Last month 10-year-old Bunker Hill Publishing released what could turn out to be one of its biggest books to date: Robert Sullivan’s A Child’s Christmas in New England, illustrated by Glenn Wolff. Sullivan and Wolff are the team behind The Flight of the Reindeer, published by Macmillan in 1996 and reissued by Skyhorse in a 15th anniversary edition, with 190,000 copies in print. Beau Bridges starred as Santa in a tie-in movie, The Christmas Secret, which premiered on CBS in 2000.
Bunker Hill is hoping to replicate that earlier success on a somewhat smaller scale with the new book, Sullivan’s boyhood memoir of Christmas in the 1950s and ’60s in West Chelmsford, Mass., with Duchess the dog, hot fudge sundaes from Bailey’s, and trees lit with “bubblers,” or bubble lights. A Child’s Christmas in New England has one of Bunker Hill’s largest first printings, 10,000 copies, nearly triple the press’s typical print run of 3,500 copies. Wolff, a bass player, and Sullivan, who wrote the lyrics, have created a song for the book, “Caroline’s Waltz,” which they plan to post on YouTube.
Bunker Hill has been enthusiastic about A Child’s Christmas in New England from the moment it came in over the transom in summer 2012 from Sullivan, a 33-year veteran of Time Inc. publications and managing editor of Life Books. “Christmas has gotten so commercial. It took me back to the days when Christmas was magical,” said Bunker Hill managing director Carole Kitchel Bellew. Although she and Ib Bellew, her husband and Bunker Hill’s publisher, regard the 32-page story as a family book that parents can read with their children, they also view it as “an aging baby boomer gift book.”
Sullivan acknowledges that publishers sometimes have trouble figuring out how best to approach his holiday books. “Glenn and I do have a publishing world problem. We write books that don’t have a clear demographic. God bless Macmillan. It found its audience for Flight of the Reindeer. At the end of the day what Glenn and I do are books for the family,” he said. Some of Sullivan’s other work has a more distinct market, like Our Red Sox (Emmis Books, 2005) or Tony Bennett in the Studio (Sterling, 2007).
Media attention is building for the A Children’s Christmas, and not just in New England, where it will be featured in the Boston Globe. On December 1, the book will be highlighted in Parade and it will also be featured on several high-traffic Web sites leading up to Christmas, including the Reader’s Digest site. Both Sullivan and Wolff signed copies at BEA; Sullivan also signed at the New England Independent Booksellers Association trade show in October. The book was featured on endcaps in New England Barnes & Noble stores, and both author and illustrator will be making appearances near their homes – Wolff at Michigan stores like The Cottage Book Shop in Glen Arbor and McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey; Sullivan in New York at Village Bookstore in Pleasantville, among others.
At Dartmouth Bookstore in Hanover, N.H., which hosted an event with Sullivan on Columbus Day Weekend, children’s supervisor Brenda Leahy says that the book is shelved both upstairs in the children’s room and downstairs on the main floor. “Each year people look for a new Christmas book,” she said. “This is going to be a great addition to anyone’s library.”
A Child’s Christmas in New England by Robert Sullivan, illustrated by Glenn Wolff. Bunker Hill Publishing, $16.95 October ISBN 978-1-5937-3151-9