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Monday, December 22, 2008

Michigan press offers online read of its Santa book about global warming

A children's book author hopes that her new Christmas story will help kids realize that they can have an impact on global warming.

"Santa Goes Green" (Mackinac Island Press, $15.95) is the story of a boy, Finn, who writes Santa and asks him to help raise awareness about global warming. Finn is interested in the issue because he has adopted a polar bear, and polar bears are losing their habitat.

Finn tells Santa he does not need any toys for Christmas, but instead he wants the jolly old elf's help. "Santa can do anything in (Finn's) mind," says author and publisher Anne Margaret Lewis.

The book has sold about 13,000 copies since the small Traverse City children's books publisher put a previewable version of the entire book online last month (at mackinacislandpress.com). Now in its second printing, it's a runaway hit.

Success has come without the embrace of mass-market booksellers, although Borders Books bought some for its Great Lakes-area stores. Librarians across the country are ordering "Santa" and other books, too, says associate publisher Brian Lewis. "It's really word-of-mouth people buying copies," he says. "It's this organic growth that we love."

ExtraordinaryMommy.com blogger Danielle Smith, bought "Santa" and other titles after looking at them online. She began touting the books. "People get to see every single page and every single detail," she says.

The "Santa Goes Green" "artistry is so rich, and the story is so sweet and well-told," Smith says. "I think that it resonates this time of year. And green is something we try to do in little bits and pieces, and when you have it in front of you, it's tangible on a child's level."

The project is a Lewis family affair. Anne, who has written 10 children's books, has been married to Brian for 22 years. And their son, Cameron, who is 6, gave Anne the idea for the book.

The Lewises married several years after they met in northern Michigan while windsurfing. She worked part time, then full time at Sleeping Bear Press, a small publishing firm that Brian started and sold six years ago. Before that, he also sold Lewis Publishers, an environmental publishing company started with his father in 1984. Then in 2004, Anne started Mackinac Island Press.

Theirs is not the only new, green Santa book. Another is "When Santa Turned Green" (Thomas Nelson Publishers, $15.99), but what makes the Lewises' book different is that you can see the whole book online before committing to buy it. "This mechanism has opened the door," says Brian Lewis. "We don't have to rely entirely on someone in New York City" to decide the fate of their product.

Early last summer, Anne and Cameron were reading a "National Geographic" article about how global warming has melted glaciers, which in turn reduced places for bears to live and hunt. "He asked how we could help the polar bears, so we started going around the house every time we left a room and shut the lights off. Then we would say, "We just saved another polar bear,' " she says. "I was trying to convince him that you can make a difference, and it worked."

That got Lewis to wondering whether she could write a book that would pass along the feeling. "I wanted it to be about polar bears because of how it came to be," she says. "And then I thought, who would a child think is the most powerful person who could help him do that? Santa. The story just started evolving."

Such a story of self-sacrifice fit into her writing style. "I tend to hide messages in books because I want (children) to learn through characters and the actions of characters that they can have fun or be a loyal friend," Lewis says. "My message is that kids can make a difference."

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