The message at the heart of Patrice Karst’s The Invisible String, in which a mother reassures her anxious children that she will always be connected to them by an imperceptible yet unbreakable string of love, itself has strength and staying power. Karst transformed this story, based on one she told her now-grown son to ease his separation anxiety as a preschooler, into a picture book that was released in hardcover in 2000 by Los Angeles-based DeVorss & Company. A paperback edition from Little, Brown followed in 2018, as well as four Invisible String spinoffs. The franchise reached a significant milestone in August, when combined sales of all editions of The Invisible String topped one million copies.
Heralded by parents, educators, therapists, and social workers as a tool to help children cope with loneliness and separation, The Invisible String sold steadily in hardcover for DeVorss, hitting a worldwide sales tally of more than 400,000 copies by 2018. Based on the voluminous amount of laudatory mail the author received from grief and family counselors, military personnel, clergy, and medical workers, Karst realized that her book was helping children deal with not just separation anxiety, but divorce, death of a loved one, and other life-changing situations.
In October 2018, Little, Brown released a paperback edition of the book, featuring new art by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff. As editorial director Andrea Spooner told PW in 2018, “We don’t usually acquire paperback rights without hardcover rights attached, but we did our due diligence. We uncovered The Invisible String’s impressive sales history, and when I read the text, I was moved and charmed by its simplicity and resonance. I felt a string pulling at me, and I knew we should take it on.”
The Covid Effect
Spooner, who also acquired Karst’s subsequent companion Invisible String titles (The Invisible Leash: A Story Celebrating Love After the Loss of a Pet; The Invisible Web, a therapeutic activity book cowritten by Dana Wyss; The Invisible String Workbook: Creative Activities to Comfort, Calm and Connect; and You Are Never Alone: An Invisible String Lullaby—all illustrated by Lew-Vriethoff) noted that, although the original book demonstrated “strong sales momentum” from the start, the uncertainty, fear, and grief brought on by the pandemic “has supercharged the sales” of the franchise. The books seem to resonate in a new way.” A sixth book, whose title and subject are still under wraps, is due in 2023.
Recently, The Invisible String experienced a sales uptick after Sara Haines, co-host of ABC’s The View, spotlighted it as one of the show’s “Ladies Get Lit” summer book picks on July 28, touting it as “just the most beautiful, beautiful book.” The week following the TV broadcast, Karst reported, her book sold three times the number of copies as the prior week. And during the second week of August, global sales of The Invisible String (which has been translated into 13 languages) reached the million-copy mark, a figure that does not include foreign sales beyond those in China and Hungary.
Karst’s timely books have provided needed solace and support to children as well as the adults in their lives, Spooner observed. “So many people of all ages have been separated from—or have lost—loved ones during the pandemic,” she said. “We’ve seen teachers use Patrice’s books to build connections virtually, letting kids know they don’t have to be in the same room to connect with extended families, friends, and classmates—and even people around the globe whom we don’t even know. We are seeing the concept that The Invisible String illustrates play out in reality.”
According to Karst, the volume of email she has received from readers has “absolutely gone off the charts during the past year and a half” as an unprecedented number of people have requested permission to read The Invisible String aloud on YouTube. “I am constantly asked this question by teachers, principals, pastors, and rabbis from all over the world, and of course I always say ‘yes,’ ” she said. “This is truly a word-of-mouth book whose concept is so very real to readers who are celebrating love or dealing with great losses. This became the right book for a very painful time.”
This article has been updated.