A Perfect Book for This Place, This Time of Year

Maude and the Merry Christmas Tree

With teamwork, dreams become reality

In Maude and the Merry Christmas Tree (2020), eight-year-old Maude goes alone into the Maine woods to find and mark a Christmas tree for her father to cut for their family celebration. Little does she know that one of the season’s first snowstorms is set to crest over her, covering and hiding her way home with a blanket of white.

Leaving Maude there for a minute, it’s important to note that the author of this story, Cynthia Fraser Graves, grew up in Rumford, Maine, a small mill town, during the 1950s. Being a child then was intensely different than being a child now. Children in those days played out of doors almost all of the time. There was no technological realm to tap into, and no threat of danger around every corner, so kids freely played games like red rover, dodgeball, marbles, pick-up sticks, tiddlywinks, and hide and seek. It is this world that Graves shares with today’s kids in her new series, Maude of Maine.

The book series came to Graves as a dream, one of those ideas that stays on after you awaken and just won’t go away. The titles of many Maude stories materialized quickly—Maude and the Holy Oak, Maude: The Lilac Thief, Maude Plays Marbles—all based on remembered events of her childhood. She began to sketch the stories lovingly, visualizing the character of feisty Maude, knowing that someday she would find an opportunity to guide her into print.

Author Cynthia Fraser Graves, left, and illustrator Nancy Bariluk-Smith.

Serendipitously, she and I met on LinkedIn. I am an artist and illustrator, and we realized that we lived around the corner from each other in West Kennebunk. We formed a friendship, admiring each other’s work and style. When Cynthia asked me if I would be willing to become an illustrator for Maude, I said, “Yes!” It became a joyful project, bringing Maude to life in Maude and the Merry Christmas Tree, the first of the planned series. The whole endeavor has been a dream event, bringing together our talents, imaginations, and best energies.

And to return to Maude in the Maine woods, with the snow coming down? All I can say is that tinfoil, a Christmas tree, and a red bird all play parts in this delightful and heartwarming tale, combining adventure, bravery, and friendship. Maude and the Merry Christmas Tree is a perfect story for this place and this time of year.

Maude and The Merry Christmas Tree is available in Kennebunk at Daytrip Society, Cape Porpoise Kitchen, Mail-It Unlimited, Cumming Market, and The Art COOP (and note that at The Art COOP, 149 Alfred Road, Kennebunk, it is also available with the Maude doll, created by Nancy Bariluk-Smith); in Wells, at Remember the Maine; and in Falmouth, at Book Review. The book is now on Amazon and IngramSpark (along with two previous books written by Ms. Graves, Dusk on Route 1, and Never Count Crow: Love and Loss in Kennebunk, Maine). It will be on sale during the Prelude Craft Fairs in early December.

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