The story of a little girl’s favourite toy coming to life is one that has enchanted children at Christmas time for over one hundred years. Whether it is in book form or on the stage, this is most definitely a Christmassy story.

Here are two new adaptations of the tale, one focuses on the ballet version, one on the traditional tale. Both would benefit of being gifted alongside a CD of Tchaikovsky’s wonderful music.

Ella Bella Ballerina and the Nutcracker
James Mayhew
(Orchard Books)

Ella Bella Ballerina and The Nutcracker is the fourth tale in a series from James Mayhew which is an absolute must for budding ballerinas. Each story follows a similar narrative and sees Ella Bella  transported into the world of a traditional ballet, thanks to her teacher’s magical music box, bringing its story to life.  This time, as she dances to the music of the music box, Ella finds herself transported to Clara’s world and soon finds herself facing the mouse king, meeting the Nutcracker Prince and finally visiting the grandiose Marzipan Palace, before Madame Rosa closes the music box and Ella is drawn back into reality.

James Mayhew’s lavish artwork is beautifully detailed and oozes Christmas magic. His use of colour is stunning and conveys the atmosphere of the tale perfectly: the mice are dark and threatening, the Plum Fairy and her world are luxurious and tempting. My favourite double-spread however is the one below, with its beautiful icy blue colour. The reader can nearly feel the frost on its fingers when looking at it:

Because of its focus on ballerinas, it is fair to say that this beautiful book is aimed at little girls primarily, but there is enough in the story to keep boys entertained too. The Nutcracker is actually quite a dark tale, with plenty of peril, and  this comes out quite strongly in this adaptation.
At the end of the book readers will find a page of information about The Nutcracker, covering the origin of the tale and details about the ballet itself.

Ella Bella Ballerina and The Nutcracker is an enchanting book, full of Christmas magic and wonder, from a truly outstanding artist.


All illustrations © James Mayhew

The Nutcracker: a Magical Theatre Book
Geraldine McCaughrean (text) & Kristina Swarner (illustrations)

This beautifully interactive book is rather wonderful.
Geraldine McCaughrean is renowned for her way with words and her retelling of the traditional tale by Hoffman (the central character here is called Marie, not Clara) is faithful, particularly atmospheric and child-friendly.
But what makes this book really stand out is the work of the illustrator. Kristina Swarner’s illustrations are fittingly sumptuous and dreamy. The paper engineering is also quite stunning. Six cut-out windows allow some of characters to spring to life as you turn the pages, recreating some of scenes in the story. It  is cleverly done, beautifully produced and the result makes a wonderfully festive book. Like many novelty books, The Nutcracker is not suitable for tiny people, but Walker’s design team have ensure that this was produced sturdily, allowing for many future readings. A beautiful book to treasure.

You can have a peek inside the book in this video by the book’s American publisher:

Source: review copy from publisher