The plot structure of The Nutcracker ballet’s first act is used as the inspiration for this Jazz Age–era story about a shy girl in Harlem.
Marie loves Christmas, but she is rather overwhelmed at her family’s large Christmas party with singing, dancing, and piano music provided by her uncle Cab. Marie is encouraged to sing at the party, but she has no confidence in her musical abilities. She falls asleep under the Christmas tree with her gift, a nutcracker drummer boy, a present from Uncle Cab. A dream sequence begins, incorporating elements from the ballet, with dancers, soldiers, the transformed Nutcracker, and an army of uniformed mice. A dramatic battle ensues between the soldiers and the mice, and Marie halts the fighting by playing the Nutcracker’s drum and scaring the mice away. She dances with the Nutcracker, transformed into a handsome young black man, and then finds the confidence to sing. Marie’s dream ends on Christmas morning, and one of her gifts is her own blue drum, matching the drum she used in her dream. Radiant watercolor illustrations use a palette of glowing jewel tones, especially deep blues and brilliant fuchsia for Marie’s flowing dress. All the characters are African-American, with the women in Marie’s family wearing coats and hats of the period. An author’s note provides information about the Harlem Renaissance and the inspiration for the story.
An intriguing integration of The Nutcracker’s magic into a new setting and a welcome addition to the shelf of Nutcracker-themed picture books. (Picture book. 4-8)