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Cole Family Christmas author shares the meaning of the holidays

Mary Fetzer is a freelance writer and marketing consultant with a marketing degree from Penn State University and 15 years of international business experience. Mary specializes in writing about parenting, children, pregnancy, college, h...

True meaning of Christmas

Do you remember O'Henry's "The Gift of the Magi?" The beautiful Christmas classic revealed the generous, unselfish hearts of characters Jim and Della. The love they shared was greater than any possession. Now there's "The Gift of the Magi" for this generation. "Cole Family Christmas" will help your children rediscover the true meaning of Christmas.

This delightful story introduces us to a coal-mining family with nine children, struggling to make ends meet in the harsh Appalachian Mountains. The Cole Family Christmas website (ColeFamily-Christmas.com) promises readers they will "feel the cold drifting up from the frigid floorboards…smell the food Mama cooks and sense the coziness in the tiny kitchen as her children help her prepare each family meal." When the Coles give away a prized possession, they – and the reader -- learn that love and togetherness are far more important than material things.

One of the nine Cole children is 88-year-old Hazel Cole Kendle. Kendle co-authored Cole Family Christmas with her granddaughter-in-law, Jennifer Liu Bryan. Together they have preserved the Cole's cherished history.

SheKnows asked Ms. Bryan how this beautiful book came to be.

Why did you write this book?

I was moved to write this book by the passion of the Cole descendants to share this cherished story about family, love and the true meaning of Christmas. Numerous Cole family members contributed their input, talents and enthusiasm along the way. This project has been an amazing family journey.

What was your inspiration?

The story was passed down to Hazel Cole Kendle by her older sister, Ruble, the storyteller in the family. Hazel, in turn, told the story to her own children and to her grandchildren. Although many of the details were lost to memory, Cole Family Christmas is based on that treasured tale. For the aspects of the story that were forgotten, I talked with family members and with Hazel and tried to imagine what life would have been like for the large, loving and boisterous Cole family at that time in Benham, Kentucky.

Tell us about the Cole family

The book looks at life in the crowded coal company house that eleven Cole family members called home. Although the family was poor by most standards, Hazel recalls that none of the Cole children ever felt they were wanting. There were nine children, and they were a tight-knit clan. The family remains close today; indeed, every Father's Day, descendants of the Cole family gather for a reunion in Cincinnati, where the family settled after moving from Benham. As someone lucky enough to have married into the family, I feel extremely fortunate to be a part of their amazing history – and their still unfolding stories.

What is the target age for Cole Family Christmas?

The book is written at about a fifth- to sixth-grade reading level. We hope, however, that Cole Family Christmas is read aloud by families and enjoyed by people of all ages. The nine brief chapters are ideal for being read aloud; we hope that such story times might become a Christmas tradition!

Who is Hilda?

Hilda is the pet goat of Ruble Cole, the protagonist of Coal Family Christmas. While Hilda plays an important part in the story, he is only a minor character in the book. Outside the book, however, his role has mushroomed. He has become an animated character that can interact in real-time with live audiences through cutting-edge technology. He traveled and talked to audiences about Cole Family Christmas and about the family's tradition of reading aloud. Since then, he's also become part of a national campaign to encourage families to read aloud. You can see Hilda, "the spokesgoat for read aloud," at the Read Aloud website.

What lessons can kids take away from this book?

Cole Family Christmas holds wonderful lessons about the value of family, about generosity and about love. During the holiday season when the focus often turns to material things, the book may remind kids of what is really important: the place our family holds in our hearts.

This 75-page illustrated book does is written so that readers really get to know the characters. As they learn lessons of love, readers also discover the importance of recording family history. "Genealogists and parents alike will love Cole Family Christmas for its uplifting quality and its gentle reminder of the true meaning of Christmas."

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