the ballet).  The Nutcracker does take her to a land filled with sweets and although the section is brief the illustrator tried to squeeze in representatives of each scene of the ballet. At the end Clara pledges to return each year to the land of the sweets but much as Wendy outgrows Peter Pan, Clara outgrows her fantasy prince in favor of dancing with a boy named Gunther year after year.

I had a really hard time with the writing in this one.  Because it was bad. The overly familiar nickname of “Drossy” for the formidable Herr Drosselmeier grated on my nerves. The descriptive phrases did not speak to me: Clara’s present of ballet slippers hang like “peach-soft fruit from the tree;” the Nutcracker’s uniform is so glossy that “the paint almost looked wet.” And of course, then there’s this: “Then the Prince led Clara on to the lemon-ice floor. It was as if they had danced a thousand times before,as if they had danced together down centuries of daydreams.” Oh sweet heavens that one hurts.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – Gunther (Drosselmeier’s nephew) kisses Clara’s hand.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – Fritz is furnished with a sword and toy soldiers.  He breaks the Nutcracker’s jaw.  The mice are rats in this version and the rat king appears armed with a sword.  There is a battle, the mice and soldiers are armed.  No injury is depicted except an upside doll and a mouse about to nibble a gingerbread man.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – None.

If you’re going to get a book version of The Nutcracker solely to have a retelling of the ballet, I’d definitely choose this over the McCaughrean version.  Vagin has done both the writing (which is markedly better than McCaughrean’s) and the illustrations (which are intricate watercolors reminiscent of stained glass).  The book is a particularly nice fit for the Baryshnikov version.  Although the look is quite different, the presents sequence with full sized dancing toys is there.  This version also avoids any type of sexual/opposite sex relationship for Clara.  She is simply a little girl who loves her toy.  There is a prince for the dream sequence, but he is forgotton once she wakes.  Vagin also clearly took pleasure in offering a full page illustration to each of the Second Act scenes from the ballet.  Children will be able to fully admire the costumes of the dancers.  With short text boxes, a clear storyline and interesting illustrations, this isn’t a bad bet for children who want their picture book to match the ballet.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – None.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – Mice are armed with sabers, the soldiers with guns.  The soldiers and mice square off.   The mice king is killed (bloodlessly with a small prick type mark on his chest).
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – While the mice king has seven heads, only one is dominant, the other 6 spring from his shoulders sort of snake-like epaulets.

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