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December 3, 2010

Donna VanLiere: Autumn at Christmas

Posted by Anonymous

DonnaVanLiere.jpgDonna VanLiere is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of 10 novels --- including THE CHRISTMAS JOURNEY, which hit the shelves in late October. Today, she explains why she gives books each Christmas…and shares the heartwarming story of a young girl named Autumn.

In 2007, my husband Troy traveled to China with Holt International (one of the oldest and largest adoption agencies) to tour and help in Holt orphanages. While there, Troy met a shy, beautiful teenager named Autumn. She was 13 years old and had to be adopted before she turned 14 in October, or else she’d be “too old” (in China’s opinion) to be adopted. Troy came home from that trip with one goal in mind: to find Autumn a home. At that time, Troy and I were still waiting for the adoption of our son in Guatemala to go through, and we couldn’t begin another adoption until his was finalized.

Troy called our longtime friends from college, Bob and Dannah and said, “I found another child for you.” They had two teenagers at home and didn’t know they were looking for another one, but sometimes it takes a good friend to point out the obvious. Troy and I both began to send out mass e-mails to people about Autumn, explaining that she had to be out of China in the next seven months, before her 14th birthday. Troy had three pictures he had taken of Autumn in China, and we attached those in the e-mail. In each photo she’s looking into the camera with her dark, sad eyes. “Do you see me?” she seems to say. “Do I matter?” 

When those eyes looked out at Bob and Dannah, something welled up inside of them. That welling sensation is hard to explain unless you’re an adoptive parent. It’s something fierce and cell-deep. It’s looking at a picture of a stranger on the other side of the world and saying, “I see you. You matter to me. You’re mine.” Walls were moved, red tape was stripped bare, and obstacles were bulldozed in order to get Autumn out of China before her 14th birthday. At age 14, she would be spending her first Christmas in America! I pondered for days what I should get her before the answer struck me --- books!

The books I read during my childhood stand out like mile markers in my mind. I didn’t know what sort of markers Autumn had (if any), but I set out to purchase some books that went straight into my bloodstream when I was a child. Isn’t that what a great book does? As it’s held just inches from our eyes, the words have the power to transport, weaken or strengthen us. If the words are beautiful, we come away a little more beautiful; if the words are bitter or angry, we come away a little enraged ourselves. In Hebrew, the word “Dabar” means both word and action. Sometimes, we give little credence to the words we choose to speak or read, but one word holds great power --- it doesn’t just say something, it does something. It does something to you, the reader, becoming part of who you are.

I wanted Autumn’s first books in America to do something to her, to move her --- to open her eyes to passion and life and hope. Among the books I purchased were THE LITTLE PRINCE, LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, PETER PAN, THE SECRET GARDEN, LITTLE WOMEN and C.S. Lewis’s children’s classic, THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE. I chose books that would take Autumn around the world in her imagination, where she would feel alive or a little bit braver. I wanted books that would make her a little wiser in the end, or help her see the world through an eye of beauty or compassion --- books that would help her feel a little less alone, that would let her know that others have walked a similar path. 

I wasn’t there that Christmas when Autumn opened her gift from us; I couldn’t watch her pull out each book and look at the covers with the writing that was still so foreign to her. I imagined that the stack of books sitting in her room was a bit daunting, but in the days ahead of learning to speak, write and read English, I hoped she would pick them up one at a time and search for words she recognized. Several months later her mother called me to say that Autumn had “devoured” the first book, and once it was in her veins, she picked up the second, the third and then the others in the stack. Books are like that --- when they get into our bloodstream we want another and then another. That’s why a book is one of the best gifts I can give. It says, “These words don’t just say something to me, they mean something; they do something to me. I hope they’ll do something to you, too.”

Great books take the pain, joy, adventure and sorrow of life and bind us together in our humanity. And in the end, they make us more human for having read them. That was my hope for Autumn that first Christmas, and it’s my Christmas wish for you as well. Happy reading and Merry Christmas!

To learn more about Donna VanLiere and her bestselling books, visit her official website, And don’t forget to check back tomorrow, as Anne Fortier muses on holiday magic.