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North Pole Ninjas Recruitment Begins In Helena

Penguin Random House

It’s Thanksgiving Day, and in a few hours an army of Santas in shopping malls and department stores will start asking children what they want for Christmas. That tradition bothers Sarah Linden, a Helena photographer and mother of two. She wanted something better for her children.

Sarah Linden:  A few years ago, around Christmas time, my kiddos were being kids and I started noticing a trend of What do I get next? What’s for me? I want more of this. I want more of this. And I just finally realized that there had to be something better that we could be doing. And so Santa Clause wrote a letter to my kids inviting them to be a part of the North Pole Ninja team.
CN:  From that letter, Linden’s idea grew into a book titled North Pole Ninjas: Mission Christmas! Her co-author, Helena photographer and poet Tyler Knott Gregson, says their ninjas are definitely not assassins.

Tyler Knott Gregson:  A North Pole Ninja is one of Santa’s secret little emissaries. And their sole job is just to spread kindness and do random acts and charity, and do it all without calling any attention to themselves.

CN:  The book comes in a box that includes a stuffed toy—a sensei appointed by Santa to go with kids while they carry out their missions—and fifty mission cards  printed with special tasks for kids to do.

SL: The first mission they got was to go to the Food Share and deliver some cans of food. And they were so excited! I made them little Ninja masks that attached to little elf hats. And they put on their little masks and dove behind bushes and tried really hard to not be noticed by the food share employees. They did notice them and they got a great lesson in what Food Share is and why it’s necessary. And it was way better than I ever imagined it would be.

One of our favorite missions is: Sit by someone at the lunch table you’ve never sat with and have a conversation with them. And it’s amazing what that tiny little act can do for a kid who may not have very many friends. And, you know, my son Henry did that one and one of his best friends is the little boy that he sat with. He was a little kid who didn’t have a lot of friends and was very quiet. And Henry sat with him and they became just great friends (yeah, to this day) from that. And I think little things like that. It doesn’t require a grand, perfectly-Pinterest-created, elaborate scheme. It can just be a simple smile from someone. That’s all it takes.

Tyler Knott Gregson and Sarah Linden

TKG: The thing that keeps coming home for Sarah and I is every one of these books that goes into another person or family’s hands, it’s another bag of food that gets brought to the Food Share; it’s another pile of old coats that people who don’t have coats are wearing. Every new person that joins this team, there’s fifty more opportunities for really great things to be done that might not have been done otherwise. And so it’s exciting to get people on board.

CN:  And how have the holidays changed for Sarah and her children?

SL:  They have changed a lot. After the very first mission they were looking for more things to do and they would add on missions themselves. Every week they would add on something that they wanted to do for someone else. And they completely shifted the way they look at Christmas and started writing letters to Santa about what their friends might like, or what a child in their class who may not have as much—what they thought they might like—instead of what they wanted Santa to bring them.

North Pole Ninjas: Mission Christmas!

Chérie Newman is a former arts and humanities producer and on-air host for Montana Public Radio, and a freelance writer. She founded and previously hosted a weekly literary program, The Write Question, which continues to air on several public radio stations; it is also available online at and
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