Writing ‘The Reindeer Games’
Local performer pens Olympic-inspired Christmas book
AuSABLE FORKS — Julie Robards is an antiques dealer with an unusual side hustle — during the Christmas season, she performs as “Julie Jingles” for local children. Now, she’s written a children’s book inspired by Lake Placid’s Olympic history: “The Reindeer Games.”
“For 11 years, I was a children’s entertainer up at Santa’s Workshop (in Wilmington),” she said. “I was one of the evening entertainers, and I played guitar. I had the persona Julie Jingles and I would tell the kids traditional stories and explain the history behind them, like for instance, why do we hang our stockings near the chimney, or why we put stockings up.”
The stories in Robards’ repertoire were based on Christmas history and what the kids were interested in. One topic kept coming up: Santa’s reindeer, especially Rudolph.
“One day, I said, ‘Do you know how they got their names?’ ‘Santa gave it to them!’ That’s right, Santa did,” she said. “But, the reason why is because Santa had Christmas Olympic Games, and Dasher won the dash, and Dancer and Prancer were the ice skaters, and Comet flew fast like a shooting star. And that story evolved over the years.”
Robards had thought about turning the story into a children’s book, but it took the encouragement of her friend Kathleen Critelli for her to start putting words on paper. Inspired by Clement Clarke Moore’s poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” — known better to some by its first line, “‘Twas the night before Christmas” — Robards began to write her story.
As she wrote, she began to look into the etymology and meaning of each reindeer’s name — Donder and Blitzen, for example, were of Germanic origin. She also took the opportunity to tweak the prevailing mythology of the reindeer, making some of them female, such as Cupid and Vixen. The toughest reindeer to include was Rudolph. Robards discovered Rudolph meant “shy,” and combined with the line in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” — “they wouldn’t let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games” — decided that including Rudolph could be a good lesson in bullying prevention for kids.
After writing the story, Robards encountered her next hurdle: finding an illustrator.
“I approached several artists that I found on the internet, and some of them submitted examples of their art, and it was cute but it wasn’t what I was looking for,” she said. “And one day, I was working at the Workshop in a little museum room and Grace Potthast, who is the artist-in-residence at Santa’s Workshop, she came walking through after the day was over. … I said, ‘Grace, I wrote a story. Do you have a few minutes to listen to it?’
“And so, she sat down and I read it to her and she had her eyes closed. When I was done, she said, ‘I saw pictures in my head while you were reading it to me.'”
Robards and Potthast became a team after that, working for the next three years to perfect “The Reindeer Games.”
“She’s an impeccable artist. She’s incredible,” Robards said of Potthast, who teaches art at Chazy Central Rural School.
“She started studying the anatomy of the reindeer that were at Santa’s Workshop, and then she also found online some Finnish reindeer races, and she watched the way they were running, and she studied it and studied it. … She had 100 illustrations that she had drawn, and from those, she created what you see in the book,” she said.
After the illustrations were complete, in 2022, Robards contacted friends in Maine, including Jeff Kelley, who ran a publishing company, Kellscraft Studio. Together, they ordered a print run of the book, which came out last December. Robards toured the book and her Christmas performances at local schools and libraries.
This year, Robards will tour the book again. She will kick off the holiday season at AuSable Forks’ annual Christmas in the Forks event, which will be on Dec. 2 this year. During Lake Placid’s Holiday Village Stroll on Dec. 9, Robards will perform at St. Eustace Church and read her story, accompanied by a “giant” version of the book created by Potthast. On Dec. 16, she will read the story at the Keene Valley Fire Department’s holiday event, and the department will hand out free copies of the book to children who attend.
“The Reindeer Games” is available for purchase at Robards’ store, Dragonfly Art and Antiques, in AuSable Forks. It is also sold at The Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid and the gift shop at the Lake Placid Olympic Museum.