Sunday Treat – Kid Lit Review of “Nutcracker” by E.T.A. Hoffman, Illustrated by Maurice Sendak

sundae2This is not just a hackneyed version of “The Nutcracker” dressed up by the magnificent illustrations of Maurice Sendak. On the contrary, this book (beautifully printed and bound) features the original story written by E.T.A. Hoffmann, later watered-down for the famous ballet. While I have always loved the ballet in any form, this story is far superior to the traditional one, and captured my attention from the very start. As Sendak wrote in his preface about the version familiar to audiences today:

“[It] is smoothed out, bland, and utterly devoid not only of difficulties but of the weird, dark qualities that make it something of a masterpiece.”

Kent Stowell, the artistic director of the Pacific Northwest Ballet, invited Sendak to collaborate on a new production, and they agreed to adapt the Hoffman version. The translation used in this book by Ralph Manheim is superb – there is nothing dated or stodgy about it, and I found myself unable to quit reading until I had finished the entire story. And as admirers of Sendak know, as an illustrator he is particularly well-suited to capture “weird, dark qualities” and render them as not at all scary but full of whimsy and fascinating detail.

My favorite parts? The character known as the Giant Sweettooth of Candytown (since he is obviously one of my progenitors) and the very last sentiment, which concludes:

“…Marie is believed to be still the queen of a country where sparkling Christmas woods, transparent marzipan castles, in short, the most wonderful things, can be seen if you have the right sort of eyes for it.”

“The right sort of eyes” …. What a marvelous concept!

Rating: 5/5

The Giant Sweettooth: my great-grandpa?

Reissued by Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., 2012

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24 Responses to Sunday Treat – Kid Lit Review of “Nutcracker” by E.T.A. Hoffman, Illustrated by Maurice Sendak

  1. Jenny says:

    This looks adorable! (I’ll sit out the giveaway because I don’t really have anyone in mind for it.)

  2. I thought the book was good but wondered how the intended audience would respond to it. No need to enter me.

  3. ellie says:

    This book would be a treasure. Many thanks for this great giveaway.

  4. pearl says:

    A precious book that is unique and special. Thanks.

  5. Judie McDonald says:

    This would be perfect for my two grandsons who have had a back stage tour of the San Francisco Nutcracker, even trying on the Mouse King head and playing with the swords!

  6. Lisa says:

    What a lovely book! I’ve been getting rid of Christmas children’s books in the past few years but I’ve had to keep some for the someday-grandchildren. This one looks like one I will have to add to that collection!


  7. Amy @ My Friend Amy says:

    Aw, this looks completely lovely and I would love to be entered into a giveaway. I’ve been wanting to read the original story!

  8. diane says:

    It’s a lovely book indeed. Saving my copy for when my grand daughter gets older. Great giveaway for the season Jill.

  9. Jenners says:

    Oh I’d love to be entered. IT would be a neat way to introduce BB to this story as I’m not sure he has patience for the ballet. (Though he has seen the Tom and Jerry version … cringe). I think we are definitely related then as I supect I am related to the Candypants guy too!

    jenners (at) verizon (dot) com

  10. Oh, this looks lovely!!! I am so said that Maurice passed away.

  11. I think I’m really in the minority when I say that I don’t love Maurice Sendak. I liked his Little Bear series, but never did like Where the Wild Things Are and his drawing style. No need to enter me, although I do like nutcracker stories!

  12. Anne says:

    A lovely book which is ideal for my grandson.

  13. Sandy says:

    The Giant Sweettooth! HAHAHA! I can relate to that dude.

  14. stacybuckeye says:

    I have this one on my shelf waiting to be read. It is a beautiful book and now I’m even more excited to read it. Sadly, I know nothing about the story (which is why I accepted the book!).

  15. zibilee says:

    This does look a little creepier than any of the other versions I’ve seen, but I like it! I think this would be a great little read for the upcoming holiday.

  16. Rita K. says:

    I love Sendak! He has always been my favorite children’s author – ever since my first stint in Kid Lit in the 1960’s. Obviously old enough to hava a grandddughter who would love the book.

  17. This looks lovely Jill, and oddly enough, my boys love The Nutcracker (even if they were introduced to it by Tom and Jerry – so far it’s the version they prefer, but oh well). 🙂

    akreese at hotmail dot com

  18. Linda says:

    Would love to win this book! Thanks! linda[dot]maendel[at]gmail[dot]com

  19. Zed says:

    Thank you for the giveaway. My email address is

  20. becca7931 says:

    Illustrated by Maurice Sendak?? Awesome! I adore his work. I introduced all my students to him when I was a teacher. I would love to win this for my boyfriend’s son, if that’s okay. My e-mail is Thanks!

  21. No need to enter me but I enjoyed reading your review. The informative preface alone makes this book worth picking up. Probably not the best choice for the youngest kids, but when a child is ready for longer stories, I highly recommend this translation.

  22. bookingmama says:

    There is no doubt that this book is gorgeous. I’m just not so sure that my kids’ would read it and enjoy it.

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