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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Flying Canoe, written by Eric A. Kimmel and illustrated by Daniel San Souci and Justin San Souci. Holiday House, Thomas Allen & Son, 2011. $19.95

"The canoe flew on. It passed through a blizzard. Covered in frost, the voyageurs looked like snowmen. Louis peered through a blinding curtain of snow. What was that sound? Etienne listened. It must be the falls of Niagara. They were over Lake Ontario - nearly home! Old Armand brushed snowflakes from his eyes. Home. After so long."

It's going to be a Christmas Extravaganza here today as I want to share what's on the pile from this year and last, just in case you still have some gifts to buy.

I'll start with a Christmas story from Canada. It's Christmas Eve and six French fur traders are trying to find warmth around their campfire in the woods. They have little food, it's very cold and they are missing their families. They have been hunting for a long time. They share fond memories of their lives in Montreal and all have a fervent wish to be home with their loved ones. Even Pere Noel will not find them in the stark woodsy wilderness.

When a mystery man shows up at their campfire, they are made an offer hard to refuse:

"I have been known to do a good deed from time to time, if only to amuse myself. Hear me, mes amis! I will return you to Montreal this night, on one condition: you may not speak until you reach your own homes."

If they fail, he will return them to where they are right now. Nothing to lose, right?

Armand is not sure it is a good plan, but his friends want to go. As the magic canoe takes to the air and they watch the landscape pass below them, the men are engulfed in memories of earlier adventures together. Their ride is quick and soon they are on the way up the St. Lawrence River through a moonlit night. Montreal is in sight!

Paddling ever nearer, they begin to recognize family and friends. Some discoveries are happy ones, others are poignant. For Armand, seeing his daughter walking with an army officer fills him with rage and he cannot contain the words. The mystery man appears and reminds them of their agreement. Armand has other ideas...

In an author's note, Eric Kimmel tells us that this is a variation on an old French folktale, La Chasse-Galerie which was 'commemorated at the opening ceremony for the 2012 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, B.C., as a canoe with fiddler Colin Maier descended from the ceiling."

The illustrators have a Montreal connection. Daniel San Souci's father was a French Canadian graphic artist who taught his son to draw. Now, Daniel shares illustrating duties with his son Justin for the first time in a picture book. Together, they do an admirable job of creating a long ago setting on a dark December night. The voyageurs are shown as hearty souls, bundled in leather, bearded and determined to be home for Christmas. Each piece of art is infused with moonlight, and snowshine.
The warm glow of the lighted windows in Montreal is just the welcome they need, as their canoe travels closer and closer to their loved ones.

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