Noelle of the Nutcracker by Pamela Jane (with illustrations by the inimitable Jan Brett) is one of those books that I seem to have had forever. Find it on Bookshop. Copyrighted in 1986, my hardcover copy has been on my bedroom bookshelf since before I can remember. Needless to say that I did not remember much of the story. Happily, though, it is a fast read and I was able to finish it in a day. I dare say there are families somewhere who read this book every Christmas season the way others read Twas the Night Before Christmas and A Christmas Carol (if not, there should be).
There are two main characters in this book. One is a doll named Noelle and the other is a little girl, Ilyana. At the beginning of the story, the characters have one thing in common: they both think Noelle is wonderful.
When Ilyana and her second grade class go to visit Bugle’s toy store, Ilyana is captivated by Noelle the beautiful ballerina doll that can stand in all five ballet positions and even has jointed knees and ankles. Ilyana knows her family could never afford such an expensive doll, which is fine. At least until spoiled Mary Jane decides vows that she’ll get Noelle for Christmas from her rich father.
Unbeknownst to either little girl, Noelle doesn’t want to be owned by anyone. While the other toys dream of being loved and held by real children, Noelle yearns to be discovered and become a dancer on stage. Noelle knows she is destined for fame when a man comes into Bugle’s and buys Noelle to be a part of a production of the Nutcracker ballet. But, as Noelle painfully learns, being discovered doesn’t always mean fame. And it almost never takes the place of being loved.
Noelle’s story is intertwined seamlessly with Ilyana’s and, to a lesser extent, Mary Jane’s. As the girls get ready for their school pageant, it becomes clear that sometimes it takes more than money to make a wish come true. Sometimes, especially at Christmas, it also takes a little magic (and in this case maybe a few coincidences).
Sometimes when I read books with a child character they feel too young–I’m sure a child would enjoy them but sometimes I have a hard time relating to them on the same level of enjoyment. This book is not like that. The story is short and easy to follow, but it remained enjoyable for me reading it at the age of twenty-two. Jan Brett’s illustrations also, of course, add a lot of dimension to the story (although being familiar with Brett’s color-illustrated picture books I was a little sad to see the drawings were not in color). After reading the story and once again turning to the cover it’s amazing to see how perfectly Brett captured Pamela Jane’s vision of Noelle.
This is one of those classic Christmas stories (like the one that I mentioned earlier) that offers a nice shot of holiday spirit along with a message that’s worth remembering all year.