The Toymaker's Apprentice

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The Toymaker's Apprentice
Genre(s)
Age Range
8+
Release Date
October 13, 2015
ISBN
9780399252952

A gorgeously imagined Nutcracker retelling from award-winning author making her middle-grade debut Stefan Drosselmeyer is a reluctant apprentice to his toymaker father until the day his world is turned upside down. His father is kidnapped and Stefan is enlisted by his mysterious cousin, Christian Drosselmeyer, to find a mythical nut to save a princess who has been turned into a wooden doll. Embarking on a wild adventure through Germany, Stefan must save Boldavia’s princess and his own father from the fanatical Mouse Queen and her seven-headed Mouse Prince, both of whom have sworn to destroy the Drosselmeyer family. Based on the original inspiration for the Nutcracker ballet, Sherri L. Smith brings the Nutcracker Prince to life in this fascinating journey into a world of toymaking, magical curses, clockmaking guilds, talking mice and erudite squirrels

Editor reviews

2 reviews
Reexamining a classic Christmas tale
Overall rating
 
4.0
Plot/Characters/Writing Style
 
4.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
 
N/A
Stefan Drosselmeyer has decided to run away after the death of his mother. He has been an apprentice to his toy maker father, but wants to be a journeyman to a different craftsman so that he can work some of the new clockworks into his toys. When a long lost cousin, Christian, shows up and Stefan's father is kidnapped by mice, Stefan decides to help Christian with his mission. In Boldavia, Christian created a huge advent calendar with clockwork figures set in the side of a mountain, but his digging disturbed the kingdom of the mice. The queen of the mice has bitten Princess Pirlipat, who has turned to wood. Christian was sent with the court astrologer, Samir, to find the krakatook nut, which will cure Pirlipat. Stefan manages to find one in an unlikely place, and the group sets off back to Boldavia, but Christian is killed. In the meantime, a seven headed son was born to the queen of the mice, and Ernst, an accomplished, multilingual rat, is engaged as their tutor. Stefan's father is being held in captivity by the mouse queen. Stefan manages to cure Pirlipat but manages to anger the queen, get bitten, and kill the queen in his fall. Can a trip back to Nuremburg find a cure for Stefan, and can the war between the Boldavian mice and humans be won by either side?
Good Points
While there are lots of picture books that cover the story of The Nutcracker, I can't think of any books for middle grade readers that do. The Toymaker's Apprentice expands on the tale and adds lots of interesting back story details in this engaging holiday fantasy.

Stefan's initial unwillingness to continue working with his father is an interesting start to the story, since he proceeds to try very hard to find his father. The descriptions of automata will be interesting to readers of Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret or Pullman's Clockwork, and the machinations of the mice will keep readers turning the pages to see if Stefan will be able to save not only his father but himself.

This is an adventure set in the Napoleonic Era, which is slightly before the Regency era. Lots of interesting period details about Nuremberg, apprentices, and clockworks. Steampunk aficionados might find enough inventions in this one to keep them happy. Also, even though the talking mice are sort of on the side of evil, Redwall fans might like this as well.
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Perfect addition to the reimagined Nutcracker line
Overall rating
 
4.0
Plot/Characters/Writing Style
 
4.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
 
N/A
After the death of his mother, Stefan Drosselmeyer realizes he needs to make a change, starting with taking the next step after apprenticing with her father. When his mysterious cousin, Christian, shows up just in time, they set off in search of a mysterious nut to cure a princess who was turned into a living doll by a mouse bite. With a seven-headed mouse prince, a gentlerat, and a kidnapping, Sherri L. Smith spins a fascinating reimagining of the Nutcracker.

The world of The Toymaker’s Apprentice is one of the most unique I’ve read. Readers will move from a small house of a toymaker to castle walls to homes of squirrels and be mesmerized again and again. The chapters following Ernst Listz are particularly description, and I love how he knows so much rat history. The environment of the Mouse Queen and her sons presents an interesting area of madness, war, and surprising friendship.

With short chapters and frequent dialogue, this story reads quickly, and Smith expertly keeps the reader aware of what is going on with each character, even as their stories switch back and forth throughout. The character relationships progress wonderfully, especially between Stefan, Christian, and Samir. Christian and Stefan start the story as complete strangers, but they truly become family by the end.

Middle grade readers who want their stories filled with magic, adventure, and the importance of family will not be disappointed with The Toymaker’s Apprentice. Sherri L. Smith writes a beautiful story that makes the perfect addition to the reimagined Nutcracker line.
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