Thursday, November 29, 2012

Like a Dream

The Nutcracker: A Magic Theater Book, by Geraldine McCaughrean, illustrated by Kristina Swarner, Chronicle, $19.99, 24 pages, ages 6 an up, 2012.  In this gorgeous remake of the classic ballet story, a girl curls up under a Christmas tree with her broken nutcracker and dreams of freeing a prince from a witch's curse. As readers turn pages, die-cut characters bow to each other in dances or parry in duels within wreath-like openings. A tab inserted over the page fold causes the characters to tilt inward, as if they were dancing on a curtained stage. It also eliminates the need for readers to pull tabs themselves, making this an easy book for little hands. Swarner's paintings look as wondrous as a fairyland -- they glow in rich hues, and sparkle with oversized snowflakes and floating treats, and McCaughrean's writing is as enchanting as ever. Marie (the story's Clara) is taken by her prince on "a boat of starlight and swansdown" to the Land of Sweets (reminiscent of Candyland from the game board). Then later she sails home through "soft, sheep-flocks of clouds" and "gates of sunrise" -- an image that is enticingly dreamy. This is a dazzling, imaginative journey that sweeps readers off the stage to a glistening wonderland -- a world they'll want to lay awake at night trying to imagine into their dreams. (McCaughrean is the award-winning author of Peter Pan in Scarlet and Sunshine Queen.) Best part: When Marie and her prince sail off in the night under a long, feathery wing.

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