Trinity author writes Christmas book for children
Newscasts probably don’t inspire a lot of children’s books, but a newscast last Christmas did just that for local portrait artist and children’s author Gaye Frances Willard.
“The reporter was interviewing three little girls in a toy store, talking to them about what they wanted Santa Claus to bring them,” recalls Willard, of Trinity. “Then he asked them why we celebrate Christmas, and two of the girls had no idea. Finally, the third girl said, ‘Because it’s Jesus’ birthday.’ ”
That got Willard to thinking.
“How do you teach children now that Christmas is about Christ?” she says. “In this politically correct society we’re living in — when people want to remove the Nativity from schools and they don’t teach the Christmas story — a lot of kids don’t know the Christmas story like they used to.”
That prompted Willard to write and illustrate her second children’s book, called “The Merriest Christmas Ever.” The book, available on Willard’s website, tells the story of Gracie, a little girl who learns — from Santa, of all people — the true origin of Christmas.
“She didn’t know why Christmas was celebrated,” Willard says. “She had always associated Christmas with Santa, so she decides to find out from him.”
The idea was to reconcile the secular side of Christmas with the spiritual side.
“I wanted to find a way to incorporate both aspects of Christmas,” Willard explains, “so people know you don’t have to stick the Nativity in the corner and say it only belongs in the church and nowhere in society. Christ came into the world — he didn’t just come into the church, he came to affect the world. I want children to know that Jesus is the reason we celebrate — I want people to be able to use this book as an opportunity to teach children.”
Willard says it’s possible to give children both sides of the Christmas story — the Santa Claus narrative and the story of Jesus.
“I remember what it was like for me as a child and how excited I was about Santa and all those things,” she says. “My dad and mother pastored a church, and they always taught us what Christmas was about — there was never any question about why we had it. But as parents, they were also excited to be Santa Claus and do all those things, too. They never thought about it as a problem to have both. It was never like Santa was taking the place of Jesus.”
Willard, who specializes in pastels and oils of people and pets, has full-color illustrations throughout the book. Santa Claus portrayer Cliff Snider of High Point modeled for Willard’s illustrations, as did Willard’s 3-year-old granddaughter, Payton Parker of Durham.
In addition to the illustrations in the book, Willard released a companion print titled “Tell Me the Story of Jesus,” which pictures Santa kneeling with a little girl to show her a tiny sculpture of Jesus in the manger. She sells the book and the companion print separately or as a package.
The book sold out of its initial printing of 500 and is now in its second printing, according to Willard.
“The response has been kind of overwhelming to me,” she says.
“I think people like the fact that the book combines both sides of Christmas. They like that they don’t have to do away with the things children find so much pleasure in and that parents enjoy celebrating with their children, but they can use the book as a way to say that there is a greater purpose in Christmas than Santa and presents. There’s a reason we have Christmas, and Jesus is the reason.”
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“The Merriest Christmas Ever,” by Trinity portrait artist and children’s author Gaye Frances Willard, is available through her website, www.portraitartistnc.com.
The book sells for $9.95.
Willard’s print, “Tell Me the Story of Jesus,” is also available for $35.
A package of the two items sells for $40.