Illustration: Maya E Shakur for FREDERICK & SOPHIE

Location: The Fifth Realm

One day, Frederick and Sophie sat down in front of the toy room’s fireplace to drink a cup of George’s famous hot cocoa. Wally nibbled on a gingerbread doggy snack. Scents of chestnuts, pinecones, and cinnamon mingled with wisps of chimney smoke. George was Sophie’s fairy-manny, and he had used his i-Wand 340 to stir up chunks of chocolate, pink marshmallows, and fairy dust sprinkles to create the most delicious drink. Frederick was Sophie’s very best friend who lived right next door on the top floor of the smallest apartment building in the street. He didn’t have to think twice when Sophie invited him over. You see, what made George’s cocoa most delicious was the story that came with it, and Frederick loved stories. Even better, something unexpected always happened when George was around. As it was almost Christmas Eve, a time of mystery and expectations, who knew what it might be this time…


“I suppose it all started with a little ballerina mouse,” George said as he sat down on a pillow. “It was a very special kind of mouse. One that liked cookies more than anything in the world.”

Christmas Story Ballerina Mouse
I suppose it all started with a little ballerina mouse…

“Would she like your gingerbread cookies, George?” Sophie asked.


“Oh, she would like mine the best,” George answered. “The trouble with gingerbread cookies is that they are very hard to catch.”

The trouble with gingerbread cookies is that they are very hard to catch…..

Sophie nodded. She remembered their last gingerbread adventure, and there had been a lot of running. 


“Go on, then,” Frederick said impatiently. “Where did the mouse come from?”


Frederick and Sophie had been playing in the toy room and looked up. “Where did he go?” they asked George. 


George took a sip from his hot cocoa. His cup immediately filled itself up again. “The mouse came from the Land of Amusements. One of the four realms,” he continued. “There was the Land of Flowers, the Land of Snowflakes, the Land of Sweets, and the Land of Amusements.” George stood up and took a large heavy book from the room’s book cabinet. He blew off a layer of dust before opening it. “Here it is,” he said, pointing at a map. “The four realms.”


Frederick and Sophie looked at the map. “Oh, George, we must absolutely go there!” they shouted. Wally jumped up, wagging his tail. 


For a moment, George seemed to be in thought. “Well, it is a place of magic and wonder, but also of a little danger,” he said.


Sophie raised one eyebrow. “Together we can deal with a little danger,” she insisted eagerly. 


George smiled. “Of course, you’re right. And a pinch of adventure keeps you on your toes.” He opened the Fairy GPS app on the screen of his i-Wand 340 and typed in some coordinates. “Milady, gentleman, and gentledog, close your eyes, fasten your seatbelts, and please hold onto each other.” They felt a breath of fresh air, a tickle, and a tingling in their fingertips. When they opened their eyes, all they could see were clouds everywhere. “Hold on, everyone!” George shouted. He pointed up. A huge hot air balloon floated above them. They were standing in the balloon’s basket! It floated over hills and trees filled with the most beautiful flowers. Further away, they could see a snowy landscape with a frozen river and houses with snow iced rooftops. To the left they saw roads made of cookies surrounded by large candy canes and lollipops. 


“Ah, I haven’t seen this in a very long time,” George said. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Slowly, the balloon swooped down from the clouds toward the castle below. 


Sophie pointed at one of the castle’s windows. “Look!” she shouted. A little mouse scurried along the window’s ledge. She wore a tutu, ballet shoes, and she waved at them. 


George waved back with both of his arms and shouted, “Miss Mouskowitz! What are the odds!” The balloon made its way down until it landed safely on the castle’s snow-covered rooftop.


“Fancy seeing you here, my dear George,” the little mouse said as soon as she hopped in front of them. “The Nutcracker will be so very pleased to see you. You’ve brought great company! Frederick Hawthorne, Sugar Plum Wally, and Soldier Sophie, it’s an honor meeting you!” 


“Who is the Nutcracker?” Frederick whispered to Sophie. Sophie didn’t answer. Instead, she stared at Frederick and Wally in disbelief. Frederick wore a long green coat. Flowers and branches seemed to grow out of his hair. Wally had wings, and as Sophie passed a window, she could see in her reflection that she wore black boots, a soldier’s hat, and a soldier’s coat and pants. Only George seemed to look exactly like George. 


The little mouse introduced herself to them. “Milly Mouskowitz, at your service! Follow me, please.” They followed Andy into the castle. The walls were made of colorful bricks, and the ceiling was covered in golden stars. They walked through hallways and up and down winding staircases until they stood in front of a large pink door. A small candy cane handle hang right next to it on the wall. Milly pulled it, and the door flew open. There was a throne in the center of the room and on it sat a giant nutcracker. His shiny pink jacket had buttons as golden as the strings on his white boots. He didn’t move. 


“He’s frozen,” Milly explained. “All toys in the castle are.” She ran over to a large machine. It didn’t make a single sound. “This engine makes all toys real,” Milly said, pointing at what seemed to be an empty tank. “The trouble is, we lost the key.” 


“What does the key look like?” Sophie asked. 


“It’s a golden heart-shaped key. Without it, the engine doesn’t work, and without the engine we can’t fuel the toys’ magic.”


“Can’t you make another key appear, George?” Frederick asked hopefully. 


George shook his head. “This key was made from the frozen air of the Land of Snowflakes, the syrup of the maple flower in the Land of Flowers, sugar crystals from the Land of Sweets, and joy from the Land of Amusements. That can’t be done with a spell.”


Sophie walked back and forth, her soldier boots click-clacking on the wooden floors. Frederick and George stared at the nutcracker. They really hoped they bring him back to life. Wally sniffed the corners. 


Suddenly, Milly jumped up. “There is one other key like this,” she said. “We just need a book wanderer. They live in the Land of Stories. The Fifth Realm.”


“I didn’t know there was a Fifth Realm,” Sophie said. 


“Oh, yes there is! It has been there for as long as stories exist.” Milly hopped onto a shelf on the wall and pushed a book onto the table underneath it. Frederick read its cover: Santa’s Key.


“Inside this story there is a golden heart-shaped key. When a bookwanderer reads it, the key becomes real,” Milly explained.


“Perfect!” Sophie said. “Let’s find a bookwanderer!”


Milly gave a half smile.  “The thing is, bookwanderers are known to wander off before they finish a story. They simply disappear into it.”  


“Well, first we need to find one. How do we get to the Land of Stories?” Sophie looked at Milly who looked at the book. 


“The Land of Stories is made of all stories in all of the realms,” she answered. “For the key, we need to jump through this page.”


“How could we possibly jump through a page?” Frederick and Sophie asked. 


George tapped the nutcracker on his knee and walked over. “That’s simple. First rule of magic. You must believe you can.” He placed the book on the floor, closed his eyes, crossed his arms, and jumped up. Before they could say, “Jingle Bells,” he had disappeared. Instead of standing right next to them, he now was waving to them on the page. 


“Let’s go!” Frederick shouted. He took a jump and landed inside the story. Sophie, Milly, and Wally followed. Wandering through a story is quite extraordinary. The letters turn into a whole new world, but the characters in the story can’t hear or see you. Santa’s Key took them all the way to Santa’s workshop. It was as magical as they thought it would be. Elves were at work, reindeers ran around, snowmen were smiling. 


“What are you guys doing here?” A shrill voice screeched through the workshop, startling them but no one else. All the elves kept working, hearing nothing but the whirring of their toy machines. The voice came from behind a large pile of teddy bears waiting to be wrapped. A little woman with round glasses and her hair wrapped tightly in a bun stared directly at them. “Well? I asked you a question!” 


“I’m sorry, you can see and hear us?” Sophie asked. “Miss Milly told us that characters can’t see people that aren’t part of the story.”


“I’m not a people,” the woman scoffed. “I’m a bookwanderer. I like to come here around Christmas time.” 


“Oh, that’s splendid!” Frederick exclaimed. “We need your help!”


“And why would I help you?” The woman peeked over her glasses and squinted at Frederick. 


“All the toys in the castle are frozen. The key that can turn on the engine that gives all toys their magic is lost. This story holds the only other key that can be used to turn on the machine. But we need a bookwanderer to read it to make it real,” Frederick said, faster than he’d ever said anything. 


Milly, George, Frederick, Sophie, and Wally all looked at the woman who seemed to think. For a very long time. 


“Is she wandering off?” Sophie asked. 


Before Milly could answer, the bookwanderer looked up. “I’ll do it!” she shouted. “Because it’s almost Christmas, and it’s a merry thing to do. I know this story very well; I think I know where to look!”


They all followed the bookwanderer who seemed to jump from here to there to everywhere at high speed. “She’s a fast reader,” Milly whispered. 


The bookwanderer looked at the Christmas tree standing proudly in the middle of the workshop and mumbled something to herself. She ran over to the tree, reached up, and grabbed something shiny from a low branch. It was a golden heart-shaped key!  


“Hopefully, it will do the job,” she said. “Now, off you go, you can’t stay too long inside a story. I wouldn’t want you to get story-sick!”


The bookwanderer clapped her hands. With the blink of an eye, they were back in the nutcracker’s room. The key glistened in Sophie’s hand. “Let’s turn on the engine!” she shouted excitedly.  


They ran to the keyhole on the side of the machine and placed the key inside of it. It fitted! As soon as Sophie turned the key, the machine made a loud whirring sound. Garlands and ribbons draped the room. A large Christmas tree appeared right next to the nutcracker who looked up and yawned. “I’ve been asleep forever!” 


“You’re awake now! Right in time for Christmas!”


The doors opened and in ran,rolled, and tumbled all the castle’s toys. There was pup Toutou, and Choukette, the little blue monster. There was the train engine and the little kitchen. Plush dolls, fairies, and wooden rocking horses all joined together and cheered. 

There was pup Toutou…

George gave his i-Wand 340 a swirl and said, “Coco Latio!” Mugs filled with hot chocolate milk danced on the table. Plates with cinnamon cupcakes, snowflake oreos, and vanilla cookies with colorful frosting filled the table. 

Vanilla cookies with colorful frosting…

Frederick and Sophie hugged Wally and smiled. They could not have wished for a better most wonderful time of the year.


Top Illustration: Maya E Shakur for FREDERICK & SOPHIE / Illustration Styling: Priscilla Obermeier