Carl’s Christmas, by Alexandra Day (1990)
In this endearing tale of child neglect…
Wait, no. I’m just kidding. As confused as I was as a child realizing that Nana in Peter Pan was actually a dog (I thought J.M. Barrie was just going overboard with the characterization and apparently missed something important as my mom read it aloud), the idea that people might leave their young children with just a dog for supervision (in fantasy books, at least!) should not continue to surprise me! I’m willing to suspend disbelief for the sake of my son (who thought this book was hilarious)!
Carl is a Rottweiler whose owners apparently entrust him regularly to watch their toddler child (simply called “the baby”) while they go out and about. In this book, they’re off to Grandma’s and church on Christmas Eve. Who would possibly consider bringing a baby to either of those places?! 😉 Other than the first page where the father tells Carl this (and to take good care of the baby), the only other text in the book is environmental print (signs, gift tags, etc.) to help explain certain events in the plot. The rest of the story is told entirely in beautiful oil paintings of the enterprising dog and his trusting charge. Carl gets the baby out of her crib and brings her downstairs to see the Christmas tree, then they decorate a houseplant together. Carl gets the baby ready for an outing, blue snowsuit and purple hat and all. They go downtown to check out the stores, and they win a Christmas basket full of goodies. The baby donates her hat to a bell-ringer dressed as Santa, and a caroler whose group they join gives her a scarf to warm her head again. (By this time, a scruffy stray dog has started following them.) When they see a couple children inside a house checking the fireplace for Santa, they rush home again (where an apparently stray cat is waiting near the door). They all go inside and enjoy a fire, and they fall asleep on the floor (where they are joined by two mice). Carl hears something and wakes up, rushing out the front door to greet his owners…except it’s not them–it’s Santa and his reindeer in the front yard! Carl helps Santa bring in and distribute gifts to all the inhabitants of the house and is given a new collar himself. Then Santa disappears up the chimney, and Carl brings the baby (wearing her brand-new hat to replace the one she gave away) up to bed, settling in for the night on the floor next to her crib.
The paintings really are gorgeous, but BoyChild just thought it was funny that the baby and dog were out and about on their own! I should have had him do the storytelling for this one, but I had forgotten that these books are basically wordless, so I did the narrating myself while I kept expecting more text to come up! (I would have needed to explain the signs or he probably would have thought that Carl stole the Christmas basket and wouldn’t have understood why the baby was giving her hat to the Salvation Army bell-ringer, but I wonder what else he would have noticed to talk about in the pictures!) As long as you don’t fear that you will raise a child who will become an adult who thinks it’s okay to leave just a dog as a babysitter, these are sweet and funny books to share with your early readers and pre-readers! They give many opportunities to apply reading comprehension strategies (previewing, predicting, asking questions, making connections, etc.) despite the lack of words, and this book (or another in the series) may be a good mentor text for teaching some of these strategies without the distraction or intimidation of large blocks of text. Another possible extension for this text would be to have a child illustrate a story of what he or she would do if left alone with a pet in charge! (BoyChild loves our little French bulldog, so this could be a really funny story. He refuses to draw, however, so it might have to be a story he dictates to me instead!)