cover image The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker

Jean Richardson. Arcade Publishing, $14.95 (26pp) ISBN 978-1-55970-105-1

This fresh version of an old chestnut of both ballet and literature is long on charm and short on depth. Though most of the appropriate characters are painted wearing pointed shoes, they do not really resemble dancers, and Richardson chooses to compress what is best known as a voluminously episodic theatrical event into a tale which, while deftly told, provides relatively little in the way of traditional confectionary extravagance. The setting is vaguely European and fully exuberant: sister and brother Clara and Fritz just want to have fun on Christmas Eve. And they have it, despite the repercussions of passing pranks and the mystery of party guest Herr Drosselmeyer's magic acts. Crespi's finely frisky, gaily colored illustrations make sport of a purely sporting occasion: when the life-size fantasy mice attack Clara while she dreams, for example, they look fetchingly sweet, never mean. But because the scale of the drama is reduced, so is the imaginative scope of Hoffmann's sometimes weirdly dark bagatelle, alchemized here into a bright, clean, new toy. Ages 3-6. (Oct.)