By Natalie Bickel

Former “The Louisville Cardinal” Reporter Natalie Bickel

Reporting on the fun stuff.” That’s how I defined my role as a features writer for The Louisville Cardinal from 2014-2015. I wrote about student trends, films being shown at school, and holidays. Given the opportunity with U of L’s student newspaper immensely accelerated my writing journey.

From that journalism-centric foundation, I created a blog, wrote for publications including Darling Magazine, finished my first novel, published a short story in an anthology, and finally authored a children’s book titled The Christmas Clue

When I was drafting fictional, yet realistic pieces of work for my news writing class, like an obituary for our favorite celebrity, nearby construction, or local business milestones, I knew I highly enjoyed writing in this way, but I never thought I would branch out to become a children’s book author. 

The idea came to me right after Christmas of 2020. I had recently finished another round of edits on my novel, and I was inkling for another adventure. Writing has always been my method for processing the world around me, using emotions, experiences, and metaphors to take readers on a journey with me, broadening my individual life moments. When I write, my goal is for people to feel exactly what I’m feeling, to be able to imagine a setting so clear they could almost reach out and touch it, to not see a screen with words, but rather a redefined world that comes with a fresh way of viewing an everyday experience. Then, it hit me. I could do just that by writing about one of my favorite moments that occurs every year—a tradition my dad created and still implements annually—a clue-filled scavenger hunt to the last present. 

When chatting with friends about their traditions, I found that my family’s rhyming clues were unique. The concept was solid, and I had all of the clues from each Christmas, dating back to 2000. My dad personalized most clues to whatever my brother and I were into at the time. For example, maybe we had passed our driver’s test that year or we were obsessed with Hillary Duff and other TV shows. Though I love these specific stanzas, in order to make The Christmas Clue universal and relatable, I picked out my favorite clues and made them more general.

My father also included extensive rhyming that sometimes was a bit of a stretch, within each clue. I tried to match his rhyming structure throughout the story portion of The Christmas Clue. This took some practice, as I don’t typically write this way. But, once I was into it, it was like the rhymes kept coming to me—in my dreams, while I was watching TV, during work, taking a walk, etc. A rhyme would unexpectedly pop into my head and I then had to get onto paper immediately before it vanished. 

Writing a children’s book also usually requires a happy ending, which wasn’t a problem, and a “moral to the story” revelation at the end. To achieve this, I broke down the basic reason why my brother and I cherish our tradition—throughout the chaos, there are intense feelings of love, joy, and specialized family time. Between the laughter and out-of-breath racing around the house, we find connectedness to one another. 

Since writing The Christmas Clue, I’ve found many others who have some version of an annual seek-and-find or hunt-to-find presents. I’m grateful many of us have memories and traditions that bring us back to a child-like sense of wonder while surrounded by the love of family. 

If you’d like to buy The Christmas Clue, you can do so here. The coloring book version is available here. You can check out Natalie Bickel’s site here