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A Christmas dream: Author, illustrator team up for children’s book

Illustrator Joni Armstrong and author Peter Marino review the illustrations in his Christmas book “Snowflake: the Tiniest Angel.” Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – Draw closer, young and old, to hear

Of Santa and his flying deer,

Of how an angel, seedpod small,

Brought kindly Santa to us all.

A children’s Christmas book, the result of collaboration between two local residents, now is available for purchase.

“Snowflake: The Tiniest Angel” details through verse the story of Snowflake, the tiniest angel. At God’s command, she flies to Earth to find Nicholas, who will be chosen by God to deliver Christmas gifts to children throughout the world in honor of Jesus’ birth.

God was about to make his pick,

When Snowflake blurted out: “Saint Nick!

I mean old Nicholas. I am sure

He has a heart that’s kind and pure.

The verse was written by Peter Marino of Cass Lake and the illustrations for the book were done by Joni Armstrong, who spent about a year working on the drawings.

“The story really gives God glory,” Armstrong said.

Proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to Sanford Children’s Therapy in Bemidji. Located within Peak Performance at Sanford Bemidji Medical Center, the children’s therapy and rehabilitation unit works with about 180 new children each year through physical, occupational, speech and hand therapy.

Armstrong is one of the therapists there. She and Marino met about four years ago after he had a rotator cuff repaired.

Snowflake’s story was born on Christmas Eve 1957. A Catholic chaplain was preparing to tell a Christmas story to a group of children when he was called away to a military hospital. The chaplain asked Marino to tell a story in his place. Marino had no idea what he would say, but he agreed, prayed to his guardian angel, turned to the children and out came the story of Snowflake, though it wasn’t originally offered in verse.

Years later, he developed the story into verse and published it in 1998 for adults and teens.

“Peter showed me the book and I said it was lovely,” Armstrong recalled. “I told him it would make a wonderful children’s book.”

A few months later, Armstrong went through the original verse and edited it for children.

“We can’t let go of the verse,” she insisted to Marino.

“They love the rhymes,” Marino agreed.

Later, Armstrong approached Marino about the images needed for the book.

“I told him I really feel like I would like to illustrate it,” she said.

Armstrong, who has drawn for professional literature, told Marino to let her do a few sketches for his consideration.

“What she ended up with is spectacular,” Marino said.

“Snowflake” tells how God sends his angels to Earth to find one giving soul to offer gifts to the world’s children on Christmas Day in honor of Jesus’ birth.

Snowflake, the tiniest angel, tires after her long flight to Earth. She decides to rest at a farm. When she wakes, she watches the farmer, an 85-year-old man, Nicholas, don a red suit and prepare his horses and sled to deliver gifts to area children.

His heart was filled with tenderness:

He gave to poor and rich, no less.

The gifts he brought made children smile,

Forget their worries for a while.

Such power is there in a gift

To gladden hearts and spirits lift.

The story concludes with Nicholas becoming Santa Claus.

But the story is about more than just tying together Christian beliefs with Santa Claus. It also stresses the importance of inclusion and equality.

Nicholas, in Marino’s account, echoes Martin Luther King Jr. as dreams about the future.

All children, black and brown and white

And red and yellow, as was right,

Would walk together holding hands

As brothers, sisters, in all lands.

Armstrong, as she sketched the accompanying image, featured seven children of varying ages and ethnic backgrounds; one girl sits in a wheelchair. Martin Luther King Jr. stands behind them.

Armstrong produced 63 illustrations for the book, a combination of pencil sketches, watercolors and acrylics.

As she developed the images, Armstrong used human models. Her son is an angel, a friend of her daughter is Snowflake and Peter himself is Nicholas.

Santa Claus, Armstrong said, has gotten a “bad rap” in recent years due to the ever-increasing commercialization of Christmas.

“But Santa’s really a good guy,” she said. “He demonstrates all of the things that God wants us to be.”

Marino has a doctorate in Greek and Latin literature and has written many poems and stories. He has a long-term dream for “Snowflake” that, at age 81, he knows he might not live to see: He wants the book developed into an animated Christmas movie.

“My dream is that it compete with the ‘Wizard of Oz’ as a Christmas version,” he said. “And why not? Is not Judy Garland one of Minnesota’s wondrous gifts to the world? Why can’t Snowflake be another of Minnesota’s gifts to the world?”


“Snowflake: the Tiniest Angel” is available for purchase at the Sanford Bemidji Medical Center gift shop, Kat’s Book Nook and the Wigwam shop in Lake George.

Proceeds from the $14 book will go toward Sanford Children’s Therapy, located within Peak Performance at Sanford Bemidji Medical Center.