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Carl the Christmas Carp

by Ian Krykorka; Vladyana Krykorka, illus.

For another new Orca picture book, Ian Krykorka teams up with his mother, illustrator Vladyana Krykorka, for Carl the Christmas Carp, a reworking of what’s obviously a well-loved and oft-told family anecdote. We’re in the old country again, in Prague, where Radim and his family are getting ready for Christmas. As they do every year, Radim and his father shop for a live carp for Christmas dinner. Once home, they put the carp in the bathtub and feed it bits of bread, fattening it up for the big day. Tender-hearted Radim, however, starts to become fond of the carp as he feeds it, and he makes the mistake of naming it after his bewhiskered, bulgy-eyed Uncle Carl. The next step is inevitable: Radim has to liberate the carp. Early Christmas morning, he and his friend Mila carry Carl to the river and let him go. The story wraps up with a brief episode of parental consternation, and then Radim’s family joins Mila’s to share their Christmas dinner of chicken.

The story is somewhat slight, but the illustrations create a whole world around it. Vladyana Krykorka is best known for her glowing watercolours in Michael Kusugak’s tales. Here, her talents for portraying winter are given a new setting. Her skies are full of stars, lights, wind, clouds, sunrises, and dreams. A city backdrop of grand buildings, cathedrals, and statues is all half-glimpsed through a scrim of trees or blowing snow. Again, we’re in the old country folktale world with its headscarves, barrels, and stray cats, but while in Revell’s Olkinik the characters trudge, those in Krykorka’s Prague float and fly.

Once upon a time. Remember when? The publishing of folktales and folklore-based stories has fallen off in Canada in recent years, possibly because we’ve lost our confidence about the value of these stories and because questions of appropriation are so complicated. This picture book reminds us that not only are these stories satisfying small-scale narratives in themselves, but they fulfill the valuable role of suggesting to us, in the pleasantest way possible, that we should straighten up and fly right.