When 15-year-old Rebecca Spitz saw a child hugging "Mint’s Christmas Message," she said, "Look, Mom!"
Rebecca had insisted on staying at a book signing earlier this month with Potomac Falls author and her mother Mary Y. Spitz, though her parents worried she would be bored.
"No, this is really fun, and I’m having a good time," Rebecca had said.
What Spitz had liked was seeing the book through Rebecca’s eyes, "to see her so excited," she said.
SPITZ SPENT three years writing her first children’s book, test marketing it, starting a publishing company Mother Moose Press and finding a distributor National Book Network. The 32-page book, illustrated by Spitz’s sister Joanne Y. Pierce of Long Island, hit independent booksellers and gift shops this year and is expected to be shelved at large bookstores in 2004.
"It’s a beautiful story, a wonderful message, and the illustrations are just gorgeous," said Linda Singer, owner of The Final Draft Booksellers in Purcellville.
Rebecca appears in some of the illustrations, along with Spitz’s husband Tom, who poses as Grandfather Tom, though he is younger and lacks the character’s white hair.
The story takes place in Port Washington, N.Y., Spitz’s hometown, and includes scenes from the town, along with Long Island, Loudoun County and the Oatlands Plantation near Leesburg. The story’s namesake Mint is based on a horse Rebecca used to exercise for a therapeutic riding program in Great Falls.
"He passed away, and I wanted to make a tribute to him," Spitz said. "He was such a character. We can glean a lot from animals. Sometimes there are situations [when] animals will do something and make you think."
IN THE STORY, Grandpa Tom had given his granddaughter Rebecca the pony as a Christmas present, a pony like the living Mint "who does not mind wearing a Santa hat," as the story states. Grandpa Tom, Mint’s trainer, lives at Herman’s Horse Farm, an actual place in Port Washington that Spitz, her two older sisters and brother visited as children to ride horses.
Mint teaches a lesson to Grandpa Tom on a stormy Christmas Eve. Grandpa Tom, who is not interested in Christmas, stays home while his family goes to church. When the weather turns and becomes a danger to the horses, Grandpa Tom tries to save them from the storm, but several of his attempts fail and Mint refuses his help.
"What was happening to the grandfather is more spiritual, and the pony is the one doing all the work," Spitz said.
Grandpa Tom wishes that he could become a pony and communicate directly with Mint. He has a religious epiphany that Mint senses and Mint returns to his stall.
"I like her book because it has meaning within the story," said Potomac Falls resident Kathy Lague, mother of two. "When my children were younger, it was really nice to have stories that have meaning, then you could talk about the meaning of the story not just [about] the story itself."
Spitz wrote the story in part out of frustration that Christmas was becoming more about presents. "I’m trying to convey values without shoving it down children’s throats," she said.
AT THE SAME time, Spitz wanted to give something to Tom, so she based the story on Tom’s favorite sermon given by his father, the Rev. C. Thomas Spitz, Jr. "In the sermon, he told a story about a man and his attempts on Christmas Eve to help a flock of birds. One Christmas, as a gift to my husband and with the sermon in mind, I wrote this story," Spitz wrote in the dedication.
Tom Spitz helped Spitz design and put the book together and provide public relations. "More than 50 percent of it is his help. I have the ideas, and he makes it happen," she said.
The couple, who have been married for 19 years, worked in the technology industry for several years, at times working for the same companies. Spitz worked for 15 years as a technical writer in configuration management, taking time off to raise their daughter and later working part-time. Tom Spitz works as a director for a software company in Reston.
Spitz considered returning to full-time work, but her husband convinced her to do what she loves, which is writing children’s stories. Her minister had given a sermon on the parable of talents, asking if the church members were really using their talents, and her friend told her she was selfish not to share her writing. "Three years ago, I decided I’m going to go for it," she said.
Spitz is working on another six children’s book projects. She is publishing a story about sibling diversity next year, based on the differences between her and Pierce, who is 22 months older than Spitz. "I loved to write. I would sit and write stories, and Joanne would paint," Spitz said.
The Spitzes have lived in Northern Virginia for 18 years, nine years in Loudoun County.