The cover of The Christmas Sweater lists Glenn Beck as the sole author. It’s only when you get to the second title page that you see that this children’s book is adapted by Chris Schoebinger from an original story by Glenn Beck with Kevin Balfe and Jason Wright.
The story is a dramaless tale of a boy around 10 who wants to get a bike for Christmas until he has a dream in which he gets a sweater that unleashes a wave of family love. When he wakes up, he wants the sweater more than the bike. Of course he gets both. Seeming to orchestrate both the dream and Christmas day is a grandfather who resembles a very buff Santa Claus.
A curious thing about the book is that this blissful, happy family Christmas is completely devoid of any religious element. We never even see the top of the Christmas tree, which would likely have a nativity star on it. Everything for this possession-rich white rural or suburban family revolves around the material. The two symbols in the story are the sweater whose warmth becomes a metaphor for the warmth of family life, which in this story is something that is received, not given: the boy receives the emotion by getting a gift not by giving one. The other symbol is a candy cane which the author (authors, manufacturers??) uses to suggest in an oblique way that grandpa knew he was inside the boy’s dream.
The illustration style and other design elements are fairly standard: finely drawn but airbrushed realism in bright contrasting colors; a nice selection of points-of-views for the illustrations. Little paragraphs on each page covering the “white space” of the illustration. All pretty standard for hard-cover children’s books.
The book looks like a piece of fabricated art, that is a work of art or entertainment that is put together by a committee for the sole purpose of creating a product to sell (as opposed to being the passionate response to life that real art is supposed to be, whether it’s a movie by Fellini or a children’s story by Ezra Jack Keats.)
Most examples of fabricated art nowadays come from the world of movies and popular music.
Here are some of the traits of fabricated art that we can see in The Christmas Sweater:
- Multiple authors or a muddied authorship situation in which you don’t really know who did what. The promotional material may say “Glenn Beck,” but in the book no one is listed as the writer, although we have an adapter. And we have no idea if the two people who figured out the original story took stenography while Beck spun out details or if Beck sipped tea while they pieced the story together from little snippets of images and plotlines from other books.
- The work extends a brand and depends on the brand, which certainly is the case with The Christmas Sweater.
- The work pulls together elements of its art form in a way that is purely imitative as opposed to breathing new life into these old forms. Fabricated art will not create original content, but instead throws out stock characters. It will tell you something that seems as if you heard it before. In The Christmas Sweater, some of stock Christmas story elements used without even the injection of a new twist include wanting a bike, an older guy who could really be Santa Claus and a prance through the snow.
- There is a sense of great distancing between the audience and the story, as if we’re looking in from the outside as opposed to being in the middle of the action. In the case of The Christmas Sweater, the distancing is created through the sketchiness of the vignettes which constitute the plot, the lack of any emotional dynamic in the characters and the creation of symbols that do not really refer to anything.
The back cover notes that The Christmas Sweater is a best-selling novel. That means that children and families everywhere are reading this lifeless artificial book product instead of A Christmas Carol, ’Twas the Night Before Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, My First Christmas and other classics. I guess that’s similar to eating fruit rolls and drinking corn syrup-rich fruit drinks instead of eating a piece of fruit.