Cathleen Williams with her book “Santa’s Birds”. (Photos provided by Cathleen Williams)

Winter is upon us, and with winter comes a new set of birds. For a local author, these birds are more than just a symbol of the times. In her family, the birds were also friends of Santa, informing him of the good deeds of children before the holidays. In her book, “Santa’s Birds”, Cathleen Williams uses an old family story to both educate and inspire children around Carver County.

“I remember one little boy looking at the book and he got so excited because he identified a cardinal,” said Williams. “I always say it’s inspirational and educational.”

The story of “Santa’s Birds” started more as a folk tale in Williams’ childhood home. As a way to discipline her children, Williams’ mother would point to the dark-eyed juncos outside and tell them the birds were assigned to keep an eye on them for Santa. If they did anything naughty, such as not cleaning their mess or helping around the house, they would fly to Santa and tell him.

As she got older and began her own family, the story continued to pass through oral tradition in Williams’ family. She used to discipline her own children in the grocery store if they started to throw a tantrum or fuss. Soon, a friend of hers Donna Lueck, librarian at Central Elementary School, suggested to her to make the story a children’s book.

The idea stuck, and Williams got to work. She contacted a friend and watercolor artist, Lila Greenwood, to create the illustrations. Supplementing the illustrations were still photos of birds seen around Carver County so that children could identify the real-world birds they saw every day. After a few years of working with Greenwood and her publisher, “Santa’s Birds” officially went for its first print in 2017.

Once in print, she began to go out and read her novel to children at Central Elementary School.

“I was a Raider Reader for a couple years, and I would play ‘Nana’ since it’s told from her perspective,” said Williams. “The school copied the pages to overheads so everyone could see the pictures.”

“Santa’s Birds” has also been a part of Central Elementary’s efforts to get kids reading. As part of some of their reading tests and goals, the children have been given copies of the book, purchased by Lueck, for their efforts.

After the book was published, Williams learned that the idea of Santa’s Birds wasn’t just limited to her family, which came as quite the surprise.

“I always thought it was something my grandmother made up, but it turns out some other families tell the story,” said Williams.

As for why dark-eyed juncos are the bird of choice for being Santa’s eyes, migration patterns are the answer. Juncos tend to show up at the start of winter, hanging around until spring when they fly north once again. They serve the purpose for Santa very well during this time.

Interested in seeing “Santa’s Birds”? The book is available for purchase in Midtown Café and The Quilting Grounds. Copies can also be requested from Williams herself, and she can be called at 952-454-8700. With the holiday season just around the corner, this inspirational and educational story could be perfect for budding bird watchers and avid readers throughout Carver County.

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