By Diane Reynolds, illustrated by Karyn Riccelli. Ourtime Publishing, 2019. 76 pages. $6.99/paperback or eBook. Recommended for ages 5–10.
As I write this short, pithy review, I hear cars on the even-numbered side of our street being towed far away to a ghastly municipal parking lot. Their owners—having slept through the
monthly date for community street sweeping, as well as the loudspeaker blaring their civic duty to deaf ears—must have been children whose parents never had the chance to read them the stern lessons of this book. This book was published last year, newly steel-hardened by its doughty creators to deal with nuts far more intransigent than sleeping through street sweeping—if you can imagine.
As a caution, I will line up and interrogate the principal actors in this bracing drama, which is not your grandma’s Nutcracker. Think of mug shots but with a tincture of charity, please.
The Oneida are Native Americans with sharp arrows and long memories. They never forget a slight to their dignity or a death-dealing war wound. They are not Sugar Plum fairies! Understand courage.
The Nutcracker wears a British uniform. He has a checkered past as well as what fighters used to call a glass jaw. He’s in bad with the Oneida for what they see as treachery, or at best, moral carelessness on duty. He calls himself “Henry.”
Clara is in love with her adolescent image of Henry. She’s grown womanly and even has leadership qualities, which are often swamped by a childish bossiness towards her brother.
Freddie is Clara’s younger brother: a hellion who returns Clara’s bossiness with all due rebellion, and then some. He plants a jaw-breaking nut in Henry’s glass jaw, conveniently retreats to childhood, and blames fate, others, anything.
Hypolite Drosselmeyer is a vagabond who passes for Santa Claus. He brings the Nutcracker especially for Clara and a bag of nuts for her younger siblings. One nut is dangerously bigger than the others. Just saying . . .
Grandmother is not fooled by Hypolite’s electric, pseudo-saintly charisma. Is it insight or just bad taste? You decide.
Various ravenous wolves and murderous gingerbread men are well-matched for action scenes of tooth vs. nail. Savage fur flies! Doughty dough crumbles! You have a front row seat!
Louisa is a total innocent. She shares excitement of any kind to the fullest, and is not to be charged with responsibility!
Assorted dolls are porcelain, and of various ethnicities; it’s all very demanding! They’re cherished by Louisa, or otherwise tolerated.
Sugar Plum fairies are flighty creatures who show up at every crime scene pretending innocence. They can be useful in understanding the bigger picture, but be wary: the carious tooth glistens whitely—as we like to say at the precinct.
Thank you and happy reading!
Detective J. C. Foritano
James Foritano attends Cambridge (Mass.) Meeting.