This 'Broken Ornament' Led To Christmas Magic Award-winning illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi got the idea for his new children's book when his own daughter accidentally dropped a beloved Christmas ornament, and he made up a story to comfort her. W

This 'Broken Ornament' Led To Christmas Magic

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Some of the best stories begin at home. That's where Tony DiTerlizzi got the idea for his latest book. The Caldicott-winning author and illustrator perhaps best known for "The Spiderwick Chronicles" took a big leap into the unknown for his first Christmas book. It's called "The Broken Ornament," and it all began a few years back when his family was getting their house ready for the holiday. NPR's Lynn Neary picks up the story from there.

LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: Decorating the tree is a beloved annual tradition for the DiTerlizzi family. They gather in their library listening to Christmas music...


NEARY: ...And sipping hot chocolate while they all hang ornaments on the tree. Sophia DiTerlizzi was just 8 years old when her mom brought home a new box of ornaments. She and her dad remember what happened next.

SOPHIA DITERLIZZI: I went to hang one up, and then it broke.


TONY DITERLIZZI: That sound is unmistakable in that kind of pooh (ph), that popping, loud explosion.

SOPHIA: I mean, I was scared because it was right by my feet. And it just, like, shattered, and the glass sprayed everywhere.

T. DITERLIZZI: And I could see the look on her face. She looked a little bit braced for, oh, gosh, what's going to happen? She felt bad.

SOPHIA: And then my dad said that every time an ornament breaks, a Christmas fairy is born.

NEARY: Her dad says he doesn't know where that thought came from. It just popped into his head. But his wife, Angela, was watching and listening to the whole exchange.

T. DITERLIZZI: And she had these giant eyes, and she's looking at me. And she goes, that's your next book. And I'm like, no, no, no, no. Come on, come on. "Charlie Brown Christmas" is playing, and we got hot cocoa. And we'll clean that ornament up later. She's like, no, no no. That's your next book.

NEARY: DiTerlizzi wasn't sure. But then he posted a photo of the broken ornament on Instagram with the story about the fairy. He got a huge response, which made him think people would like the book.

T. DITERLIZZI: As an author, you look for those universal experiences as the basis for a story. If people can enter your story through a very universal experience, then you can send them into flights of fancy or fantastic worlds and stuff, which is obviously what I like to do.

NEARY: So in the book, Sophia morphs into a little boy named Jack who wants more of everything at Christmas. In his eagerness to decorate, he breaks an ornament that meant a lot to his mother. The fairy who emerges from the broken ornament helps him understand what's really important about Christmas. Her name is Tinsel. And she's based on Angela DiTerlizzi, who helped her husband with the book.

ANGELA DITERLIZZI: What was she going to be? Who was Tinsel? And I think as soon as we started having conversations about who she was, we realized that she was actually pretty sassy. And I would kind of voice her, and Tony said, you're Tinsel (laughter).

NEARY: In this excerpt read by all three DiTerlizzis, Jack sees Tinsel for the first time.


SOPHIA: (Reading) Are you my fairy godmother?

T. DITERLIZZI: (Reading) Jack asked. A bubbly voice replied...

A. DITERLIZZI: (Reading) Godmother? Oh, no. They don't trust me with a wand. Call me Tinsel.

SOPHIA: (Reading) So do you grant wishes?

T. DITERLIZZI: (Reading) Jack leaned in close.

A. DITERLIZZI: (Reading) What is it that you wish for?

T. DITERLIZZI: (Reading) Tinsel replied. A smile curled in the corner of her mouth like a candy cane.

SOPHIA: (Reading) I want the best Christmas ever.


NEARY: Tony DiTerlizzi's illustrations grow more fantastic and lush as Tinsel fills Jack's living room with Christmas trees and elves, reindeer, snowmen, nutcracker soldiers and more. DiTerlizzi says creating "The Broken Ornament" was really hard.

T. DITERLIZZI: It was tricky because there's so many classics that we know and love. But there's really none about a Christmas fairy. Like, holy cow, maybe we might have found a little thing that's different.

NEARY: Above all, there was one person DiTerlizzi hoped to please - Sophia, who's now 11.

SOPHIA: I really like it. And I like that it was inspired by me, but it doesn't incorporate me in it. I really like that it has a different family but the same story.

NEARY: And, yes, Sophia does have her own favorite ornament. But it's made of felt and doesn't break. Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.


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