I love Christmas books, but I'm a little picky about them. And I love The Nutcracker, so I'm SO PLEASED to be able to report that Susan Adrian's new middle grade novel Nutcracked is a COMPLETE delight. (Just look at it! It's adorable inside too! There are little drawings for the chapter headings!) It's the story of a young ballerina named Georgie who gets cast as Clara in The Nutcracker . . . and then gets magically pulled into the Nutcracker's world. And she has to save him. As though that's not enough, Georgie is dealing with family troubles and evolving friendships and figuring out her own goals and dreams and who she wants to be in the world.
I'm theoretically recommending you buy this for kids on your list, especially those into dance and/or fantasy stories, but I bought it for myself and had a wonderful evening reading it while drinking cocoa and listening to The Nutcracker. So, you know, maybe both?
And something extra this week . . . Susan is a pal of mine and was kind enough to answer a few questions, because I ALWAYS want to talk about The Nutcracker!
The original Hoffman short story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" is, let's face it, kind of weird and not particularly accessible, especially for kids. What do you think it is about the Nutcracker concept and its various forms that went on to capture the public imagination for two centuries? Does it capture the magic of Christmas in some unique way?
Susan Adrian: The story has certainly lasted through many incarnations. I have to admit, I'm not a huge fan of the original Hoffman story...I hadn't read the entire original, in fact, until I started writing this book! My knowledge of the story came from various ballet productions and a Maurice Sendak book version. The ballet is actually based on an adaptation by Alexandre Dumas (author of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, among others). He seems to have simplified it and taken out some of the odder bits of the Hoffman, and then the ballet simplified it further. From there came many, many different versions of the ballet. I think at its core, The Nutcracker has a few key elements that allow it to continue to captivate: Christmas, with the tree and the big family party; magic, with the grand growing of the tree/shrinking of Clara; and lots of fun, short, attractive dances. I've tried to include all of those elements in Nutcracked as well.
You were a ballerina yourself, and I know that absolutely informed Nutcracked. Is there anything fun/weird/interesting from your Nutcracker experiences or your ballet years in general that you couldn't work into the book but would like to tell us about?
I was quite a serious dancer from ages 8 through 16, and over the years I danced nine different parts, including Clara. So much of the dance parts and studio parts are adapted from whole memory! I managed to fit in a lot of the quirky things I remember, like sneaking sugar cubes from the coffee/tea tray and warming up backstage. I didn't include some of the minor disasters we had: when the girl who was dancing Arabian decided to take a bath in Nair hair remover right before the show, and an understudy had to go on because she had a rash and was in so much pain, or when Mother Marshmallow, the man-in-drag character, fell over coming onstage, giant skirt with children underneath and all...good times. :)
You're now working on another middle grade fantasy novel inspired by a classic - Forever Neverland, about kids who discover they're descendants of the Darlings from Peter Pan. (Can't wait to read it!) What is it that attracts you to this genre?
I am having SO MUCH FUN with these books. I realized, once I started writing middle grade, that my favorite books of all time are in this age range: A Wrinkle in Time, Ballet Shoes, The Dark is Rising, and many others. Those books are when I fell in love with reading, with the magic that other worlds could bring to my life. I want to carry that magic on to other kids as well, and I adore being able to tie in classic stories in whole new adventures. I have some ideas for other ones too...
I've enjoyed many versions of The Nutcracker but the one I have on DVD (and previously VHS) and watch over and over is the 1977 TV version with Gelsey Kirkland and Mikhail Baryshnikov. That's the REAL Nutcracker to me. Do you have a favorite?
That one, and the one I danced in at the Sacramento Ballet, are both very vivid to me, though I prefer the Nutcrackers where Clara is a child, 12 or 13, instead of a young woman like in the Baryshnikov. As far as choreography, Balanchine all the way. I just saw the Pacific Northwest Ballet Nutcracker this weekend, and they did a very classic Balanchine production that was beautiful.
Nutcracked is available now and would make a perfect stocking stuffer OR holiday treat for yourself!