________________ CM . . . . Volume VIII Number 15 . . . . March 29, 2002

cover Of Mice and Nutcrackers: A Peeler Christmas.

Richard Scrimger. Illustrated by Linda Hendry.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2001.
223 pp., pbk., $8.99.
ISBN 0-88776-498-3.

Subject Headings:

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Luella Sumner.

*** /4


"What's for dinner?" I ask.

There is smoke coming out of the oven now. Grandma whirls around. "Son of a ditch!" she yells, throwing open the oven door. She takes a pan out of the oven. In it is a smoking mass - or should I say a smoking mess. I have no idea what she is cooking. Rounded, flattish, black things. Sandwiches? English muffins? Mini pizzas? Frisbees? Wagon wheels?

Grandma holds the pan over the sink, and starts scraping the black off the..... things.

"What are those?" I ask.

"Pork chops." she says.

I don't say anything.

"Shut up," she growls, scraping. As the top black layer flakes off I start to recognize them. It's like archaeology I suppose. The trick is to see the meat underneath the coating of ... what?

"What's the stuff on top?"

"Marshmallow," she says.

Of course.

The narrator, Jane Peeler, 13-year-old heroine of the story, has to accept her eccentric grandmother's cooking while her father is too ill and her mother is too busy to look after the family. Jane reports her grandmother's colourful language as faithfully as possible but uses rhymes for the words most likely to offend.

     Jane has written a play based on The Nutcracker for her school's holiday pageant and also has the task of directing the performance. Her classmates all have parts and react to Jane's bossy style in their own ways. Her best friend, Patti, has fallen in love with Brad, the leading man, Jiri can't learn his lines, and Brad is telling his mother lies about the play. Worst of all, the gym teacher, Coach Gebohm, hates giving up any basketball practice time to the play's rehearsals, and he vows to cause trouble on the big night. Will Jane be able to overcome all these obstacles?

     Meanwhile, the situation at home is giving Jane nightmares. Her father is ill, her mother distracted and busy with her career, Grandma is awful, and her brothers are a nuisance. To top it off, strange noises in the walls and the basement frighten her into hysteria. Grandma discovers the source of the mysterious noises -- mice -- and begins setting traps.

     Slowly the problems are ironed out, and the night of the pageant arrives. Coach Gebohm carries out his threats and sabotages the school's lighting system. Jane is able to hold things together, the play goes on, Jiri ad libs his way out of trouble, and all ends well.

     The story is highly entertaining and humorous, filled with slightly outrageous situations and diaglogue that should appeal to young readers. The author has included many characters in the book to represent different aspects of society. The father is a stay-at-home house husband, the mother a career woman who isn't capable of running a household, the grandmother is a chain-smoker who can't cook and swears all the time in front of the children, and her brother's best friend is Jewish. Jane's classmates include a bully, a boy who is a slow learner, a boy with an interfering domineering mother, and an emotionally disturbed girl; altogether an interesting collection of characters, dealt with very sympathetically by the author.

    Richard Scrimger, who lives in Cobourg, Ontario, has written several books, including the Mr. Christie's Book Award-winning The Nose from Jupiter.

    Linda Hendry is a Toronto-based artist whose illustrations have appeared in numerous magazines and children's books.


Luella Sumner is a retired librarian who lives in Red Rock, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364