Random House: Bringing You the Best in Fiction, Nonfiction, and Children's Books
Authors
Books
Features
Newletters and Alerts

Buy now from Random House

  • Lord of the Nutcracker Men
  • Written by Iain Lawrence
  • Format: Paperback | ISBN: 9780440418122
  • Our Price: $5.99
  • Quantity:
See more online stores - Lord of the Nutcracker Men

Buy now from Random House

  • Lord of the Nutcracker Men
  • Written by Iain Lawrence
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780307537898
  • Our Price: $5.99
  • Quantity:
See more online stores - Lord of the Nutcracker Men

Lord of the Nutcracker Men

    Select a Format:
  • Book
  • eBook

Written by Iain LawrenceAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Iain Lawrence

eBook

List Price: $5.99

eBook

On Sale: January 16, 2009
Pages: 240 | ISBN: 978-0-307-53789-8
Published by : Laurel Leaf RH Childrens Books
Lord of the Nutcracker Men Cover

Bookmark,
Share & Shelve:

  • Add This - Lord of the Nutcracker Men
  • Email this page - Lord of the Nutcracker Men
  • Print this page - Lord of the Nutcracker Men
ABOUT THE BOOK ABOUT THE BOOK
ABOUT THE AUTHOR ABOUT THE AUTHOR
PRAISE & AWARDS PRAISE & AWARDS
READER'S GUIDE READER'S GUIDE
Tags for this book (powered by Library Thing)
historical fiction (17) wwi (10) war (10) fiction (8)
» see more tags
» hide
Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Ten-year-old Johnny eagerly plays at war with the army of nutcracker soldiers his toymaker father whittles for him. He demolishes imaginary foes. But in 1914 Germany looms as the real enemy of Europe, and all too soon Johnny’s father is swept up in the war to end all wars. He proudly enlists with his British countrymen to fight at the front in France. The war, though, is nothing like what any soldier or person at home expected.

The letters that arrive from Johnny’s dad reveal the ugly realities of combat — and the soldiers he carves and encloses begin to bear its scars. Still, Johnny adds these soldiers to his armies of Huns, Tommies, and Frenchmen, engaging them in furious fights. But when these games seem to foretell his dad’s real battles, Johnny thinks he possesses godlike powers over his wooden men. He fears he controls his father’s fate, the lives of all the soldiers in no-man’s land, and the outcome of the war itself.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

Chapter 1

My dad was a toy maker, the finest in London. He made miniature castles and marionettes, trams and trains and carriages. He carved a hobbyhorse that Princess Mary rode through the ballroom at Buckingham Palace. But the most wonderful thing that Dad ever made was an army of nutcracker men.

He gave them to me on my ninth birthday, thirty soldiers carved from wood, dressed in helmets and tall black boots. They carried rifles tipped with silver bayonets. They had enormous mouths full of grinning teeth that sparkled in the sun.

They were so beautiful that every boy who saw them asked for a set for himself. But Dad never made others. "They're one of a kind," he said. "Those are very special soldiers, those."

I had no other army to fight them against, so I marched my nutcracker men across the kitchen floor, flattening buildings that I made out of cards. I pretended that no other army even dared to fight against those fierce-looking soldiers.

When I was ten, the war started in Europe, the war they said would end all wars. The Kaiser's army stormed into Luxembourg, and all of Europe fled before it.

But for me, the war really began on the day the butcher vanished, when I found his door mysteriously locked. Inside, the huge carcasses hung on their hooks, and the rows of pink meat lay on the counters. Yet there was no sign of Fatty Dienst, who had greeted me there just the day before--as he always had--with a great smile and a laugh, with a nub of spicy sausage hidden in his apron pocket. He'd pulled it out in his hand that had no thumb, and said--as always--"Ach, look what I've found, Johnny." His accent turned my name into Chonny. "That's goot Cherman sausage there, Chonny," he'd told me.

That night I asked my dad, "What happened to Fatty Dienst?"

"That butcher?" said Dad. "I suppose he's gone home to be with all the other butchers. To join that army of butchers."

I didn't understand; they had always been friends. Many times I had seen Dad laughing at Fatty's jokes, or the German winking as he slipped an extra slice of ham in with the rest.

"I never trusted that man," said Dad.

Then the others vanished: Mr. Hoffman the barber, Henrik the shoemaker, Willy Kempf the doorman. They slipped away one by one, and soon only Siegfried was left from all the Germans I'd ever known, poor little Siegfried who worked as a waiter. I went to school with one of his sons.

But it wasn't much longer until I saw him leaving too, with his wife and their children, each with a suitcase made out of cardboard. A crowd of boys and barking men drove them along like so many sheep. Some of my pals ran in circles around the poor man, who walked so slowly and sadly that I felt like crying.

Dad was watching beside me, in the window of our flat. He looked furious. "Do you know what that fellow was doing?"

"Serving people?" I asked.

"Telling them he was Swiss," said Dad, his hands clenched. "But I demanded to see his passport, and showed up the rotter for what he was."

Off they went, with their little cardboard suitcases, down toward the railway station on Victoria Street. Dad flung open the window and shouted after them, "Go along home!" It made no sense; their home was in London, just around the corner. Only the week before, I had seen Dad get up from our supper at Paddington Station and press a tanner into little Siegfried's hand. But now he seemed full of hate, and I thought I would never understand how a man could be his friend one day, and his enemy the next.

Then the Kaiser's army stormed into Belgium. I saw them at the picture show, hundreds of soldiers looking just like my nutcracker men, all in black boots and silver-tipped helmets. They flickered across the screen, their arms held stiff at their sides but their legs swinging high. They marched on and on as though nothing would stop them. And I started asking my dad, "Can you make me some Frenchmen? Can you make me some Tommies?"

There was nothing Dad wouldn't do for me. He whittled away in his shop, and came home with a tiny Frenchman, his blue coat buttoned back into flaps, his legs marching. I named him Pierre. The next day it was a Tommy that Dad brought home, with the tiniest Union Jack I'd ever seen painted on his sleeve. I put him into the battle on the fifth day of August, 1914, the night that Britain went to war.

All of London seemed to celebrate. Men joined up by the hundreds, by the thousands, marching away in tremendous, cheering parades. They passed my father's toy shop, stepping along, singing along, as the women shouted and the children dashed in amongst them. Through a blizzard of rose petals, they passed in such numbers, with such a stamping of feet, that the smaller toys shook on my father's shelves. But Dad didn't go with them.

"Aren't you signing up?" I asked him. "Aren't you going to the war?"

"Johnny," he said, "I'm afraid the King doesn't need me just now."

We were watching them pass, the new soldiers. They were clean and smart, like freshly made toys.

"Don't you want to go?" I asked.

"But what about you? What about your mother?" He shook his head. "No, Johnny, I think I'm better off here. Some of us have duties at home."

"Like what?" I asked. The soldiers were still passing by.

"Well," he said, "I have to build up your little army, don't I? Someone has to stop your nutcracker men."

Already, they had captured nearly all of the kitchen. They were spilling through the parlor door, where my lone Pierre was putting up a brave fight. Then my mum stood by mistake on my army, and one of the nutcracker men got his hand broken off.

"Look what you did!" I cried.

"Oh, Johnny, I'm sorry," she said. "But do they have to be underfoot like this? Can't you play somewhere else?"

So I rushed them forward, into the parlor. And leading the charge was the man with no hand. I pretended it was Fatty Dienst. "Go forward!" he shouted as the Frenchman retreated again. "Go forward for Chermany!"

Down the street, in the little butcher shop, the meat turned gray and then brown. A horrid smell came out through the door. Someone smashed the windows; then a bobby came round and boarded them up. And the Germans kept marching, west across Flanders, rolling armies ahead of them with no more bother than my nutcracker men.

Ambulances carrying soldiers from the front went rattling past my dad's shop. People turned out to cheer them as loudly as they'd cheered the soldiers going the other way. Big advertisements appeared everywhere, enormous posters that said, "Your Country Needs You." And more parades of new soldiers marched down the streets, though Dad stayed home. He built up my little French army one man at a time.

"Is Dad a coward?" I asked my mum.

"Of course he's not," she said.

"Then why doesn't he go to the war?"

"Well, he doesn't like to say this, but he's just not tall enough, Johnny."

"Not tall enough?" He seemed like a giant to me.

"He's five foot seven," she said. "An inch too short for the King."

It made me sad that he was too short, and sad that the King didn't want him. But Dad was even sadder; he never laughed, or even smiled, as summer turned into autumn, as the war went on in France. He started flying into rages at the least little thing, and he scattered my army of nutcracker men when they came too close to his favorite chair. In Europe, the French and the British turned the Germans back at the Marne, but even that didn't cheer up Dad.

In late September he brought home a cuckoo clock that was all in pieces. "Someone smashed it," he said. "I had it in my window, and a fellow got into a fit because he thought it was German!" The little cuckoo bird dangled from a broken spring, and it chirped as Dad shook the clock. "Anyone can see that it's Swiss."

On the first of October he brought home a box of toy soldiers. They were British Tommies, little soldiers and machine gunners, cast from lead by a German toy maker.

Dad dropped the box on the floor. "You might as well have these, Johnny," he said. "No one's going to buy them now, and that's damned certain."

He never swore. So my mother gave him a dark look, and he turned very red.

"Well, they're not," he said. "If it comes from Germany, nobody wants it. No one will touch it, except to smash it. I saw a man go out of his way--clear across Baker Street--to kick at a dachshund a lady was walking."

"But we are at war," said Mum, trying to console him. "Those little lead soldiers might only be toys to you, but to other men they're something worth fighting about."

Dad scowled but didn't argue back. He sat in his chair, staring through the window at the buildings and the sky. It was just a few days later when he went off to his shop in the morning, and came home in a uniform. He had joined the British Army.

"They lowered the height!" he cried. "It's five foot five. I'll be a giant among the next batch of men."

His uniform didn't fit him very well. It drooped around him like a lot of greenish brown sacks, and the funny puttees--wound too many times round his legs--were held in place with his bicycle clips.

I laughed when I saw him like that. But Mum cried. She went at him with a mouthful of pins, tucking him all into shape like one of his little felt dolls. And all the time, as she nipped and tucked, she cried great tears that poured from her without any sound.

Dad softened his voice. "I have to do my bit. We have to lick the Germans."

He packed his things in a little bag. He sat on the floor and packed a book to read, and his carving set, his paints and inks. Mum smiled when she saw him doing that. She looked terribly sad, but she smiled. Then she bent down and kissed the top of his head.

Dad looked surprised. He gathered the rest of his things in a hurry, then stood up with his little bag. "I won't be gone for long," he said. "I'll be home in time for Christmas."

That was ten weeks away; it seemed forever.

"No tears, now," said Dad. "The time will pass before you know it." He hugged me. "I'll see you at Christmas."

He said the same thing at the railway station, and he shouted it from a window as the train started down the track. "Bye-bye, Johnny," he said. "See you at Christmas." A thousand men leaned from the windows, every one dressed in khaki, all waving their arms. They looked like a forest sliding down the platform, drawing away in blasts of steam. They left us all behind, a crowd of children and women and old, gray men. The platform was littered with rose petals.

We waved; we cheered and shouted until the train clattered across a point and the last carriage slipped around the bend. Then there was a silence that made the air seem thick and heavy. Nobody wanted to leave, but no one would look at anybody else. My mother covered her mouth with her handkerchief, took my hand, and pulled me away.


From the Hardcover edition.
Iain Lawrence|Author Q&A

About Iain Lawrence

Iain Lawrence - Lord of the Nutcracker Men

Photo © Donald Lawrence

“Writing for young readers is almost like dipping into a fountain of youth; for hours a day, I am a child again.”—Iain Lawrence

Iain Lawrence is a journalist, travel writer, and avid sailor, and the author of many acclaimed novels, including Ghost Boy, Lord of the Nutcracker Men, and the High Seas Trilogy: The Wreckers, The Smugglers, and
The Buccaneers.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

When I was 12 or 13, I wrote picture books for my younger brother . . .

I started writing short stories after I graduated from high school and kept it up—though sporadically—during my ten-year career as a newspaper reporter. But journalism has a way of sponging creativity, so I went to work at a fish farm instead, in the hope that I would have more time to do my own writing. Two years later, when the farm went bankrupt and I found myself on employment insurance, I started writing seriously. I thought I could produce a publishable book during my one year of E.I. It was a naive idea; five years passed before I sold my first book.

My favorite stories from my childhood are the ones that were read to me . . .

The first story that I remember reading for myself is Robinson Crusoe. I would take it down to the river that flowed behind our house and lie in a little grassy nest. But I never finished it; I didn’t have the patience to read books as thick as that. I remember reading Owls in the Family and Born Free, skipping every second page and then every third in my hurry to reach the end.

My favorite stories from my childhood are the ones that were read to me, a chapter or two at bedtime. Strongest in my memory are beautiful stories like Stuart Little and The Wind in the Willows, and others that gave me nightmares like Treasure Island and Moonfleet.

Stories for young people are tremendously fun to write . . .

I love the shorter length, the quicker pacing, and the necessity of trying to see everything through the eyes of a child. Writing for young readers is almost like dipping into a fountain of youth; for hours a day, I am a child again.

I don’t think any story begins with just one idea . . .

. . . but from a connection of unrelated thoughts. I think all my stories begin with this idea of reliving old favorites, and of trying to capture the emotions that went along with them—fear or wonder or magic. When I look for new ideas, or decide what to tackle next, I think of what sort of story I would like to hear.

I write every day, starting in the morning and going on until mid-afternoon . . .

In winter and in rain, I go back to it in the evenings. But I find summer days too tempting to keep me inside. I always write on a computer and always play classical music, often the same CD over and over and over. In an annoying ritual, I have to win a game of computer solitaire before I can actually begin writing.

I begin every story with an outline, working forward and backward to fill in the plot. The outlines include notes on characters and settings, and they tend to be very chaotic, written almost as a dialogue with myself. They are full of questions and answers, of diverging alternative plots. I revise as I go along, replacing sentences and paragraphs with better ones, but keeping all the words on the computer screen. The passages that I’ve changed—and little notes that I’ve made to myself—keep piling up below the point that I’m working on. When I reach the end, I’ve got many, many pages of disjointed phrases, sentences, and paragraphs. It’s like a junk pile that I like to pick through now and then, just to see if there’s anything useful among the things I’ve thrown away.

I hope most of all to create characters that readers will remember . . .

I think it’s an amazing process that allows a reader to actually see what a writer imagines, to actually feel what a writer feels. I love getting letters from readers who say they felt as though they were inside the story. When I was the same age as them, I read about Captain Bligh’s amazing voyage in an open boat. I remember being so enthralled by one scene, where the sailors were trying to capture a seabird that had landed on the gunwale, that I almost shouted at my sister, who came into the room just then, “Shut up! You’ll scare the bird away.” That’s the feeling I’d like to create for my readers: that the story is utterly true at the time of its reading—that if you so much as move, you’ll scare the bird away.

Iain Lawrence lives on one of the Gulf Islands off the coast of British Columbia, and is an avid sailor. He lives with his longtime companion Kristin, as well as their dog Misty, and cat Sam.

A CONVERSATION WITH IAIN LAWRENCE ON THE LIGHTKEEPER'S DAUGHTER
Q: When did you develop an interest in writing? Did your teachers recognize your talent and encourage you?
A:
My grade three teacher told my parents that I would grow up to be a writer. In later years, in junior high school and high school, creative writing class was my favorite part of school. I remember being praised but not encouraged. I was a very shy child, so it was intensely embarrasing if my stories were chosen to be read aloud, and excruciating if I had to read them myself.

In grade eleven or twelve, I volunteered to be a school correspondent for the neighborhood newspaper. But my first published story was so changed from the version I submitted that I never wrote another one. When I graduated from high school, though, I hoped to be a writer.

Q: In the Acknowledgments you talk about Lucy Island as the inspiration for the setting of The Lightkeeper's Daughter. What was your inspiration for the characters and story?
A:
The first time I sailed to Lucy Island, there was a lightkeeper and his family living there. The last time, their house was just a stub of foundations poking up from burned and bulldozed ruins. It was like a different island, sad and somber, and it's this one that the McCraes inhabit–with a different name so that the real and very happy lightkeepers won't be mistaken for my fictional ones. The McCraes were inspired in part by the sense of loneliness and loss that lay thickly over Lucy then, and in part by the needs of the story. I gave each of them one strong desire, and their relationships arose naturally from the clashing of their different wants.

Q: You write "Alastair was good at everything because he only did the things that he was good at" (p. 101). How should we decide what to do, if it's not simply the things we're good at? Is there something you're not good at that you enjoy?
A:
It's a bit of a Catch-22, isn't it? You can never enjoy doing something you don't do well, but if you do it badly long enough, you get good enough to enjoy it. There are many things I like to do now that were only painful at first. By never trying twice, Alastair limited himself to a very narrow range of interests.

Q: Tell us about your process. Some writers say that their best writing comes out of revising and editing, while others prefer the spontaneity of their first version. How do you work?
A:
I love writing but don’t care much for rewriting. Once I’ve told a story, I tend to lose interest in it and want only to go on to the next one.

I used to start a novel knowing nothing of what would happen. I just began at the first page, wrote through to the last, and called the whole thing finished as soon as I reached the end. After many rejections, I realized I was doing something wrong. It’s my theory now (and I wonder sometimes if I didn’t just pick it up from someone else) that you can outline and write, or write and rewrite. But, really, it amounts to the same thing. A story that is started without an outline will become the outline, going through changes and revisions until it seems right.

Now I like to plan the story carefully and fully, going through it chapter by chapter until I know, for each of them, the beginning and the end, and most of what will happen in between. I like to know the characters, what they are like, and how they talk. The writing always strays from the outline in places. But, like a new highway built beside an old one, they eventually rejoin.


Q: Do you have any personal experiences with whales? What is your connection to them, and why was it important to you include the whale in the book?
A:
This story really began with the whales. The very first thought that inspired it was to tell the songs that whales might sing to each other. Its title then, and nearly till the end, was The Singing of Whales. Several years passed from the day I started the first version to the day I finished the last, all during a time when I spent entire summers wandering the coast in a little sailboat. I often saw whales, and sometimes sought them out. I bought a hydrophone to listen to their voices in the water, and it was always incredibly moving to be near them. One time, we were overtaken by a pod of killer whales. We were going so slowly that they could have shot by, but instead they slowed as they passed. They surfaced right beside the boat, and all around it, a big group of adults and children, and it seemed for a while that we were traveling with them. It was magical, really. The killer whales of the coast represent the ultimate in freedom to me, and it breaks my heart that they're dying.

Q: Usually we think about parents sacrificing for their children. Yet, in a way, Alastair sacrifices his future for Murray's when he agrees to stay on the island. Do you think that happens often in families? How do you decide what to sacrifice for someone or something you love?
A:
I think children seldom make even small sacrifices for their parents. But when they're older, and adults themselves, they often make huge ones, I think. It's ironic that Alastair, by giving his father what he wants, almost guarantees that Murray can't hang onto it. I can imagine that Alastair might have gone to school, studied whales, and returned to Lucy Island one day. I can imagine, too, that Squid would have stayed, and that Murray would have died a happy man on his own little island. But Alastair found that he had given up too much, and by doing it had doomed them all. If sacrifice has a limit, I have no idea what it is. But I can't imagine giving up life for a country, or even for a tiny little island.

Q: In many ways, this story is a tragedy. The characters learn and change, but only through great pain and the death of Alistair. Did you consider other fates for Alastair?
A:
For a time, Alastair did have a different fate - or at least the possibility of one. An earlier version of the story made it clear, at the end, that Alastair paddled away from the island in hope of reaching Vancouver. Whether he arrived or not wasn't said. But it was unthinkable that Alastair would go on with his life without letting Squid, at least, know that he was still alive. So the ending was changed to be less ambiguous, and I think this one is better. But, yes, these character became very real for me, and I thought about them for a long time afterward, often wondering if Alastair might have survived.

Q: At one point Hannah reminds Murray that "No man is an island" (p. 112). Do you agree? Do you identify with Murray's desire?
A:
Hannah, of course, is quoting the poet John Donne: "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main..." I agree very much with that. The more firmly a person is connected to the mass of humanity, the better that person seems. At the same time, I understand Murray's wish for a simple life in an idyllic place, free from the worries of the world. That he can't have it, no matter how he tries, is a sad reality. Like most people, I think, I'm often less of an island than I'd wish, and sometimes more than I'd like.

Q: Why did you want to tell this story (particularly for a young adult audience)?
A:
For a long time, I considered telling this story in a more straightforward way, beginning with Alastair's birth and ending with his death. It would have been the same story, but very different. Trying to tell it as a series of memories was a puzzle that interested me through the planning and the writing. I wanted a sad story about people struggling for something they couldn't quite reach, and settling for something close. That, to me, pretty well sums up what life is about.


PRAISE

THE WRECKERS
“A fast-paced, atmospheric yarn that will have adventure buffs glued to their seats. . . . First-rate!”—Starred, Publishers Weekly


GHOST BOY
“This poignant adventure invites readers to look beyond others’ outer appearances and into their souls.”—Starred, Publishers Weekly

“This touching novel, [set a few years after World War II], will speak especially to readers who consider themselves different, flawed, or misunderstood.”—Starred, School Library Journal


LORD OF THE NUTCRACKER MEN
“Big themes are hauntingly conveyed through gripping personal story and eerie symbolism.”—Starred, Kirkus Reviews

Author Q&A

Q: When did you develop an interest in writing? Did your teachers recognize your talent and encourage you?

A: My grade three teacher told my parents that I would grow up to be a writer. In later years, in junior high and high school, creative writing class was my favorite part of school. I remember being praised but not encouraged. I was a very shy child, so it was intensely embarrassing if my stories were chosen to be read aloud, and excruciating if I had to read them myself.

In grade eleven or twelve, I volunteered to be a school correspondent for the neighborhood newspaper. But my first published story was so changed from the version I submitted that I never wrote another one. When I graduated from high school, though, I hoped to be a writer.

Q: Tell us about your process. Some writers say that their best writing comes out of revising and editing, while others prefer the spontaneity of their first version. How do you work?

A: I love writing but don’t care much for rewriting. Once I’ve told a story I tend to lose interest in it and want only to go on to the next one.

I used to start a novel knowing nothing of what would happen. I just began at the first page, wrote through to the last, and called the whole thing finished as soon as I reached the end. After many rejections, I realized I was doing something wrong. It’s my theory now (and I wonder sometimes if I didn’t just pick it up from someone else) that you can outline and write, or write and rewrite. But, really, it amounts to the same thing. A story that is started without an outline will become the outline, going through changes and revisions until it seems right.

Now I like to plan the story carefully and fully, going through it chapter by chapter until I know, for each of them, the beginning and the end, and most of what will happen in between. I like to know the characters, what they are like, and how they talk. The writing always strays from the outline in places. But, like a new highway built beside an old one, they eventually rejoin.

I find that some stories, though, are very hard to plot. Lord of the Nutcracker Men was impossible. For some reason, I couldn’t figure out the connections between Johnny’s games and his father’s battles. Instead, I had to let them develop and play out on the pages. I made some corrections and was happy with the story. But my agent asked for changes, and the editor asked for more, and with each revision the story got better and stronger.

Q: Talk about other works of literature that influenced the writing of Lord of the Nutcracker Men. Certainly All Quiet on the Western Front must have had a profound effect on you.

A: It was the movie version of All Quiet on the Western Front, and its German point of view, that introduced me to World War I and formed my earliest ideas of the conflict. Its closing scene of ghostly soldiers marching off to oblivion made a huge impression on me. I read the book and watched the movie again when I started thinking about Lord of the Nutcracker Men.

From the British side, it was the poets that influenced me. John Masefield wrote a fabulous book about his experiences in the Great War, and his descriptions of the battlefield inspired some of the passages in the letters of Johnny’s dad. I was very moved, not only by the poetry, but by the lives of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. Both were treated for shell shock, and both went back to the war, creating powerful images of its drama and its horror. Sassoon went on to become a devout pacifist, but Owen was killed in the war’s last days. As his parents received the telegram announcing his death, the armistice bells were ringing in their village. That Murdoch Sims wrote poetry is a small reflection of Owen and Sassoon.

Johnny’s intensity and seriousness with his war games was inspired by D. H. Lawrence’s short story “The Rocking Horse Winner,” where a boy believes that riding a toy horse can open doors to the future. I read the story when I was very young and never forgot the boy’s obsession, or the story’s closing line. I may not have remembered it word for word, but Lord of the Nutcracker Men was shaped by that sentence: “He’s better off gone from a world where he has to ride a rocking horse to find a winner.” The boy and his horse were so much in my mind, and so real to me, that I worried that I was plagiarizing the story for Lord of the Nutcracker Men. I had to read it again to see that Lawrence’s story was nothing like mine.

Q: Did you base any of the characters on real people, or are they all imagined?

A: None of the characters are based on real people. Johnny’s parents are much like mine, but the characters are probably reflections of myself more than of people that I know. Every one of them includes some little bit of me.

Q: Letter writing is an important part of the book. The letters not only bring information, but they keep the emotional ties between Johnny, his father, and his mother. Are you a big letter writer?

A: I am a terrible letter writer. There’s a pile of letters on my desk waiting for an answer, and the ones at the bottom are more than two years old.

Johnny’s father writes letters so that I can describe the war and the battleground without moving the story out of Kent. In 1914, only the wealthiest people had telephones. There was no radio and no television. All the war news reached England by telegram, letter, and carrier pigeon.

Q: Johnny would have been a grown man at the start of World War II. Did he go to war as his father did to “do his part”?

A: I still think about that now and then. I can’t imagine a grown-up Johnny running off to the recruiting center at the start of World War II, but I’m sure he would have done something for the war effort. He would have seen that war as necessary and noble. If he had had a little boat, I’m sure he would have gone to Dunkirk to bring the stranded soldiers home. I think he might have joined the Home Guard, or an ambulance or fire crew.

Before the war ended in 1945, Johnny might well have had a son of his own who would be old enough to fight. I often wonder if he would have let his own boy go off to war.

Q: Johnny believed that the war he fought in his aunt’s garden affected the war his father fought in France. As a child, did you believe that specific things you did could influence events elsewhere?

A: I think every child believes that he or she has some control over impossible things. I remember telling myself that something I was waiting for would finally happen when I counted to ten. When it didn’t, I counted backward, saying, “It will happen in ten, nine eight . . . It will happen now. Now. It will happen . . . now!” Of course it never did, but I don’t remember being disappointed. Or too surprised.

Q: It is ironic that Johnny’s father escaped the war but his mother didn’t– dying just a few years later. What message do you want your readers to glean from this?

A: War is not limited to the battlefield. It’s true that women died of sulfur poisoning after working in the arsenals of World War I. Others were blown up, others crushed to death. I was quite deeply affected by pictures of women war workers standing at rows of tables in factories full of smoke and steam. People often pity the soldiers at the front but forget the ones at home.

Q: Mr. Tuttle believed that “without principle a man has nothing, he is nothing” and was willing to forsake his job for a principle. What principles do you hold so dear that they are worth making sacrifices for?

A: Maybe I don't believe that so strongly as Mr. Tuttle. He tries to live by unrealistic ideals and was acting as much from pride as anything else. Did he want to leave Cliffe because the boys had failed him, or because he had failed them? As a newspaper reporter, I often had to either stand by my principles or let them fall, and I did both from time to time.

Q: Most contemporary teens do not connect on a personal level to the events of World War I. Was it your hope that they would recognize the same folly of war in the present-day conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, in Afghanistan, and in the Middle East?

A: Lord of the Nutcracker Men was not meant to be a lesson about war, but I would be pleased if it made people think about the consequences of war. World War I was the closest thing to a “good war” that a war can be. But it was still a horrible, hopeless thing.

It was called the war to end all wars. I wonder what the millions of soldiers who died in its fighting would think of the world today.

Q: You draw direct parallels between the Greek gods and the royalty of Europe. While times have changed, do you still see those connections with the current batch of world leaders?

A: Today’s leaders certainly have the powers of gods, but they seem to lack the wisdom and compassion. They seem smaller to me than the rulers of a hundred years ago, and more human. But they seem as ready as ever to lead their countries into war.

Praise | Awards

Praise

“Big themes are hauntingly conveyed through gripping personal story and eerie symbolism.”–Kirkus Reviews, Starred

“Beautifully integrated supporting characters reinforce Lawrence’s theme of the horror of war.”–The Horn Book Magazine

Awards

WINNER 2002 Maine Student Book Master List
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

The Reality of War

Social studies classes study the world’s wars and the impact war has on a global society. Students learn about ancient wars and the more modern wars that have been fought in the name of freedom. They know about the American Revolution, the Civil War, and World Wars I and II. Some students know about the Korean War, the Vietnam Conflict, and the Persian Gulf War. Before the events of September 11, 2001, students in America’s schools knew little about the personal tragedies related to war. War was simply something that happened in books, in another time, and on foreign lands. Now, war surrounds them–on television, radio, and in film. Some know firsthand what it feels like to lose a parent to terrorists, and others wait eagerly in front of the television in hopes of gaining a glimpse of a family member or friend who may be in the Iraqi desert or on the streets of Baghdad. Like the main characters in the novels in this guide, the innocence of America’s children has been marked by violence. A new page of history is being written every day, and it is being done before the eyes of the world’s youngest citizens.

For this reason, it is extremely important that parents and teachers talk with children about war, and offer hope that the world might someday find a peaceful solution to global conflict. Sometimes it is difficult to find the words to explain the complex issues of war, but books are always a good way to spark understanding and conversation. This guide offers discussion for the following books: The Gadget by Paul Zindel; Girl of Kosovo by Alice Mead; Lord of the Nutcracker Men by Iain Lawrence; Flags of our Fathers by James Bradley with Ron Powers, adapted for young people by Michael French; Forgotten Fire by Adam Bagdasarian; and For Freedom by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.

Pre-Reading Activity
Engage students in a discussion about the recent war in Iraq, and how it was reported in the news. Divide the class into three groups, and assign each group one of the major newspapers or magazines to read. Ask that they read a few issues of the publications during the time of the war and take note of the major headlines, the views of the journalists, etc. Allow students time at the end of each week to share their findings. What conclusions can be drawn about the role of journalists in war?

Prepared by Pat Scales, Director of Library Services, the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, Greenville, SC

Pre-Reading Activity
Ask students to write their description of a wartime hero. Have them reread their description after reading the novel. How does their definition of a hero change? Encourage them to share their thoughts in class.

About the Guide

Ten-year-old Johnny loves the nutcracker soldiers his father, a London toy maker, has carved for him; he admires their tall black boots and their rifles tipped with silver bayonets. But when World War I descends upon Britain and long-time neighbors and friends begin disappearing to join their countrymen on the front lines, Johnny’s father among them, what once seemed like fodder for play becomes reality.

At first Johnny is certain that his father will be home by Christmas; his first few letters are full of vigor, hope, and even delightful new soldiers carved to fight in Johnny’s imaginary war. Over time, though, his father’s letters from the trenches become more grim and the tiny soldiers begin to characterize the gritty reality of battle, forcing young Johnny to grapple with life, death, the irrationality of war, and his place among it all.

About the Author

Iain Lawrence was born in Ontario, Canada. A former journalist, he now writes full time. In addition to his magazine and newspaper articles, he is the author of the bestselling High Seas Trilogy: The Wreckers (an Edgar Allen Poe Award Nominee), The Smugglers, and The Buccaneers, as well as the young adult novel Ghost Boy.

An avid sailor who enjoys building ships in bottles, Iain Lawrence spends several months every year traveling by boat with his longtime companion, Kristin, and their dog, the Skipper. They make their home on the Gulf Islands of British Columbia.


From the Hardcover edition.

Discussion Guides

1. What is the relevance of Johnny’s father being a toy maker? How are youth and adulthood represented in the novel? How is Johnny’s father described before the war? What is his attitude toward the war at that time? How does Johnny’s father’s attitude toward the war change once he has reached the front? How do the descriptions of him change at that time?

2. What role does nationality play in the book? How does Johnny’s father feel about neighbors and friends such as Fatty Dienst when they leave England to fight in the war? Discuss whether his opinion of them changes when he is fighting on the front lines.

3. How does Johnny’s understanding of war change from the beginning of the novel to the end? How are his feelings and his interpretation of war reflected in his battles with the toy soldiers? Discuss how his understanding of war is reflected in his image of his father. How does Johnny’s experience with war parallel his father’s?

4. What impact does the war have on women in the novel? How is Sarah’s life affected by the war? How does her knowledge about the war influence Johnny’s impression of her?

5. What role do letters play in the novel? What part do they play in the war? Describe the different types of letters that people receive in the novel. How do these letters affect their lives? How do the letters from Johnny’s father change from the beginning of the novel to the end?

6. When referring to Johnny’s father, Aunt Ivy comments: “[The war] will rot him away if it doesn’t end soon. He’ll be changed; he’ll be different. He’ll be hollow.” (p. 97) Discuss whether Aunt Ivy’s prophecy comes true. Who else might Aunt Ivy be describing? How does the war affect other soldiers in the novel?

Prepared by Clifford Wohl, Educational Consultant, and Pat Scales, Director of Library Services, the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, Greenville, SC.

7. What role does nationality play throughout the book? How does Johnny’s father feel about neighbors and friends such as Fatty Dienst when they leave England to fight in the war? Does his opinion of them change when he is fighting on the front lines?

8. How does Johnny’s understanding of war change from the beginning of the novel to the end? How are his feelings and his interpretation of war reflected in his battles with the toy soldiers? How are they reflected in his image of his father? How does Johnny’s experience with war parallel his father’s?

9. What impact does the war have on women in this novel? What impact does it have on Sarah in specific? How does Sarah’s knowledge and interest in the war influence Johnny’s impression of her?

10. “For amusement [the gods] toy with the people. To the gods, the people are merely pieces in a great game.” (p. 54) How is this idea reflected throughout the novel? How is God represented throughout the novel? Who is able to play the role of God?

11. Why is Mr. Tuttle so upset when his roses are destroyed? What do they represent to him? What did they represent to Johnny when he destroyed them? How does Johnny’s attitude change by the end of the story?

12. When referring to Johnny’s father, Aunt Ivy comments: “[The war] will rot him away if it doesn’t end soon. He’ll be changed; he’ll be different. He’ll be hollow.” (p. 89) Does Aunt Ivy’s prophecy come true? Why or why not? Who else might Aunt Ivy be describing? How does the war affect other soldiers throughout the novel?

13. What role do letters play in the novel? What part do they play in the war? Describe the different types of letters that people receive throughout the novel? How do these letters affect their lives? How do the letters from Johnny’s father change from the beginning of the novel to the end?

For more activities on Images of War, see these titles: For Freedom by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Lord of the Nutcracker by Iain Lawrence, Girl of Kosovo by Alice Mead, Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley with Ron Powers adapted for young people by Michael French, The Gadget by Paul Zindel, and Forgotten Fire by Adam Bagdasarian.

Suggested Readings

Also Available from Iain Lawrence:

The Wreckers
hardcover: 0-385-32535-5
paperback: 0-440-41545-4

The Smugglers
hardcover: 0-385-32663-7
paperback: 0-440-41596-9

The Buccaneers
0-385-32736-6

Ghost Boy
0-440-41668-X

Ghost Boy
0-385-32739-0

Images of War: A Reading List

War is the theme of many books, from the classics to contemporary literature. Use these books to further enhance the classroom discussion of the images of war.


Revolutionary War
Johnny Tremain
Esther Forbes, illustrated by Lynd Ward
A Newbery Medal Book
Grades 5 up
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-44250-8
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-94250-0


Mexican-American War
Carlota
Scott O’Dell
Grades 5—9
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-90928-7

Tucket’s Ride
Gary Paulsen
Grades 5 up
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-41147-5
Delacorte Press hardcover • 0-385-32199-6


Civil War
Becoming Mary Mehan: Two Novels
Jennifer Armstrong
Grades 7 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf Readers Circle paperback • 0-440-22961-8
[show Readers Circle logo]

North by Night: A Story of the Underground Railroad
Katherine Ayres
Grades 5 up
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-22747-X

Stealing South: A Story of the Underground Railroad
Katherine Ayres
Grades 5—9
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-41801-1

Stealing Freedom
Elisa Carbone
An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
Grades 5 up
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-41707-4

Storm Warriors
Elisa Carbone
An ALA Notable Children’s Book
Grades 3—7
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-41879-8
Alfred A. Knopf hardcover • 0-375-80664-4
GLB • 0-375-90664-9

With Every Drop of Blood: A Novel of the Civil War
James Collier
An IRA Teachers’ Choice
Grades 5 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-21983-3

North Star to Freedom: The Story of the Underground Railroad
Gena K. Gorrell
A VOYA Outstanding Title of the Year
Grades 5 up
Delacorte Press hardcover • 0-385-32319-0

Three Against the Tide
D. Anne Love
Grades 4—7
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-41634-5

A Dangerous Promise
Joan Lowery Nixon
Grades 5 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-21965-5

Keeping Secrets
Joan Lowery Nixon
Grades 5 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-21992-2

Nightjohn
Gary Paulsen
Grades 5—9
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-21936-1
Delacorte Press hardcover • 0-385-30838-8

Sarny: A Life Remembered
Gary Paulsen
An ALA Quick Pick
Grades 7 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-21973-6

Soldier’s Heart: Being the Story of the Enlistment and Due Service of the Boy Charley Goddard in the First Minnesota Volunteers
Gary Paulsen
An ALA Best of the Best Book for Young Adults
An ALA Quick Pick
A Booklist Editors’ Choice Top of the List
Grades 7 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-22838-7
Delacorte Press hardcover • 0-385-32498-7

The Last Silk Dress
Ann Rinaldi
Grades 7 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-22861-1

Time Enough for Drums
Ann Rinaldi
Grades 7 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-22850-6


World War I
Remembrance
Theresa Breslin
Grades 7 up
Delacorte Press hardcover • 0-385-73015-2
GLB • 0-385-90067-8

Ruthie’s Gift
Kimberly Brubaker Bradley; illustrated by Dave Kramer
Grades 2—7
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-41405-9

Lord of the Nutcracker Men
Iain Lawrence
Grades 5 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf Readers Circle paperback • 0-440-41812-7
Delacorte Press hardcover • 0-385-72924-3
GLB • 0-385-90024-4


Armenian Holocaust
Forgotten Fire
Adam Bagdasarian
Grades 9 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf Readers Circle paperback • 0-440-22917-0


World War II
The Night Crossing
Karen Ackerman, illustrated by Elizabeth Sayles
Grades 2—5
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-679-87040-7 |

Flags of Our Fathers: Heroes of Iwo Jima
James Bradley with Ron Powers
Adapted for young people by Michael French
Grades 7 up
Delacorte Press trade paperback • 0-385-73064-0
Delacorte Press hardcover • 0-385-72932-4
GLB • 0-385-90009-0

For Freedom
Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Grades 5—9
Delacorte Press hardcover • 0-385-72961-8
GLB • 0-385-90087-2

Heroes
Robert Cormier
An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
An ALA Quick Pick
Grades 7 up
Dell Laurel Leaf paperback • 0-440-22769-0

Other Bells for Us to Ring
Robert Cormier
Grades 5 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-22862-X

Tunes for Bears to Dance To
Robert Cormier
An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
An ALA Quick Pick
Grades 6 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-21903-5

Jacob’s Rescue: A Holocaust Story
Malka Drucker and Michael Halperin
An IRA Teachers’ Choice
Grades 2—6
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-40965-9

The Year of My Indian Prince
Ella Thorp Ellis
Grades 7 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-22950-2

Lily’s Crossing
Patricia Reilly Giff
A Newbery Honor Book
AN ALA Notable Children’s Book
A Boston GlobeHorn Book Honor Book
An IRA Teachers’ Choice
Grades 3—7
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-41453-9
Delacorte Press hardcover • 0-385-32142-2

Farewell to Manzanar
Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston
Grades 7 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-553-27258-6

One Thousand Paper Cranes: The Story of Sadako and the Children’s Peace Statue
Takayuki Ishii
Grades 5 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-22843-3

Number the Stars

Lois Lowry
A Newbery Medal Book
An ALA Notable Children’s Book
A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
Grades 5-9
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-22753-4
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-40327-8

The Last Mission
Harry Mazer
An ALA Best of the Best Book for Young Adults
A New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year
Grades 7 up
Dell Laurel Leaf paperback • 0-440-94797-9

In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer
Irene Gut Opdyke with Jennifer Armstrong
An ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults
Grades 7 up
Alfred A. Knopf hardcover • 0-679-89181-1

When My Name Was Keoko
Linda Sue Park
Grades 4—8
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-41944-1

Her Father’s Daughter
Mollie Poupeney
Grades 9 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf Readers Circle paperback • 0-440-22879-4

Under the Blood-Red Sun

Graham Salisbury
An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
An ALA Notable Children’s Book
A Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction
A California Young Reader Medal Winner
Grades 5 up
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-41139-4

Milkweed

Jerry Spinelli
Alfred A. Knopf hardcover • 0-375-81374-8
GLB • 0-375-91374-2
[burst:] Available September 2003!

The Cay

Theodore Taylor
Grades 5 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-22912-X
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-41663-9
Delacorte Press hardcover • 0-385-07906-0

The Gadget
Paul Zindel
Grades 7 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-22951-0

Korean War
Year of Impossible Goodbyes
Sook Nyul Choi
Grades 5 up
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-40759-1

Vietnam War
Goodbye, Vietnam
Gloria Whelan
An ALA Quick Pick
A Bulletin Blue Ribbon
An IRA Teachers’ Choice
Grades 3—7
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-679-82376-X


The Balkan Conflict
Girl of Kosovo
Alice Mead
Grades 5 up
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-41853-4


Persian Gulf War
Soldier Mom
Grades 5 up
Alice Mead
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-22900-6


General
Ain’t Gonna Study War No More: The Story of America’s Peace Seekers
Milton Meltzer
An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
An ALA Notable Children’s Book
Grades 5 up
Random House paperback • 0-375-82260-7
GLB • 0-375-92260-1

American Patriots: The Story of Blacks in the Military from the Revolution to Desert Storm
[show cover]
Gail Buckley; adapted by Tonya Bolden
Grades 5 up
Crown hardcover • 0-375-82243-7
GLB • 0-375-92243-1

The Day the Sky Fell: A History of Terrorism
Milton Meltzer
Grades 5 up
Random House paperback • 0-375-82250-X
GLB • 0-375-92250-4

Shattered: Stories of Children in War
Jennifer Armstrong
Grades t/k
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-23765-3
Alfred A. Knopf hardcover • 0-375-81112-5
GLB • 0-375-91112-X

Tomorrow, When the War Began
John Marsden
An ALA Best of the Best Book for Young Adults
A Horn Book Fanfare
Grades 7 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-21985-X


Internet Resources

Korean War Project
www.koreanwar.org/html/history_and_reference.html
This site features a discussion of the Korean War.

Resource Listing for World War II
www.ibiblio.org/pha

National War Memorials in Washington DC
www.geocities.com/kattshouse/memorials.html

Armenian National Institute
www.armenian-genocide.org
A discussion of the Armenian genocide from the Armenian National Institute.

The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century
www.pbs.org/greatwar
This site provides timeline, maps, and interviews regarding World War I.

First World War
www.firstworldwar.com
This site includes primary documents, information on the battles, and vintage audio of World War I.

Iwo Jima
www.iwojima.com
This site provides information about the Battle of Iwo Jima, a photo of the flag rising, film clips, and other pertinent information about the famous event.

Your E-Mail Address
send me a copy

Recipient's E-Mail Address
(multiple addresses may be separated by commas)

A personal message: