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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - The Nutcracker Mice review

This Friday, #PPBF is on hiatus for the next two weeks, while Susanna Hill's 7th Annual Halloweensie Writing Contest is underway. Give it a try and write a 100-word Halloween story. Check out the guidelines here. If not, be sure to read the entries on Susanna's blog starting tomorrow, October 27th, through Tuesday, October 31st. There are some amazingly talented writers in our community.

So, I am taking this opportunity to share a delightful Middle Grade novel with you. I grew up watching Mikhail Baryshnikov perform The Nutcracker every Christmas, so I was immediately enthralled by the title and the two dancing mice on the cover.

The Nutcracker Mice

Author: Kristin Kladstrup

Illustrator: Brett Holquist

Publisher: Candlewick Press (2017)

Ages: 7-10



Ballet, friendship, adventure, and self-discovery.

Synopsis (from Barnes & Noble):

A young mouse must save her production of The Nutcracker in a charming holiday tale from the 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 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.

Opening Lines:

There were mice at the Mariinsky.

Saint Petersburg's famous theater - home to the world's most spectacular ballets-was completely overrun by creatures that Irina's father jokingly called the world's tiniest balletomanes.

"I think the mice really do love the ballet," Irina told Papa one evening.

"Well, if they don't, they ought to!" he said. "All Russians love ballet, and they are Russian mice, after all."

Why I liked this book:

As Kirkus said, "Kladstrup has crafted a dual tale filled with charm, humor, conflict, and danger." Irina, tags along with her parents to the Mariinsky theater, where her mother's a seamstress and her father's head custodian. The mouse ballerina, Esmeralda, her brother, cousin, and other mice live, hunt for food, and perform ballets in this same theater. Convinced that the mice also love music and ballet, Irina attempts to befriend and save them. Both Esmeralda and Irina overcome challenges all while avoiding the mean assistant custodian, Gurkin, who is determined to kill all the mice in the Mariinsky and discredit Irina's father. Though unable to directly communicate, Esmeralda and Irina share a love of ballet and ultimately develop a friendship.

I loved Kristin's premise that Russian mice living in the theater would also dance. Not only do they dance, but they dance in a mouse ballet troupe, complete with lessons and prima donnas. Unable to sell a mouse audience on a ballet with evil mice, they create a "mouse friendly" version of the Nutcracker, which adds the element of romance between Clara and the Mouse King. For reference (and a great aid in compare and contrast exercises), Kristin included matching scenarios of these two Nutcracker ballets.

Kristin's well-paced tale of an adventuresome, determined, inventive, courageous, and loyal group of mice (and two rats), combined with Brett's lively, full-page black ink illustrations (in each chapter), had me totally enthralled. Perhaps because it reminded me a bit of The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary, which I adored as a child. With a subtle message of discovering and staying true to oneself, The Nutcracker Mice is an action-packed tale that will appeal to ballet and mice fans alike.


- watch a performance or CD of the Nutcracker ballet and then compare it to the mice ballet scenario at the end of the book;

- other activities for The Nutcracker (; or

- imagine your own story for an unusual place to find mice.

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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