In what could be one of the first instances of a picture book publisher taking a story making the rounds on the Internet, tweaking it, and moving it offline, Bunker Hill Publishing in Piermont, N.H., has just released a print edition of Helping Santa: My First Christmas Adventure with Grandma, illustrated by Bert Dodson. When managing director Carole Kitchel Bellew heard the story of a boy and the grandmother who tries to prove to him that there is a Santa at a local Philanthropic Educational Organization gathering in Shelburne, Vt., she says that she knew she wanted to publish it. "This [project] is pushing a lot of buttons for me," says Bellew, who as a grandmother herself to eight young girls, was drawn to the story on a personal and professional level.
Bellew went home and looked up the story, then checked it line by line on the Library of Congress Web site to locate the author. The story wasn’t registered, although her edition with a slightly changed opening is. She asked Dodson, who illustrated Willem Lange’s popular radio Christmas story, Favor Johnson, to do the art, which required some additional tinkering with the text. Since Dodson likes to use local people and buildings for his models, she changed the name of the store in Helping Santa to the Bradford, Vt.-based Hill’s 5¢ and 10¢ Variety, which is pictured in the book. The five-and-dime was pleased with the attention, and agreed to host a launch party for Helping Santa in mid-November.
"This story deserves to become a holiday classic," says Bellew. "It carries a message that is so much a part of what Christmas should be all about." In honor of that message—in the book a little boy buys a warm coat (with Santa’s help) for a boy in need—Bellew contacted Sherri Lewis Wood of the One Warm Coat Foundation, which provides warm coats for those who can’t afford them. Since the book has no author, a portion of the royalties will be donated to OWCF.
Several New England booksellers are showing their support for the book and OWCF by hosting signings and coat drives with Dodson and Kitchel. Upcoming events will be held at Booked Solid in Bradford, Vt.; the Dartmouth Bookstore in Hanover, N.H.; Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vt.; and Chapman’s Store in Fairlee, Vt.