Teacher's book blends history, fiction


Reprinted with permission from the November 29, 2006, editions of The News-Herald Newspapers. 

By Paula Evans Neuman

“Whatever is desirable and right is never impossible.”

These words of Henry Ford are inscribed above a stairwell at Fair Lane, the Dearborn mansion where Henry and his wife, Clara, lived until his death in 1947.

The words inspired Taylor author Carol Hagen, who recently published her first children’s book, “The Night Henry Ford Met Santa” (Sleeping Bear Press, $17.95).

Hagen teaches seventh-grade language arts in Dearborn Heights and holds a master’s degree in library science.

“I absolutely love books, reading and writing,” she said. “I have been writing for a very long time. Having a book published has been my lifelong dream.”

She was taking a class in children’s literature at Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn a few years ago and had the idea to write about Henry Ford.

“As I reflected on his words, I realized the magnitude of his many accomplishments,” she wrote in a “note to readers” included at the end of her book.

“In many ways, this quote became the guiding idea for my story.

“I wanted to show that children can teach adults to dream, and that miracles can happen when love flows from an innocent heart and becomes the most unlikely source of inspiration.”

But Hagen was stumped on how to make the concept of Ford and his assembly line into something other than a “dull educational story,” she said.

“Facing a deadline for a school project and writer’s block, I did what any normal human being would do: I asked a kid. My own!” she said.

Her son Tyler, who was 8 years old at the time, suggested that Santa Claus be included in his mom’s story.

Hagen thought about the Santa’s Workshop at Fair Lane and knew Tyler was on to something.

“For 30 years, Henry and Clara would host countless school children on a magical adventure to Santa’s Workshop during Christmas time,” she said.

Hagen had “a sense that Christmas struck a tender chord with the Ford Family.”

So she devised a tale that blends historical fact about Henry Ford and the production of the Model T with fiction, suggesting that the automaker got his inspiration to use assembly line production after visiting the North Pole and watching Santa’s elves make toys.

The book is illustrated by southeastern Michigan resident Matt Faulkner, who has many other children’s books to his credit and teaches illustration at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit.

In the story, the Fords’ son, Edsel, 8, suggests to his father that they write a letter to Santa for advice on how to make his Model T affordable for average families.

In her research, Hagen learned that Edsel Ford really did write a letter to Santa when he was 8.

“I used one line from Edsel’s original letter and crafted other details to match the ideas I wanted to convey in my story,” she said.

Hagen lived in southern California for most of her life and worked as a freelance sound and video technician in the TV and film industry before she started teaching.

She returned to Michigan and completed her education at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and Wayne State University.

Hagen is planning more children’s books for the future and said that her seventh-graders “think it is pretty cool that I have a book published.”

So does her son, to whom she dedicates “The Night Henry Ford Met Santa” for his “passion for the beauty and magic of Christmas.”

Hagen will sign her books at Borders of Taylor (at Southland Center) at 1 p.m. December 9.

Tours of the 56-room Fair Lane mansion in Dearborn, decked out now in holiday splendor are offered every hour from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (except for noon) Tuesdays through Fridays and every half hour from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Sundays.

Call (313) 593-5590 for more information.