Jan Brett’s The Nutcracker

Jan Brett. Putnam, $18.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-593-10982-3

E.T.A. Hoffmann’s famous Christmas story of the girl and the wooden nutcracker receives Brett’s signature treatment in this picture book rendition, which features rich embellishments, white characters in elaborate period costumes, intricate movement and detail, and vignettes around many spreads’ borders. Keeping to the story’s well-known arc, Brett imagines visual variations in watercolor and gouache spreads that interweave moments from the ballet. Instead of human characters, animals are cast in the traditional second act: Bears dance the Russian Trepak, Arctic foxes perform the Danse Arabe (“their foxtails entwining”), and reindeer with candles on their antlers accompany Marie to a gingerbread house, where waltzing hedgehogs’ quills are studded with tiny yellow flowers. Vivid, descriptive language adds further depth: “The sleigh glided through a dreamland of icicles until they heard lively music—molto vivace—playing.” A Christmas confection laced with an Old World sensibility. Ages 4–8. (Nov.)