REVIEW: The Nutcracker Mice by Kristin Kladstrup
A young mouse must save her production of The Nutcracker in a charming holiday tale from author of The Gingerbread Pirates and the illustrator of A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Hidden in Saint Petersburg’s famed Mariinsky Theater are the world’s tiniest ballet fans: the Mariinsky mice, including Esmeralda, a rising dancer in the Russian Mouse Ballet Company. Despite being unable to control her tail, Esmeralda has just been assigned the lead role of Clara in a new ballet debuting at Christmas: The Nutcracker. But when she learns that the new ballet features mice as villains, her excitement turns to horror: the mice of Saint Petersburg will never come to see such a production.
Meanwhile, nine-year-old Irina is convinced that the mice she’s seen in the Mariinsky—the mice her father, the custodian, is supposed to exterminate—are not only fans of the ballet, but dancers themselves. No one will believe her, so it falls to Irina to help save the mice everyone else considers vermin…and perhaps to help Esmeralda ensure the future of the mouse company. Sweet and inventive, Kristin Kladstrup’s ballet fantasy features artwork by beloved illustrator Brett Helquist, old-fashioned drama, and just a touch of holiday magic.
Dear Ms. Kladstrap,
The cover of this book grabbed my attention but the idea of a mouse production of Russian ballet sealed the deal. Mice in costumes dancing to Tchaikovsky’s wonderful score – oh yes, please.
It’s 1892 and the Mariinsky Theater is working hard on the newest production, “The Nutcracker” with music by Pyotr Tchaikovsky. Little do the humans know that the Russian Mouse Ballet Company is getting their own version ready. Murine balletomanes are just as discerning as their human counterparts and the ballet dancers and stage crew are worried that the subject of this new ballet won’t be well received. An evil Mouse King and dastardly mice? Rumors about it are already spreading through St. Petersburg and the RMBC needs paying customers for without the food they bring for admission, the dancers and crew must go on more nightly scrounging parties or risk going hungry.
That’s not the only danger they face as humans view mice as vermin and traps have been set around the Theater. The mice have cleverly learned to spring them and also snatch the food used as bait but this must be hidden from the humans for fear that more deadly traps might be substituted – ones mice can’t subvert.
Rising dancer Esmeralda meets a street wise mouse one evening as she tries to find food. Handsome Maksim saves her from some thuggish rats then opens a new world for her at the Balalaika Cafe where mice take to the floor and dance with their hearts to the Russian music. All Mariinsky mice learn to read both French and Russian and Esmeralda’s brother is a poet as well but she’s never heard music like this or danced with such emotion. Her lack of control of her tail – tail control is required to have correct technique – has caused her endless worry but here using it seems natural.
It comes to their attention that the mice of St. Petersburg enjoy watching the human production for more than the dancing. When the mice realize that the tiny clothes sewn by the caretaker’s daughter would be perfect for costumes and the small sketches made for the humans could be backdrops, they know that this could turn around the future of the Mouse Company. That is, if the anti-mice plot can be overcome, the new and determined caretaker’s efforts can be thwarted and Esmeralda can believe in her skills enough to step in when a catastrophe occurs.
When I requested this book for review, I had in mind a short, picture heavy story. The reality is far better with an involved story and plot that is inventive and charming. The Russian Mouse Ballet Company are professionals who are determined to put on a sophisticated production with exquisite dancing. They have standards to maintain and a reputation to uphold. Esmeralda and her friends have to be inventive and daring to take the company to a new level and in Esmeralda young readers will find a heroine to admire and cheer on. Does she have the courage of her convictions and can her dancing save the Company? A lot is riding on her and the new ballet “Clara and the Mouse King” a story by mice, about mice and for mice. I know I’ll be thinking of Clara and her King the next time I hear the dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Is there to be more about Esmeralda and Maksim since the Mariinsky is going to stage “Cinderella” – a decidedly more mouse friendly story – and our two mice appear to have a romance started? I hope so. B