A story that a mother created in the mid-1990s to alleviate her preschooler son’s separation anxiety struck a chord with him—and has in the ensuing years comforted countless other children as well. Patrice Karst transformed her story into The Invisible String, a picture book in which a mother tells her children that they are connected by an invisible string of love that can never be broken. Published in 2000 by Los Angeles-based DeVorss Company and widely embraced by parents, educators, therapists, and social workers as a tool for coping with loneliness, loss, and grief, the hardcover has sold more than 400,000 copies worldwide. And the book’s audience will further expand this month, when Little, Brown releases the first paperback edition of The Invisible String, featuring new illustrations by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff and an afterword by Karst, with a 75,000-copy first printing.
Karst’s memory of her deeply personal inspiration for The Invisible String is still crystal clear. “The story came to life in 1995, when I was a fulltime working single mom,” she recalled. “When I had to drop off my beloved little boy Elijah at preschool, he would cry so hard that it broke my heart. And so I began to tell him what was obvious to me: we were always connected by an invisible string made out of love. In fact, not only would it connect us all day long, but forever and ever—no matter what!”
The concerned mother was amazed when Elijah’s separation anxiety “literally vanished” once he grasped the concept of the “invisible string”—and when he told the story to his friends, she noted, “I realized that other kids were also connecting to the story. That’s when I decided to write a children’s book that would offer a tangible way to understand what love is.” She approached DeVorss, which released The Invisible String, and the author soon began hearing from grateful readers. “I received so many profound letters, from educators, grief and family counselors, military personnel, clergy, and medical workers, relaying bittersweet stories about how my book had helped children deal with not just separation anxiety, but divorce, death of a loved one, and so many more situations,” she explained.
The author read an especially moving testimonial about her book soon after the December 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., written by a parent of a surviving child who said that The Invisible String had helped her traumatized child heal. “About that time, I noticed a phenomenon happening,” said Karst. “The book suddenly started to move, then sprint. The next thing I knew, sales had doubled and then quadrupled—and to my great surprise and honor, it became a bestseller. Though I was grateful to DeVorss for what they had done with the hardcover edition, I realized the book should be available in paperback.”
Finding a New Life
Karst lined up Michelle Zeitlin and Jane Hamilton of More Zap Productions Management as coagents, and their submission to Little, Brown landed on the desk of editorial director Andrea Spooner. “We don’t usually acquire paperback rights without hardcover rights attached, but we did our due diligence,” she said. “We uncovered The Invisible String’s impressive sales history, and when I read the text, I was moved and charmed by its simplicity and resonance. I felt a string pulling at me, and I knew we should take it on.”
Spooner also acquired rights to three new Invisible String spinoffs: The Invisible String Workbook: Creative Activities to Comfort, Calm, and Connect, cowritten by art therapist Dana Wyss, which compiles exercises, art projects, activities, and conversation prompts designed to promote healing and emotional growth, and The Invisible Leash, a hardcover aimed at helping children cope with the death of a pet, both scheduled for October 2019 release; and The Invisible Web, a May 2020 hardcover that reveals how the Invisible String of love connects everyone in the world. All three titles will also be illustrated by Lew-Vriethoff.
While noting that it is for an unfortunate reason, the timing of The Invisible String’s paperback release is propitious, Spooner observed. “In the children’s book industry, books dealing with anxiety, fear, and anger have been increasingly in demand in recent years,” she said. “Sadly, Patrice’s book fits that need perfectly. At the same time, we’ve also seen letters from readers who have given the book as birthday and baby presents, since at its core, it is about the love and magical connection you will always have with those you love. This is a book that we will reprint and reprint and reprint. It’s lovely to be working on a project you know has a long life ahead of it.”
Karst said that the publication of Little, Brown’s paperback edition of The Invisible String and the three upcoming spin-off titles “is a dream come true for me at 59 years old! I am so fortunate that Andrea and the others at Little, Brown share my vision for these books. Life has fascinating ways of working out, and I am happy to be the steward for an important message that has brought healing in a way I never could have imagined. It’s been a magical and challenging ride—and it’s an odyssey still in progress.”
The Invisible String by Patrice Karst. Little, Brown, $8.99 paper Oct. ISBN 978-0-316-48623-1