The stars have alligned–literally! I am thrilled to feature these two beautiful Chistmas books today, by two wonderful #kidlit superstars, Nikki Grimes and Mitali Perkins–both with many other multi-starred titles and well-deserved honors.
Honestly, these two are so busy, it’s a holiday miracle to have them on the blog!
About the Books
“Grimes and Carlos’ take on the birth of Jesus celebrates the majesty and diversity of the natural world…Text and visuals strike a wonderful balance between whimsy and solemnity… Masterful prose and exquisite images combine for an unforgettable Nativity retelling.” —starred KIRKUS
“Little Star, a lowly celestial being…is nervous about her world changing due to Holy Night . . . Amid the dark palette and layered landscapes, the shining round faces of the sky beings stand out, adorned in sparkling head gear and flowing robes…adding substance and mystique to the night sky…
[A] delightful read.” —SLJ
And we have Questions!
Welcome, Nikki and Mitali.
Q 1. Where and when did the ideas for these beautiful retellings, LULLABY FOR THE KING (Grimes) and HOLY NIGHT AND LITTLE STAR: A Story For Christmas (Perkins), come to you? How long did you carry them around before you began to write them?
NG: LULLABY FOR A KING was an idea that came to me more than 30 years ago. I wrote it, tried to sell it at the time, and then put the manuscript away in my files only to rediscover it—or an earlier version of it—a little over a year ago. I’d quite forgotten about it! Finding it was a lovely surprise. As for how long the story sat inside of me, I would guess for some months. It always takes some time for an idea to brew.
MP: I’ve wanted to write a children’s book about Jesus’ birth from an outsider’s perspective for decades because I grew up as an outsider to the Christian faith. The idea of creating characters in the natural world who were present during historical events started with BARE TREE AND LITTLE WIND, which is about the first Good Friday and Easter, and continues with HOLY NIGHT AND LITTLE STAR, a book about the first Christmas.
Q 2. Are there parts of Little Star (Mitali) or personalities/gifts of the caravan animals (Nikki) that were inspired by your personal journey?
NG: The final telling was certainly impacted by my pilgrimage to Israel. I had not been to the Holy Land before writing the first draft. In the interim, I’d had the emotional experience of walking in the footsteps of Jesus, and the energy of those moments, the feeling of the spirit washing over me as I walked through Cana, and rode along the Galilee, and took in the ancient olive trees in Gethsemane—that energy is still with me, and I’m sure it’s in the story, as well. How could it not be?
MP: Like Little Star, I don’t like change. I like to shimmer low on the horizon and do my own small thing. Getting swept up in huge events isn’t my chosen path. But like my main character, I, too, have sensed an invitation to be involved in bigger, grander, communal stories that God is authoring. I haven’t always mustered the courage to accept, but even when I don’t, I’ve been given second and third chances to serve, just like Little Star.
Q 3. What was your research process like for this project?
NG: With the initial draft, I just pulled animals out of my head, with no real thought as to which animals were authentic to that region. In the revision, though, I researched the animals indigenous to the Israel of 2000 years ago, and used only those creatures in the story. It was also necessary to research the items each creature carried.
NG: My illustrator, Michelle Carlos, was no less fastidious about those details. She did a great deal of research on her own, just to make sure the design, size, shape of every item was authentic. Again, my time in Israel, especially in Jerusalem, influenced my choices because there were items I’d heard or read of, but had never seen with my own eyes, such as the mill stone mentioned in scripture. You’ve no concept of the true weight of that thing, or of the piercing sound of the Shofar, for example, until encountering them first-hand. Numerous details in the story derive from memories of my time in Israel.
MP: We looked at landscapes in the Middle East, researched architecture and clothing in the time period of Jesus, and did a deep theological dive into the biblical Nativity story to stay as close to Scripture as possible. We wanted to distance ourselves from cultural messages about Christmas that emerge from beloved songs and other sources (like “we three kings” and “no crying he makes.”)
Q 4. What surprises did your illustrator bring to the story?
NG: I would say the most striking was the depth and brilliance of Michelle Carlos’ colors. She was faithful to bone structure and musculature of the animals, to each bird’s wingspan, etc., but the colors of each creature were fantastical, which was a bit jarring at first.
NG: I’ve never before asked an artist to tone down the color, but I had to in this instance! While it was fine for the hues to be magical, it was important that her bold choices did not make it impossible to read these creatures as real, as true-to-life. Toning down the colors a few degrees brought balance to the whole, so that realism and fantasy could comfortably meet on the same page. Michelle’s final work is simply magnificent.
MP: Khoa Le’s prowess with color amazes and delights me. The way she portrays grand galactic hoopla in the book as well as the sweetness of Little Star’s expressions move me every time I read the book aloud to children.
Q 5. Can you give us a glimpse of your own Christmas season celebrations?
NG: I attend an annual dinner with artist friends, during which a number of us perform songs, dance, poetry for the group, ending the evening with favorite seasonal hymns, a rendition of Carol of the Bells, performed by the strongest singers in our group, and closing out the evening with a passage from Handel’s Messiah.
On Christmas Eve, I meet with my surrogate family for celebrations and gift exchanges—both serious and funny. Earlier that day, I Zoom with a close friend and her children, and we open our gifts online, one at a time. It’s always fun to watch the children’s faces!
Through the season, I receive Christmas letters from friends from around the world, and I save them. On Christmas morning, I pour tea, and sit down with those letters and “visit” with my friends, reading their highlights of the year, then I’m off to join local friends for brunch! The season is always busy—plays, movies, dinners, lunches, church pot-lucks—but the annual events are the best.
MP: I’m not very good at Christmas since I didn’t grow up with it but my husband loves Santa and trees and decking the halls, so we do it.
We do, however, both love meditating on the mystery of Christmas through Advent, so we always celebrate that with our church as well as with readings, prayers, and lighting of the Advent candles at home. I also go away on a three-day Advent retreat alone every year to pray and rest.
Q 6. What do you hope readers will take away from your story?
NG: That Christmas is a gift, one that began with the Christ Child, a gift we can reflect through the love we share with one another during this special time, but also the whole year round.
MP: I hope they are as astonished as I am that the Great Maker of the Galaxies became a Baby who needed comfort.
Q 7. What’s next for you?
NG: I have two books in the pipeline: Grandma’s Cup of Quiet, (Bloomsbury) a nature themed book about a young girl gathering a cupful of sounds associated with the quiet of the outdoors in general, and a garden in particular, illustrated by Cathy Ann Johnson; the second book is Stronger Than, (Heartdrum) the story of a Black Choctaw boy, who learns the true history of his African American ancestor on his father’s side, and his Native American ancestor on his mother’s side. Stacy Wells, a member of the Choctaw Nation, is my co-author, and E.B. Lewis is the illustrator.
MP: Next year, Macmillan releases my picture book called BETWEEN MY HANDS, an exploration of what small hands can do in a world with big needs. It’s illustrated by the Art Director of Netflix, Naveen Selvanathan.
Bonus Round x THREE!
- I just had to share this quote from Nikki’s book ORDINARY HAZARDS:
“I want to write books about
Some of the darkness I’ve seen,
Real stories about real people, you know?
But I also want to write about the light,
That place of light—it’s not always easy
To get to, but it’s there.
It’s there.”From Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes
2. For Mitali: What was one of the most surprising discoveries you made in writing your story?
MP: I really liked the freedom I gave Little Star to say no to Maker twice. I didn’t set out to do that—I was generally following the picture book structure of a rule of three—but now that the book is out I am so glad for those refusals because the freedom to say no is crucial to feeling safe in relationships. With God, this freedom can be terrifying because of the possibility of mistakes, chaos, and pain, but it is the way we were created to flourish in love.
3. And SoCal friends–> Meet & Greet with Nikki & Mitali
Save the Date: Saturday Storytimes, Nov. 25th
To learn more about these two amazingly talented humans,
And follow them on…
Up next: We celebrate food & gratitude with Mia Wenjen and her book,
Food for the Future: Sustainable Farms Around the World