Both busy and meandering, but readers may like the dancing Cossack bears.

JAN BRETT'S THE NUTCRACKER

Brett applies her signature visual storytelling style to the Christmas favorite.

By setting her tale in a snowy, 19th-century Russian city and including in her trademark marginal vignettes both golden musical staves crowded with notes and animal instrumentalists clad in traditional Russian attire, Brett situates this retelling in Tchaikovsky’s ballet rather than Hoffman’s original story, though she retains Hoffman’s names. And as the ballet does, Brett crams her stage with characters, beginning with the Christmas party when Drosselmeier presents Marie with the Nutcracker and continuing through the battle with the Mouse King to Marie and the Nutcracker’s visit to what is here called the land of the Snow Princess. Once there, anthropomorphic Russian animals replace the ethnically stereotyped sweets of the ballet, with arctic foxes, flying squirrels, and hedgehogs taking turns in a snowy wonderland. Like the plot of the ballet, not much makes sense under close examination; unlike the ballet, Brett’s figures display very little movement, so hemmed in are they. Even compositions with relatively few figures feel crowded with decorative detail and superfluous tiny animals, so much so that readers may need to work hard to parse meaning. Despite its adherence to the plot of the ballet, this is not a particularly good preparation for it, but readers already familiar with it may enjoy taking in Brett’s vision. All human characters present White. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

Both busy and meandering, but readers may like the dancing Cossack bears. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-10982-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2021

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Sweet, reassuring fun—and a story to fully embrace.

SLUG IN LOVE

A slug longs for a hug and finds it unexpectedly.

Doug the slug would really like a hug and plods on, seeking affection. But a caterpillar, bug, spider, and worm want no part of hugging a slug. They are just not feeling it (might they feel sluggish?), voicing their disdain in no uncertain terms with expressions like, “Grimy, slippy!” and “Squelchy, slimy!” What’s a slug to do? Undeterred, Doug keeps trying. He meets Gail, a snail with crimson lipstick and hip, red glasses; she happens to be as grimy and squelchy as he is, so he figures she is the hugger of his dreams. The two embark upon a madcap romantic courtship. Alas, Gail also draws the (slimy) line at hugging Doug. Finally, mournful Doug meets the best hugger and the true love of his life, proving there’s someone for everyone. This charmer will have readers rooting for Doug (and perhaps even wanting to hug him). Expressed in simple, jaunty verses that read and scan smoothly, the brief tale revolves around words that mainly rhyme with Doug and slug. Given that the story stretches vocabulary so well with regard to rhyming words, children can be challenged after a read-aloud session to offer up words that rhyme with slug and snail. The colorful and humorous illustrations are lively and cheerful; googly-eyed Doug is, like the other characters, entertaining and expressive. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

Sweet, reassuring fun—and a story to fully embrace. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Dec. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-66590-046-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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Just the thing for anyone with a Grinch-y tree of their own in the yard.

THE HALLOWEEN TREE

A grouchy sapling on a Christmas tree farm finds that there are better things than lights and decorations for its branches.

A Grinch among the other trees on the farm is determined never to become a sappy Christmas tree—and never to leave its spot. Its determination makes it so: It grows gnarled and twisted and needle-less. As time passes, the farm is swallowed by the suburbs. The neighborhood kids dare one another to climb the scary, grumpy-looking tree, and soon, they are using its branches for their imaginative play, the tree serving as a pirate ship, a fort, a spaceship, and a dragon. But in winter, the tree stands alone and feels bereft and lonely for the first time ever, and it can’t look away from the decorated tree inside the house next to its lot. When some parents threaten to cut the “horrible” tree down, the tree thinks, “Not now that my limbs are full of happy children,” showing how far it has come. Happily for the tree, the children won’t give up so easily, and though the tree never wished to become a Christmas tree, it’s perfectly content being a “trick or tree.” Martinez’s digital illustrations play up the humorous dichotomy between the happy, aspiring Christmas trees (and their shoppers) and the grumpy tree, and the diverse humans are satisfyingly expressive.

Just the thing for anyone with a Grinch-y tree of their own in the yard. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4926-7335-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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