Dick Van Dyke tells a story of Christmas spirit

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Malibu resident Dick Van Dyke will sign copies of the book, "Mr. Finnegan's Giving Chest" Saturday at Diesel, A Bookstore at 3 p.m.

The screen legend will autograph copies of a new Christmas saga, which he narrated.

By Anthony Stitt / Special to The Malibu Times

Like any 80-year-old child, Dick Van Dyke cherishes Christmas.

“On the inside,” he sighed, “I never grew up. I’m still a child, I’m afraid.”

And from this child-this big child, we should note-there will be all-new holiday magic this Christmas season. On bookstore shelves is the recently released children’s picture book, “Mr. Finnegan’s Giving Chest,” featuring 3D illustrations and an audio CD narrated by the grandfatherly voiced Van Dyke.

On Saturday, Van Dyke will autograph copies of “Mr. Finnegan’s Giving Chest” at Diesel, A Bookstore from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.

“The book is not about the gift of getting but about the good of giving,” Van Dyke said in a recent telephone interview. “It also has a spiritual message, but each person who reads it should take what they want from it.”

Mr. Finnegan, a mystical character based on Van Dyke, is a toymaker but no ordinary one. His providential encounter with Maggie, a town bully who sneers at Santa Claus, is the start of a series of miracles, which will change her heart forever.

And so the tale unfolds:

Mr. Finnegan lifted the fragile wooden chest by its recently repaired handle.

“What’s that old thing,” Maggie asked sourly.

“This old thing is the Giving Chest. It once carried precious gifts to a newborn king. I need you to deliver it to someone.”

Maggie brightened, “Is there a treasure inside?”

Mr. Finnegan raised a brow, “For some people, indeed there is.”

Van Dyke, a Malibu resident and screen legend from “The Dick Van Dyke Show” to “Diagnosis Murder” to “Mary Poppins,” admitted one thing.

“Hey, what can I say,” he said, chuckling, “I’ve always been a Christmassy kind of guy.”

That’s why he said he loves “Mr. Finnegan’s Giving Chest,” written by Dan Farr.

Van Dyke collaborated with Farr and graphic artists Chris Creek and Chad Smith for several years.

“We thought, ‘What could we do?’ Then we realized we’ve got to get back to what Christmas is all about,” Van Dyke said. He said there are bigger plans to adapt the book into a film.

Quickly, Van Dyke harked back to growing up in Danville, Ill. during the Great Depression.

“We had tough times,” he said. “My family would scrape together enough money to buy coal. I think anybody who’s ever been poor has a certain wisdom.”

That wisdom?

To cherish the gift of giving, Van Dyke said, during Christmas and beyond, just as Mr. Finnegan would…

“Do you think Santa’s the only one who can give us the gifts we want?” said Mr. Finnegan to Maggie. “Santa’s presents simply remind us of a much greater gift, a gift inside ourselves.”

And as Maggie asked Mr. Finnegan what treasure lies inside the Giving Chest, Van Dyke said only one such treasure should lie inside us all.

“Compassion,” he said. “For people who have compassion, there is a treasure. I’d like for everyone’s heart to have compassion this Christmas.”

And, surely, Mr. Finnegan would agree.

So would Maggie.