By Michelle Perras-Charron
For many, December brings the arduous task of hauling boxes or plastic bins up from the basement or down from the attic. There's decorating work to be done, outside and inside, the center of which for many families is the Christmas tree. Every family has its own way of decorating -- some ornaments hung by children whose once-tiny handprints are forever painted on them, some by the couple whose marriage it celebrates. Whatever the ornament, there is likely a history behind it, as "every ornament tells a story."
Centered around that theme comes a new book and ornament set, Oliver The Ornament, which author Todd Zimmermann hopes will spread a message of kindness and become a holiday tradition.
Oliver The Ornament tells the story of The Nelson family and their ornament collection, which includes Oliver, a winking ice skater who was purchased on the Nelson parents' first date. A family favorite, Oliver emerges from the box broken one season. He is bullied by some of his fellow ornaments, who trick him and leave him behind in the attic. His journey from the attic to the tree is fueled by his kindness and forgiveness.
"The anti-bullying message is really, really important," Zimmermann says. "But I think the stronger message is the kindness that you see exhibited by the ornaments and by Oliver."
It's also emphasized by Zimmermann, who holds author readings coupled with "kindness-centric" activities for children at stores, schools, hospitals, and youth groups. During these events, he talks about the quality -- what it means and what it looks like.
"I much prefer to encourage children to do something positive, rather than scolding them," he says, explaining why he shifts the focus to acts of kindness that occur in the book, rather than bullying.
The spark of the story came in December 2013 when Zimmerman was hanging the last of nearly 200 ornaments on an already-full Christmas tree, and a friend reminded him he didn't have to hang them all.
"I said, 'What am I going to do, put him back in the attic?' and the idea for Oliver began with that," Zimmermann recalls.
A few days later, in the early morning hours of Christmas Day, Zimmermann wrote the story in less than an hour. He self-published the book after a successful July 2015 Kickstarter campaign, which exceeded his goal of $50,000, and at the time was the top-funded Kickstarter publishing project worldwide.
Surpassing the funding goal for a Christmas book in the middle of summer prompted one thought: I'm onto something.
Illustrated by Teddy Lu, Oliver was initially sold in 15 Midwest stores. Last year, Zimmermann recruited Oliver ambassadors, held reading parties, and began attending trade shows nationwide. As a result, the gift set can now be found in more than 350 independent stores.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I envision this is where I would be," he says.
He hopes families will enjoy Oliver together this holiday season: "I love the thought of everyone sitting down together and talking about family traditions, and telling the stories behind their ornaments."
In keeping with Oliver's message of kindness, 5% of proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to children's charities. Zimmermann plans to write six more books about the different ornaments on The Nelson's tree. With each subsequent book, a higher percentage of the proceeds will be donated -- up to 100% by Book 7.