Review of The Nutcracker – Niroot Puttapipat, Candlewick Press, 2015
Every version of The Nutcracker, like Tolstoy’s supposedly similar happy families, is beautiful in its own way. Unhappy families, the author claimed, have unique ways to be miserable. While the tale of the Nutcracker, the Mouse King, and Clara/Marie, originally presented by German author E.T.A. Hoffman in 1816, resolves happily, it also has dark overtones. Author and illustrator Niroot Puttapipat has produced a lush illustrated version concluding with a delicately engineered pop-up stage set.
Puttapipat’s images are literally dark, reminiscent of both 19th silhouette portraits and traditional Asian shadow puppets. The Nutcracker’s black figure is highlighted with a red coat and gold braid, while Clara’s dress and profile feature bright blue trim and hair ribbons. The family’s parlor is decorated with framed silhouette faces on the wall, a witty reference to the artist’s choice for the rest of the illustrations.
The text itself tells the story in a relatively straightforward way, but with some edgy elements that bring to mind film noir. Clara’s brother Fritz exhibits outright cruelty as he throws her new toy nutcracker on the floor: “Fritz eyed the nutcracker enviously. ‘That’s a boy’s toy,’ he said – and he snatched it and threw it to the ground. There was a sickening crack.” Later, when the Mouse King attempts to marshal his army against Clara’s Christmas, he sounds like a Raymond Chandler character: “Get the sweets!…I’ll take care of the girl…” Don’t worry; neither attempt to exert male power in a violent way will go unpunished. Clara’s Nutcracker Prince comes to life and rescues her, but their relationship is reciprocal. He expresses gratitude that she has saved him from the curse of having been an inanimate wooden toy.
Puttapipat is originally from Thailand and lives in England. On their website, they request not using binary gender pronouns in referring to them, so I am respecting that choice. They are also the illustrator of other Christmas themed picture books, The Night Before Christmas: A Magical Paper Cut Edition, and Jingle Bells: A Magical Paper Cut Edition, as well as one of the illustrators of The Guild of Specialists adventure trilogy, written by Joshua Mowl. If you feel overwhelmed by versions of The Nutcracker, Puttapipat’s will indeed prove, as the Nutcracker Prince reminds Clara, that “Every snowflake tastes unique.”