A new Christmas tale to share with children features singing reindeer and a treatment of the traditional Rudolph story with all the trills and leitmotifs of an opera.
As Act I of this debut picture book opens, a young anthropomorphic reindeer named Rudolfoletto (an allusion to Verdi’s Rigoletto) is born with a brightly glowing green nose. If that wasn’t enough to make him the object of mockery among his peers, he loves both opera and sweets of all kinds. His parents try to convince him to switch to salty snacks like other reindeer, but he remains resolute. In Act II, classmates mock Rudolfoletto at school for his green nose despite his having captured the attentions of a Scottish lass, Lucia di L’Antlermoor (evoking Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor). Luckily, due to Rudolfoletto’s high grades, he’s promoted to High Prancing School, where Santa Claus presides as headmaster. A cheerily singing Santa advises his reindeer students how to guide his sleigh in a double aria; Rudolfoletto grows quite attached to his new teacher, and they bond over their love of sweets and their hometown. When a fog rolls in on Christmas Eve, a crisis looms “despite efforts of the elf technicians to design an app to fix the problem,” a nice nod to a modern audience. Readers shouldn’t be surprised that Rudolfoletto’s nose saves the day, but the familiar story should generate giggles from children acquainted with opera or lap readers whose parents bravely burst into song, inspired by the many parodies that fill the pages. Presented like a libretto, with character names in caps, and with every image showing a member of the cast delivering information through song, the old carol feels as though it belongs on stage. Carlisle’s charming illustrations mix reindeer who stand like humans with their more naturally postured compatriots. The strategy never feels awkward; instead, it distinguishes the main characters from the chorus. Wheeler, a history professor and opera aficionado, offers a glossary at the end, detailing what each song title references as well as explaining musical terms such as aria and duet.
For readers unfamiliar with opera, this adventure will likely soar over heads like reindeer over rooftops; but for fans, it should generate a Christmas “Bravo!” with the promise of many requested encores.