A Christmas story that started as a dream for Rhys Griffin has come to life in print, and it can be read by young holiday book fans in Houston and beyond this winter.
Griffin’s 48-page hardcover book, illustrated by Liz Pritchard, was released Dec. 8 online through a partnership with Houston-based nonprofit Spectrum Fusion. The nonprofit’s Reactor Room provides autistic adults such as Pritchard and Griffin with a place to connect with the community, build on their talents and reach their full potential through both individualized mentoring and collaboration, according to Spectrum Fusion’s website.
The story, which Griffin said came to him in a dream he had years ago, involves elements inspired by three of the most popular animated train characters and storylines: “The Polar Express,” Thomas the Tank Engine and “The Little Engine That Could.”
“When I woke up, I wrote this idea down and saved it for a day when I could put it to use,” Griffin recalled, adding the story resurfaced when he read it aloud at a Spectrum Fusion Christmas party in 2019. “People loved it so much they wanted a book.”
The 27-year-old Clear Lake resident spent the next couple months writing and refining the text of his story. In the book, Tucker the steam engine dreams of transporting holiday goods to and from the North Pole as a Christmas train on the magical Rails of Wonder. When he finally gets his chance, Tucker must overcome various obstacles, testing his courage and determination. Tucker's story is about the unexpected, seemingly impossible-to-conquer challenges he encounters along the way to realizing his dreams, Griffin said.
Once Spectrum Fusion CEO Heidi Ham—who recalled everyone at the 2019 Christmas party being “enraptured” by Griffin’s story—connected Griffin and Pritchard, Pritchard hand-drew scenes for the story and digitized them. Ham said the team marveled at how quickly, efficiently and gracefully the duo incorporated feedback, worked together and collaborated with others involved in the process to help this book come to life.
“I just had a really clear vision,” Pritchard said. “It was a blast.”
Griffin and Pritchard both said they, like Tucker, have faced various challenges that felt insurmountable, particularly as autistic people. The process of seeing the book come together has given them a sense of pride.
“One of the main messages is perseverance in this book,” Griffin said. “[And I guess] that's something people can relate to on the spectrum as well.”
Pritchard agreed, adding the book helps show readers they can be who they want to be, try new things and expand their mindsets.
“I think this book is a symbol [of] and a testament to perseverance and hope,” she said.
Autistic adults’ creative talents can be often overlooked or minimized, but creativity is a prized talent in many global industries, Ham said. Griffin’s and Pritchard’s creative efforts resulted in a holiday tale with lessons about hope and determination that can leave a positive impact on all children, she said, and Spectrum Fusion aims to continue empowering creative autistic adults through projects like this one.
Griffin said he is already looking forward to executing his second, even third, book ideas through the nonprofit and working to hone other professional skills, including videography.
"Tucker and the Christmas Train," available on a preorder basis as of late December, costs $32 and will be delivered locally or shipped around the United States. It is available for purchase here.