T’is the season for Atlantic Canadian literature. Bookstores are full of titles aimed at holiday-minded buyers that include popular reprints, new releases and bestsellers from all genres and for all age groups. In keeping with the season, some of these books take place or focus on Christmas or other holidays with heartwarming family tales, someone finding true spirit of the season and Santa Claus. Although for Atlantic Canadian authors and publishers, book themes can extend well beyond family reunions and a man in a red suit.
“Sometimes they [the holiday titles] are focused on Atlantic traditions, but other times they are just generic Christmas stories,” says Carolyn Guy, executive director of the Atlantic Publishers Marketing Association.
Guy finds that books with both an Atlantic and holiday theme can tackle many different topics, including regional traditions or stereotypes. Examples that she notes include Dale Jarvis’ Any Mummers ’Lowed In? and Bruce Nunn’s Buddy the Bluenose Reindeer. Any Mummers’ looks at the history and Christmas tradition of mummers in Newfoundland and Labrador. Buddy, whose eponymous protagonist is related to Rudolph, plays on how Maritimers can sometimes list a number of other relatives when trying to explain a family connection.
“Buddy’s the third cousin of Rudolph, twice removed on his mother’s side or something like that,” says Guy. “He’s a Maritime reindeer, so it has that Atlantic humor.”
Other holiday books simply use their setting to maintain this regional connection, such as A Christmas Dollhouse from Richard Rudnicki that is set depression era Nova Scotia, David Weale’s The True Meaning of Crumbfest which is about a mouse in Prince Edward Island and Sleigh Tracks in New Snow from Wayne Curtis which a collection of stories that are mostly set in New Brunswick.
Having stories that are both Atlantic and holiday themed have proven to be an important market for sentimental reasons as well. “Sometimes when people have family that are living elsewhere they like to send them a Christmas story that might remind them of home or make them nostalgic for the Maritimes,” says Terrilee Bulger, general manager of Nimbus Publishing and publisher at Acorn Press.
Guy notes that sometimes the setting or this nostalgic feeling isn’t the only reason a book resonates with a person. Many books, like Kevin Major’s The House of Wooden Santas, can appeal to readers even if they aren’t from the East Coast. “There are elements where the book has that small-town Newfoundland feel but it also has universal elements, such as a person coming from a larger community to a smaller community and trying to fit in,” says Guy about Wooden Santas.
Bulger adds that while many of these books due to this seasonal theme can only be sold during a specific time period, this hasn’t stopped them from being popular. “They have a short selling period, but they can sell year after year,” she says adding that many of these titles have become holiday favourites, such as the anthology A Maritime Christmas Treasury, Buddy the Bluenose Reindeer and The True Meaning of Crumbfest.
Although, when it comes to holiday shopping every shopper is different. Guy says that not everyone looking for an Atlantic Canadian book that’s about a December holiday. She says some non-seasonal titles, such as Michael Adder’s You Know You’re From Nova Scotia If … and You Know from New Brunswick If … have also proven to be popular gifts. On the other hand, shoppers who are looking for holiday stories don’t always want something that is set in Atlantic Canada or has Atlantic Canadian content.
“Sometimes people just want a Christmas story; they don’t necessarily want something with that Maritime connection,” says Guy, who adds that sometimes a reader or shopper wants the author to be Atlantic Canadian, not the story. “They [can also] want a book that’s illustrated by someone from here or written by someone from here, but not necessarily about here.”
Despite these differences, there is one thing that all holiday stories, no matter if they have they regional connection or not, tend to have in common: the longstanding and memorable connection they have with the reader. “They can have that heartwarming feeling to it that anyone can enjoy,” says Bulger. “Often there’s just that little bit of magic in these Christmas stories and you get that feeling [with them] year after year.”