The recent release of Christmas In My Heart, Volume 27, is a milestone moment for beloved author, Joe Wheeler. This is his 100th book!
James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, has dubbed Wheeler “America’s Keeper of the Story.” Dobson writes, “Congratulation, Joe, on your 100th book. Thank you dedicating your life to stories, and for enriching the lives of countless people during the Christmas season.
“My great friend, Joe Wheeler, has been blessing folks with his compilations of Christmas stories for over 25 years. In 1993 a colleague brought his first book to my attention and specifically the story, ‘The Tiny Foot.’ I remember reading that true story and being moved to tears.” Dobson shares that he then called Wheeler and the two immediately struck up a friendship that has now spanned more than two decades. “In fact,” writes Dobson, “Joe has permitted me to use several Christmas in My Heart stories over the years for my December newsletters — and they’re always very well-received.
“I’m proud to be his friend!”
Wheeler, who has a Ph.D. in English from Vanderbilt University, is considered to be one of America’s leading short story anthologists. His Christmas stories, with 27 volumes now in the Christmas in My Heart® series, are the ones readers have found most endearing throughout the years.
In 1991, Wheeler visited Penny Estes Wheeler, book acquisitions editor at the Review and Herald Publishing Association. She recalls that day nearly 30 years ago.
“Despite our sharing the same last name we had never met,” she says. “He wanted to talk to me about an idea for a new book, a collection of Christmas stories. I was usually super cautious when approached with a new idea for a book. But that day I did not hesitate. I told Joe that he had a great idea and I could hardly wait see the manuscript. But I added that it would be read by members of the book committee and others, and that, of course, I could not guarantee acceptance. The reason I was excited about Joe’s proposal was that for decades our family had read aloud Christmas stories from several collections of books we’d bought over the years.”
When that first manuscript of Christmas stories arrived on her desk, Penny noticed that the author hadn’t given it a title. But it had to have a title when it was sent to readers for evaluation. How the name for the Christmas in My Heart series came to be is an interesting story in itself.
“A few years before,” Penny says, “I had made a little booklet of my own Christmas memories and given it to my mother for Christmas. I had named my booklet ‘Christmas in My Heart.’ So I wrote ‘Christmas in My Heart’ across the first page of Joe’s manuscript. As we all know, the title stuck!”
Penny continues, “Who would have guessed that Christmas in My Heart would still be going strong after 27 years! Not me. But Joe’s thousands of readers thank him. He has put his heart and soul into these books and surely that is a prime reason for their success.”
Twenty-seven volumes later, this insight has been proven again and again. Still, that first volume of Christmas in My Heart didn’t carry a number. No one was clairvoyant enough to know that it would be the first of a very long series. In 2008, after 16 volumes had been published at Review and Herald, Pacific Press picked up the series with volume 17.
Wheeler has a deep Adventist heritage. He is the great, great, great grandson of Frederick Wheeler, known to Adventist historians as the first Sabbath-keeping Adventist minister. Joe’s mother, Barbara Leininger Wheeler, homeschooled her son for the first 16 years of his life. She was a stage-performing elocutionist in her own right and so she filled him with a love of stories and poetry that he later went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in History from Pacific Union College, a master’s degree in English from Sacramento State University, and the Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University.
Another mentor in his story telling was Walter Utt, legendary professor at Pacific Union College. Wheeler went on to teach for 34 years in junior high, high school, junior college, college, and university, including teaching at Oakwood College (now Oakwood University) and Columbia Union College (now Washington Adventist University) — all the while infecting his students with his own passion for story. He is the author and editor/compiler of 100 books.
Wheeler is professor emeritus of English at Washington Adventist University, general editor at Focus on the Family,and cofounder and executive director of the international Zane Grey’s West Society. Besides the best-selling Christmas in My Heart®series (the longest running series of story collections in America), Wheeler has also edited the Great Stories Remembered, Heart to Heart, Forged in the Fire, and The Good Lord Made Them All®and the My Favorite . . . series. He resides in Conifer, Colorado, with his wife Connie.
According to Wheeler, in 1992 “God booted me out of the classroom into a full-time ministry of stories.” Out of it have come 100 books. Sixteen publishing houses have made this possible.
As one publishing house representative reads from the jacket of one of the Christmas In My Heart books, “Not just any stories, but rather stories that move the reader so deeply that they prove all but impossible to forget; and the stories incorporate values worth living by.”
Great Stories Remembered received “The Seal of Quality”(Family Television’s highest honor), and Christmas in My Heart was chosen a finalist for the Christian Booksellers Association’s Gold Medallion award. Wheeler doesn’t take any credit for his books’ $1,500,000 sales, saying, “It’s all a God thing — I’m just humbled that He stoops down to partner with the least of His children.”
Mark Thomas, former president of the Review and Herald Publishing Association, who worked closely with Wheeler, says, “Joe Wheeler was a good friend of the Review and Herald. Our employees loved it when he would come for our special Christmas in My Heart chapel and read a chapter from his newest release. They would line up to have him sign stacks of his books to give as gifts. My wife and I have given his books as gifts for years, and they are treasured by all who receive them. Thank you, Joe, for putting Christmas in all of our hearts!”
On May 12, 2018, Joe Wheeler took a terrible tumble down the stairs, resulting in a traumatic brain injury. Along with his family, we all pray for his full recovery — and his ministry of stories.
View a wide selection of Wheeler’s books at: https://www.adventistbookcenter.com/joewheeler.
— Dale Galusha is president of Pacific Press Publishing Association.
Interesting Facts About Wheeler's series
- Each Christmas In My Heart has an original story written by Joe Wheeler.
- TheChristmas In My Heart series has425,810 books printed.
- More than 60,000 books have been printed of The Good Lord Made Them All, a 10-volume series of animal stories.