Watch a video  of the Random House build day.
By Heidi Kilgras, Random House Children’s Books editorial director
In early June, more than 40 of my Random House Children’s Books colleagues and I had the opportunity to pick up hammers, pick axes and power tools and get dirty in a way we don’t usually get at our desk jobs in publishing.
This particular build, in Newburgh, N.Y., had a very special connection to one of our upcoming picture books: The Carpenter’s Gift: A Christmas Tale About the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, written by David Rubel in collaboration with Habitat for Humanity and illustrated by Jim LaMarche. We actually worked on the home that will be built using wood milled from the 2010 Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, which parallels Rubel’s story. But the coincidences didn’t stop there.
At one point, I was working with a Habitat volunteer captain named Frank (also the name of the central Rockefeller Center construction worker in the book), and he asked me to take nails out of two-by-fours, just as the fictional Frank did of Henry, the young protagonist in the story. It gave me the shivers! I felt as though I was living the book firsthand and had stepped back in time to 1931, directly into Henry’s shoes. I keenly felt the line that Henry says in the book — as a child and once again as an old man — “If ever there was a magic moment, this is it.”
I know I wasn’t the only one having magic moments during the build that day. We were in awe of the dedication and heart of the Newburgh affiliate volunteers, moved to see the “before” and “after” homes in the town and hear the families’ stories. My Random House coworkers were clearly elated, inspired and invigorated — many of them pledging to begin volunteering for Habitat on a regular basis. In fact, one colleague is celebrating her 50th birthday by gathering a team of 50 friends to volunteer with her — she knows that by giving back, she’s giving a gift to herself and her friends.
If that doesn’t embody the spirit of Habitat for Humanity, I don’t know what does!