Denise Schleicher: Reading’s Ugly Christmas Tree Inspires Uplifting Message

Do your remember Reading’s Charlie Brown Christmas Tree? It made national headlines in 2014, drawing lots of criticism locally and online. Going back and forth, it was eventually re-decorated and given a second chance to be Reading’s Christmas Tree.

Like many, Denise Schleicher remembers the tree and the controversy that surrounded it. As an educator, Schleicher was looking for the message, what was the real story. That’s when she had the idea to write a book about the tree, but from the tree’s perspective, getting its feeling hurt.

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In its earliest stages the book was just meant for her family, including many of her family members as characters. “As a 4th grade teacher I was familiar with children’s books. We have a program at the school I teach about empathy and compassion, so it was important to include those elements in the book.” says Schleicher. Schleicher currently teaches in Pottstown.

With the framework of her book finished, now titled The Ugly Christmas Tree: Mr. Douglas Fir, Schleicher needed someone to help with the illustrations. As a former student at Reading High School, Schleicher reached out to the schools art department for guidance. To her delight, they were able to refer a senior who could help with the books illustrations.

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Now a student at Kutztown University, Idalmi Rivera spent her final year at Reading High School working with Schleicher on illustrating Christmas themed the book. “It was a neat experience, I learned a lot in the process. I would look at sections she would highlight, and try to extenuate her vision, but im my own way.” says Rivera.

Rivera started out on paper, drawing out her designs. Once she felt comfortable enough she moved her work to the computer, using a specialized pen and digitizing computer tablet. “I would go to Penn Street after school to get references for the background, and look at photographs of the tree online.” said Rivera. With the project taking Rivera roughly a year to complete, she is proud that her illustrations can bring Schleicher book to life.

The Ugly Christmas Tree: Mr. Douglas Fir can be found locally at Curious on the Avenue, DoubleTree by Hilton Reading, Barns and Noble (online), and on Amazon. Both Schleicher and Rivera will be attending special book signing sessions at the Reading Public Library on December 22nd, from 12-1pm and at the Antietam Winter Market, December 17, from 5-7pm.

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Jason Hugg
Jason Hugg
Editor and photographer of Reading Magazine.
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