Jim Barbato, a microbiologist by training and a former professor at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy in Boston, learned the art of storytelling from his father. “I’ve always had a great imagination and enjoyed being a storyteller. I picked that trait up from my father who always told me stories as a child.” As a science teacher, Jim used stories to help his students remember the facts and principles they needed to learn.
Jim has three children. The eldest, Victoria, co-authored The Magic Christmas Ornament with him. Joseph is an architect now, and John is in marketing for a major company.
“I always told my children bedtime stories especially at Christmas time. There was that stage, that perfect age, when they were about five, six, seven years old,” he says.
One Christmas when they asked for a story Jim had them gather around the Christmas tree and pick out their favorite ornament.
“They picked out their favorite ornament and were telling me which one it was. And I said, ‘Actually, if you look at this one right here, this ornament is one that I found when I was a little boy while I was walking through the woods one evening. I found it in the knothole of a tree. This isn’t just any ornament,’ I told them. ‘It’s a magic ornament and if you stare into it hard enough, you’ll be able to look into Santa’s workshop and see what he’s doing tonight.’
“And of course with their beautiful imaginations at that age they stared at the ornament and they start saying, ‘Dad, I think I can see something. I see it! I can see it moving!”
And so a story was told and a family tradition began.
Jim taught microbiology for 20 years and set up his own business, a microbiology lab. After he sold his company, at 60, his kids suggested that since he had time on his hands, he write the story about the magic Christmas ornament that he used to tell them so many years ago. Even now, in their thirties, they still remembered those holiday moments.
“I started to think about that and realized I did have the time and I wanted to do something totally different. It was great. I actually had to interview my own kids to find out what they remembered about the story. They would tell me the story back the way they remembered it. I asked Victoria to help—she is a high school ELL administrator and was a teacher in the Boston area and she has her master’s in English. She’s a very good writer. It was just a great opportunity to do a project with my daughter.”
Jim found an editor and an illustrator. “The illustrations for this book are a little different,” he explains. “They are made to look more like photographs, like real pictures, rather than like cartoon characters, and we purposely went for that look. The Polar Express was always one of the favorite books in our family, and we wanted something similar for the illustrations.”
Three and a half years after starting the project, The Magic Christmas Ornament came to be.
But Jim wanted something more than a book. “I wanted the book to be accompanied by a magic Christmas ornament, so that it would become a keepsake. I was hoping that maybe someday this ornament and this story would become a family favorite that they could read and look forward to reading every year.”
“It’s been a labor of love,” says Jim. “It’s been so much fun.”