The Toymaker’s Apprentice by Sherri L. Smith
Smith has done a brilliant job of breathing delightfully detailed life into the beloved story of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, opening it to a new generation and wider audience. Stefan Drosselmeyer (the toymaker’s apprentice of the title) has lost his mother to illness and is preparing to leave his father and seek his own way in the world of toymakers, having finished his 3 year apprenticeship. He loves his father dearly, but does not feel equal to dealing with both his father’s grief and his expectations that Stefan will join him in his toy making business. You see, Stefan is enthralled with clockwork toys, something his more traditional father sees as unnecessary to the simple joy of the carved wooden toy. His departure is interrupted, however, by the arrival of his cousin, Christian Drosselmeyer (royal clockmaker and royal prisoner of Boldavia) and his jailer Samir.
At the same time, in a different location, educated and diplomatic rat Ernst Listz finds himself engaged as royal tutor to the forthcoming mouse princes of the mousedom of Boldavia. The mouse kingdom of Boldavia and the human kingdom there are at war, or they are in the standoff that comes before a war, all brought about by the prideful actions of Christian Drosselmeyer (hence the presence of his jailer.) In his attempts to build the grandest Advent calendar ever known as a delight for the human princess of Boldavia, Christian disrupted the balance of the mouse and human kingdoms, bringing the wrath of the mouse queen down on the royal family of Boldavia. The curse of the mouse queen fell on the princess Pirlipat, turning her into a living wooden doll, who could only be cured by ingesting the mythical nut known as the krakatook. Christian and Samir have been scouring the world for 7 years in search of this nut, and their journey has finally brought them back to Christian’s home of Nuremburg, where Stefan and his father still live.
In the matter of a few hours, Stefan is apprenticed to his cousin Christian, finds a krakatook, has his father kidnapped by mice, and sets off on the journey to Boldavia. Along the way, Stefan is introduced to many sentient creatures, each with their own language, including a community of scholarly squirrels. Meanwhile, Ernst arrives at the court of the mouse queen in time to see the mouse princes born and realize that he has gotten himself into an untenable position, as the mouse queen works dark magic to keep her seven sons (or seven heads on one body) alive through their childhood. Ernst must work with this monstrous seven headed prince to teach them all they will need to know to lead their army and kingdom to victory over the human kingdom. All of this action leads to a rousing conclusion back in Nuremburg as Stefan, his cousin, father, and Samir work together to defeat the army of the mouse king.
I was immediately drawn in by the fantastic storytelling style Smith employs, switching rapidly between human and mouse worlds. I was enthralled by her explanation of the great underground clock that runs Nuremburg, as well as the many secrets of the clockmaker’s guild. All of the characters (both human and animal) are well drawn and sympathetic, and the descriptions of both setting and action are breathtaking and marvelous in their ability to convey so much meaning in a deceptively simple style. I can foresee many young people being drawn in to this beautiful retelling of the traditional tale. I would highly recommend this title for collections serving young people aged 9 through 12, especially where stories such as The Tale of Despereaux are popular.
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About Robin Willis
After working in middle school libraries for over 20 years, Robin Willis now works in a public library system in Maryland.
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