The Nutcracker (Lisbeth Zwerger)

The Nutcracker is a favorite in our house, but you probably knew that. Each year, I try to feature a book or two or twelve (or more), along with photos or crafts. Last year was special for our family. Big Sis made her Nutcracker debut as a mouse. It was such a wonderful experience that I was SHOCKED when she announced she did not want to audition this year. I never did figure out why, but she told us she wanted to wait until next year, when her little sister was old enough to audition, too. Instead, the three of us auditioned for the community theatre's production of A Christmas Story, and last night, we began our third week of performances. (We close on Sunday. I'll share more about that next week!) Because of A Christmas Story, this year marks the first time in four years we will not get to see the full production of The Nutcracker, complete with live orchestra and the snow scene (my favorite). I was able to meet the girls downtown for the school field trip version today. It's shorter, with recorded music, but it's still beautiful. Their school dance teacher danced Arabian, and another girl in Big Sis's class was a mouse. We saw so many familiar faces on stage this year, and I could tell Big Sis can't wait for next year.

Tomorrow, I'll show you a fun and funny Nutcracker-related title, but I'm going the traditional route today. We recently borrowed this book from the library.

Wonderment: The Lisbeth Zwerger Collection. North-South Books, 2014.

It's a lovely Lisbeth Zwerger treasury, and one of the stories is The Nutcracker!

She illustrated the story twice. The first time was in the early 1980s, under the title The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. I would love to get a copy of it, as it looks gorgeous, even if the art is more traditional. She illustrated the story again twenty years later. The stand-alone copy is now out-of-print in the U.S.

Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffmann, retold by Susanne Koppe,
translated by Anthea Bell, illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger.
NorthSouth Books, 2004.

I was excited to see it reprinted in Wonderment. It is a retelling of the original story by E.T.A. Hoffmann. It is simpler to read aloud than the (translated) original, but still wilder than the ballet version most of us are used to seeing.

The girls and I decided that Marie looks just like an old-fashioned china doll.

On Christmas Eve, the Stahlbaum family receives a little nutcracker from Marie's godfather, Councillor Drosselmeier. Marie takes a special liking to him, and is told by her father that she may be the one to care for him. After Fritz, her brother, breaks the nutcracker's jaw, Marie places him in a glass cupboard in place of Clara, her new doll. Suddenly, Marie hears noises. Mice pour into the room, including the terrible mouse king, who has seven heads! Frightened, Marie accidentally puts an arm through the glass. She hears the Nutcracker call the toy soldiers to battle. It ends with Marie throwing her shoe at the mouse king.

Marie's mother finds her bleeding and feverish. Godfather Drosselmeier visits, and she asks him why he did not aid the Nutcracker. She knew she saw him that night, perched on the clock.

He presents her with a repaired Nutcracker, and proceeds to tell her a story.

It is the strange tale of Princess Pirlipat, transformed into a nutcracker by a vengeful mouse queen. The curse is finally broken, only to be passed on to the one who broke the spell.

There is another battle and a victory. There is a visit to The Land of Toys. It's a strange tale, and you really must read it someday, if you haven't already done so.

And finally, Marie wakes from her lovely dream. Drosselmeier arrives with his nephew.

The story ends with Drosselmeier's nephew proposing to Marie. "She looks too young to get married!" was the first thing to pop out of my little girls' mouths.

I love Zwerger's illustrations. Her style is unmistakably her own. Just look at what she did with Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz!

Another Nutcracker-related title tomorrow!

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  1. FANTASTIC. love love LOVE the art! off right NOW to see if library has it! how amazing, you getting to be in a production with your girls.....

    1. It's been a blast, but we're all taking next semester off. Poor Little Sis is NOT handling the late nights well, and everyone is feeling frazzled. I did the summer Shakespeare in the park show, then the fall show, then Little Sis opened A Year with Frog and Toad a week after Hamlet closed, then 13 performances of A Christmas Story! But it's been worth it. Totally.

  2. I love her art! So unique. We recently received Maurice Sendak's version of the story, which seems to be the long one too. I haven't read it yet -I haven't ever read the whole book- but I look forward to.
    What an amazing theatre family you are! Hope you get some well-deserved rest next week :)

    1. The Sendak is amazing! We don't own it, but we checked it out a few years ago.

      Mr. B came to the show tonight and loved it! I had to cough so badly during the first scene, that I feel like it through me off the rest of the show. Oh, well. Thank you!

  3. So, so beautiful. I want it now! And wow, that is wonderful that you are all in the same production. Share photos if you can, I'd love to see them.

    1. For now, I can point you to the photographer's Facebook albums (just cut and paste the links):


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