Artemis Fowl creator Eoin Colfer’s new novel, Juniper’s Christmas (Roaring Brook, Oct.), blends adventure, humor, and holiday magic into a hopeful tale emphasizing the joy and purpose to be found in helping others. In that spirit, Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group is launching a charitable campaign celebrating the book’s release that provides kids with a hands-on opportunity to donate books to organizations that support unhoused families.
Each copy of Juniper’s Christmas contains a festive postcard created by MCPG junior designer Abby Granata, which readers can fill out, requesting that a book be donated to a child in need, in the sender’s name. There’s room for kids to add drawings or notes and the card is pre-addressed to “Santa’s Helpers c/o Macmillan Publishers.” For each postcard received, MCPG will donate one book to charities working with homeless families.
No book purchase is necessary to participate, however. To extend the initiative’s reach, the publisher will also be distributing postcards to bookstores, libraries, and in-person events like this month’s New York Comic Con, where people can fill out cards and drop them in a specially designed on-site mailbox. Additionally, kids can fill out and submit digital versions of the postcard via a dedicated landing page. In all, MCPG will donate up to 10,000 books and will accept postcards through the end of 2024.
“Truly, it was inspired by the text,” said Jennifer Besser, president of MCPG, about the effort. “We had been talking internally about wanting to do a charitable campaign,” she said, “and as I was editing the first-pass pages, I was struck by a line that comes at the end of the book. Without giving anything away in the story, Santa Claus decides that he’s going to put a box on the Christmas letter that children can check that essentially says, ‘This year I have everything I need. In lieu of a gift, I’d like to make a donation to a child in need.’ ” From there, Besser said, “we started thinking about what we could do that really involves the child and gives the reader an opportunity to take action in some way.” She credits Mariel Dawson, v-p of marketing at MCPG, with bringing the vision to life.
“I think it’s amazing,” Colfer said of the campaign. “It is so touching to me because it’s so in line with my own philosophy. The expedient thing to do would be to say, we are giving all these books to charities that are associated with homelessness. But to get the kids involved, the readers, that is just as important. Once they do this, no one is going to be able to tell these kids, ‘Oh, you know, those [homeless] kids, they’re bad, or they’re slackers, or they don’t deserve a home.’ Because they’ve been involved in it, they’re on the side of those kids now. And I think that is a very healthy, very positive and a very Christmassy thing to do. I couldn’t be happier.”
Spreading the Word
The decision to aid charities fighting homelessness in particular was also driven by Colfer’s text. In Juniper’s Christmas, 11-year-old Juniper enlists the help of mysterious handyman Niko (really a grieving, retired Nicholas Claus), who expertly crafts wooden shelters for the local park’s unhoused residents, to help search for her missing mother.
The author found his initial inspiration for Juniper a while back, through his own charitable work and a previous theater project. About eight years ago, Colfer was commissioned to write the book for a Christmas musical. The production, Noël, made its debut at the National Opera House in Colfer’s native Ireland in December 2016 and toured the U.S. two years later. “While writing that musical, I got involved with a homeless charity in Ireland and ended up doing quite a few events for them,” he said. “I was talking to them about their statistics and learned that one in four people who end up homeless are immigrants. So not only have they had to struggle their way across the Mediterranean or up through South America or across the Russian mountains, but then they end up in a new country, and they don’t manage to get a home. And that really seemed so sad to me. I wanted to find a way to put that into a story.”
Colfer channeled his feelings on these issues into Noël. “When I finished with the musical,” he added, “I realized that I wasn’t finished with the ideas and some of the characters. All this stuff was going around [in my head] and I wanted to package it in a Christmas story that was ultimately hopeful. And that was the trick: to try and include all this stuff, but also show how people are not defined by it, how they manage to get through it.”
The plight of the unhoused in Ireland has become even more apparent recently, according to Colfer. “We have an epidemic of child homelessness at the moment, where many kids are being forced to live in hotel rooms, when the whole family has been evicted,” he said. “Now there are a lot of kids who are spending Christmas Day in hotels.” In that vein, he said, “One of the other problems that I’ve talked to people at Macmillan about is representation,” he said. “I think it’s good for kids who may be unhoused at the moment to see heroes in this story who are also unhoused. As I get older, I’m trying to do things like that, rather than just farting dwarves.”