This fresh version of an old chestnut of both ballet and literature is long on charm and short on depth. Though most of the appropriate characters are painted wearing pointed shoes, they do not really resemble dancers, and Richardson chooses to compress what is best known as a voluminously episodic theatrical event into a tale which, while deftly told, provides relatively little in the way of traditional confectionary extravagance. The setting is vaguely European and fully exuberant: sister and brother Clara and Fritz just want to have fun on Christmas Eve. And they have it, despite the repercussions of passing pranks and the mystery of party guest Herr Drosselmeyer's magic acts. Crespi's finely frisky, gaily colored illustrations make sport of a purely sporting occasion: when the life-size fantasy mice attack Clara while she dreams, for example, they look fetchingly sweet, never mean. But because the scale of the drama is reduced, so is the imaginative scope of Hoffmann's sometimes weirdly dark bagatelle, alchemized here into a bright, clean, new toy. Ages 3-6. (Oct.)
Briefly told, this version of E. T. A. Hoffmann's famous tale as realized by Tchaikovsky's ballet glosses the high points. Half the text presents the party at which Clara receives the Nutcracker, while the rest is divided between the battle with the Mouse King and Clara's trip to the Kingdom of Sweets. None of the specialty dances are depicted, but are mentioned generically as part of what Clara sees. Crespi's illustrations--mute color with browns, grays, and gilt--pose characters as if in ballet tableaux, and feature little characterization or facial expression, as they, too, are drawn from a ballet but with little of the magic the ballet creates. However, this could be useful as an introduction for children who are going to see the ballet. Lisbeth Zwerger's version (Picture Book Studio, 1987) sticks more closely to Hoffmann's tale, and her illustrations are more mysterious if less eloquent; Maurice Sendak's version (Crown, 1984) is overwhelming but gloriously complete.