puzzle

The Nutcracker (book & puzzle) – review

The NutcrackerSmiling boy holding the Nutcracker book

by E T A Hoffman, retold by Rachel Elliot
illustrated by Valeria Docampo
Paragon, Bath, 2017

Age group: around 4 or 5 and older
Format: 24 page book ad 36 piece puzzle

A classic Christmas story (one even done in the Myer windows!), this version of The Nutcracker includes a jigsaw puzzle for young children with the book.

The story

A girl, Marie Stahlbaum, is given a wooden nutcracker on Christmas Eve. The nutcracker comes to life and fights an army of mice then takes Marie to the Land of Sweets where they meet the Sugar Plum Fairy and other dolls.

Some history of the Nutcracker

Hoffman originally released The Nutcracker and the Mouse King in 1816, and the full story takes longer than one night.

The story has been retold and presented in many ways in the last 202 years. Alexandre Dumas retold it as The Nutcracker which became the basis of Tchaikovsky’s ballet by the same name in 1892. It has been made into a few movies and telemovies, including Mickey Mouse, Tom and Jerry and Care Bare versions.

Parts of the music from the ballet are also well known and used in movies such as Disney’s Fantasia, the 1950’s marionette TV film The Spirit of Christmas, and the 1954 Little Match Girl movie. There have also been recordings, video games and TV shows made with parts of the story and/or music of The Nutcracker

Some versions are only loosely connected to the original story, and there are variations in the character names – Marie Stahlbaum has had different surnames and also been called Clara (the name of Marie’s doll in the original book).

A 1996 musical, The Nutcracker Musical, goes further into why Franz became a nutcracker and how Clara could help change him back – note that Franz was her brother in the original story. A light opera, this musical includes the full 12 days of Christmas as well!

My review

So, onto this book version of The Nutcracker!

I love the illustrations – they are beautiful and a combination of real and whimsical. The colours are muted to give atmosphere rather than standing out as a child’s counting or colour book.

collection of pages from The Nutcracker book

The story is about Clara, starting when she received the nutcracker on Christmas Eve from her godfather, the best toy maker in town. Her brother fights her over the nutcracker, and the nutcracker’s leg is broken. The toy maker repairs him and she promises to always keep him safe. After the Christmas Eve ball she remembers she left him under the tree.

Clara goes downstairs to get him and when she approaches the tree the magic occurs and she shrinks. She sees the mouse king, then the nutcracker and toy soldiers come to life to battle the mouse king. When the nutcracker is surrounded she throws her shoe at the mouse king to save the nutcracker. The nutcracker wins and then takes Clara to his kingdom which is the land of sweets. As she watches the sugar plum fairy dance, she gets sleepy and wakes up back home under the tree on Christmas morning.

While it is a long story and a reasonable bit of text, our three year old friend was enchanted by it – and now is desperate to see the ballet!

The puzzle was challenging for a three year old, but he achieved it… The pieces were a good size for his little hands and easily fit together. Overall it was a good activity for a pre-schooler, especially as the book gave context to the image on the jigsaw.

Young boy putting together the Nutcracker puzzle

Would we recommend it? I would recommend it – the illustrations were beautiful and captivating just as The Nutcracker should be, blending dreams into reality.

And our three year old friend still wants to dance with a Nutcracker so it obviously impressed him!

 

Santa is Coming to Victoria puzzle

Puzzle box of Santa comes to Victoria
It is very exciting to find personalised things, so books about Australia (and more specific areas I know) always catch my eye and make me smile. And I know my kids love seeing Aussie Christmas stories and images.

I have previously reviewed the books Santa is coming to Australia and Santa is coming to Melbourne, but now here is a jigsaw puzzle based on the Santa is Coming to Victoria book of the same series.

 

 

 

 

Santa is Coming to Victoria puzzle

The puzzle comes in a sturdy box with a handle so you can store it fairly easily, which is always handy.

It has big pieces which are also sturdy and made of thick card, so it will survive many uses and the curiosity of little hands.

I had a lovely surprise upon opening the box and finding a miniature version of the book in the box as well (ok, it is written on the box but I hadn’t remembered that!). So we read the story before attempting the puzzle which helped bring the picture alive even more.

Puzzle pieces and the mini book

Putting the puzzle together

Although I expected it was too young for him, I did with the puzzle with my nine year old to see how it went, and whether it was suitable to give to a two year old. We did it fairly quickly but he made some mistakes in the side pieces so it’s not overly simple.

Edges of puzzle all in place

I’ve taught my children to do the edges first in big puzzles

It is harder because the image is a collage of Victorian landmarks so the top of a building, for example, may not be at the top of the completed puzzle.

My son absolutely loved spotting places he knows. And I enjoyed being able to name the places as we put the puzzle together, too.

completed Santa is coming to Victoria puzzle

Overall, this puzzle is probably best for 3.5 and up, but still fun for 8-9 year olds. It will excite Victorian children, and I daresay the equivalent puzzles for the other states and cities are similar in style so they can have their local excitement, too! It is also a nice gift for someone travelling to Victoria now or next year (a good preparation to do the puzzle ahead of arriving!)

Where’s Santa? – Christmas puzzle & book review

Where’s Santa? puzzle & book set
Picture of "Where's Santa? box set

by Louis Shea
Scholastic Australia, Lindfield, 2014

Age group: primary school

A book to be searched for Santa, Elvy and more, plus a 150 piece puzzle of the find Santa at the beach page.

The story

Elvy the mischievous elf took Santa’s sleigh in a misguided plan to star Christmas early. Detective Inspector Scrooge, Santa, Mrs Claus and their pet Fluffy search for Elvy on a beach, at a carnival, in space and in a shopping centre – and readers get to find them all on each page.

Sample page from "Where's Santa?" box setMy review

This was a fun book and I spent quite a while with my son looking for the specified pictures on each page.

As well as the images you need to find, there are numerous funny pictures to enjoy such as a sheep streaking across a game, an ice cream dropped on a sun baking woman, escaped turkeys and people riding jet propelled candy canes.
back cover of Where's Santa book

The puzzle is the biggest (in terms of number of pieces) my kids have tackled so it took us about 40 minutes to complete it. I’ts not an easy puzzle in that there is so much colour and action across the picture that it takes some effort to piece it together – but I love the challenge of finding bits so that is not a negative for me! Alone, I think my seven year old could have done the puzzle, it just would have taken him a lot longer!

Note this set is related to the Where’s Santa in Australia? book.

 

 

 

 

The completed Where's Santa puzzle

The completed puzzle, showing Santa and friends at the beach

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