Engelbreit extends her collection of traditional children’s stories with this retelling of the Christmas classic, which blends well with the artist’s signature style of highly ornamented illustrations bursting with bows, candies and fantasy flowers.
In this interpretation, Marie is a little girl of the 1920s, with blond bobbed hair and a cozy life in the suburbs with her well-to-do family. Wealthy Uncle Drosselmeyer, a kindly toymaker, arrives at the family Christmas party bearing toy soldiers for little brother Fritz and a pair of dolls and the fateful Nutcracker for Marie. The story unfolds in traditional fashion, with fierce battles between mice and soldiers, the Nutcracker’s transformation and Marie’s journey to Toyland with the Prince. They meet dancers and the Sugar Plum Fairy and view the Prince’s gingerbread castle before returning to Marie’s home. The budding romance between Marie and the Prince is a sweet foreshadowing of her adult life, and the conclusion shows them ruling over Toyland together. Each illustration is filled with details, borders and tiny hidden surprises, along with charming, smiling characters. Engelbreit’s many fans will find this a garden of Christmas delights.
The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers (2007) remains the quintessential interpretation, but there is room on the Christmas bookshelves for the Engelbreit version as well. (Picture book. 4-7)