Christmas….. the mere mention of that treasured holiday invokes a multitude of images and emotions, even when the holiday season has long since come and gone. There are so many wonders of the holiday: dancing lights across rooftops, laughing children delighted by their gifts, and human kindness bringing hope to a weary world left exhausted by another year. Throughout the years, one of the most innate parts of the holiday season brought to mind by the word “Christmas” has always been stories. Whether it be the stories we tell between friends and family or the timeless traditional tales known across the world, the holiday season is intrinsically linked with stories. Stories such as “The Nutcracker,” “A Christmas Carol,” and ”The Krampus” have all been told and reimagined over the years, promoting the holiday spirit to all those who listen to these tales.
However, it is often the simplest stories that get the most attention and ignite the most powerful emotions of the season within the hearts and minds of the souls who celebrate this whimsical time of the year. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,“ “Frosty the Snowman,” “The Gift of the Magi,” and even “How the Grinch Stole Christmas“ all convey the spirit of the holidays in its purest form through their straightforward tales. Even when the holiday has ended and the world has moved on, the connections that these simple stories make are not easily forgotten. They linger within the depths of the heart and mind, silently influencing our choices and actions with a gentle push without us even realizing it. It was this gentle push that lead Mr. Rhys Griffin to create his own festive story, focused around a passion that he holds dearly to his heart. Thus, it led to the story of “Tucker and the Christmas Train.”
The story of this new holiday fable’s creation began in 2006 when a young Rhys Griffin had a quite literal dream. In his youth, as he weathered the 8th grade at the “Space Center Intermediate School,” Griffin was enthralled by the marvel of locomotive transportation and fell asleep one evening to a simple yet moving dream. In this dream, Griffin found himself at a bookstore with his eyes drawn to the children’s section, where he found a book called “Tucker and the Christmas Train.” As he held the book within his hands, the cover came to life and transported Griffin to a wondrous sight. A multitude of azure swirls stretched themselves across both the black canvas of night and endless fields of white; as the stars bathed the land in its warm light. Riding along those azure tracks was a festive green train engine with red wheels and a cheery cartoon face on its yellow smoke box. The train gave a warm and festive smile towards Griffin as it rolled on its tracks leading to a foreboding blizzard in the distance. After waking from his enchanting reverie, Griffin immediately grabbed a pencil and paper and wrote down every detail he could remember of his festive dream. He knew that he had a wonderful design for a children’s book, but as he was still working his way through middle school, he instead decided to hold onto his idea and tucked it away for safe keeping; waiting for the day he could make his simple dream a reality.
The years went by as Griffin finished his education and began his search for employment. It was around this time that he discovered the nonprofit organization, “Spectrum Fusion”, which specializes in assisting young adults on the autism spectrum to develop their skills and passions into a stable and fulfilling career path. Where most organizations that claim to help adults on the spectrum merely prepare them for the transient process of job hunting, resume building, and interviews, Spectrum Fusion empowers participants by creating a platform that allows its members to showcase their talents and skills, as well as establishing connections with businesses and other organizations pertaining to their fields of interest, and serving as a nexus point for those businesses to meet up with individuals that they would overlook. In other words, Spectrum Fusion courts these businesses to come to them, rather than sending their autistic adults into the traditional interview process which time and again tends to fail them. All the while, Spectrum Fusion provides a fruitful environment for its members to practice their talents and make use of their skills.
It was through Spectrum Fusion that Griffin found the opportunity to finally share his story with the world. According to Griffin, “once [he] came up with the idea and presented it to Dr. Ham, it didn’t take too long to write down the whole story. It did take a few days to write down the first draft, and further drafts did have their obstacles, but a few editors at Spectrum Fusion and I were able to fix these issues without any problem.” With the story of Tucker and the Christmas Train finally down in print, Spectrum Fusion sponsored the project every step of the way through each stage gate of the creative process and ultimately led to the publication and distribution of the book. Spectrum Fusion connected Griffin with an illustrator for his story, who is also on the autism spectrum, and was even able to publish it in time for the 2020 Christmas season as well! Through Spectrum Fusion, Griffin was introduced to Liz Pritchard, an independent illustrator with her own business known as ”Paperback Comics.” When Griffin first told Pritchard about the book, she provided test illustrations within mere minutes of being asked to collaborate, leaving him both amazed and humbled by her contributions.
Pritchard’s art style could be described as “organized chaos,“ invoking countless conflicting and intense emotions such as passion, doubt, mania, paranoia, and love. Her art culminates in a lesson on “learning to love all of one’s self, despite one’s insecurities.” At first, readers might find it difficult to associate such complex emotions and messages with a simple story meant for children, but the illustrations in Griffin’s story paint an entirely different picture. The intricate line work and vibrant colors create an imaginative tableau that captures the magical nature of Christmas on every page, inviting the reader to marvel at its richness, and better appreciate the story as it unfolds.
The passion that Pritchard brings to her artwork, designed to inspire oneself to become what they wish to be despite the possibility of rejection, resonated with Griffin on a fundamental level as his motivations were the same as hers. From the very beginning, Griffin wanted to tell a story not just for the young, but for the young at heart, as well as adults who wish to maintain their connection to childhood games and stories, and seek to incorporate those connections into their lives. Some closed-minded people may refer to these individuals as “man-children who need to grow up,“ but it’s that negative connotation that Griffin hopes to fight through his storytelling. He doesn’t wish to let someone’s age, let alone society’s expectations dictate what one should and shouldn’t find enjoyment in. Instead, he wants people to freely seek out what makes them happy, regardless of the intended age group.
With Pritchard’s stunning art style complimenting Griffin’s festive story, “Tucker and the Christmas Train” was published through Bookbaby Publishing and was made available to buy on the third of December 2020, with Spectrum Fusion personally distributing the book through its official website. At this time, Griffin has another book on the way, though currently, he has no plans for a new Tucker book. However, he has expressed a desire to build on “Tucker and the Christmas Train” should inspiration strike him in the future. His more prominent wishes are to explore other options in the field of filmmaking, as he is currently entertaining the idea of turning his story into a motion picture in some shape or form, saying that “an adaptation of Tucker wouldn’t be off the table.” For now though, the story of Tucker, the small green train with a yellow smoke box braving a winter’s storm, has entered the ranks of those simple yet meaningful stories that invoke the spirit of the holiday season; now available for children everywhere, regardless of their age.