The calendar tells me it’s October, but before you know it, December will be here and it’ll be time for the holidays. I’m getting ahead of the game with today’s book review. Many of you are familiar with the multi-talented award-winning children’s author Nikki Grimes. I’ve featured her books in verse for middle-grade students and young adults many times: Ordinary Hazards, Garvey’s Choice, and Between the Lines to name three of them.
LULLABY FOR THE KING (Beaming Books: 2023) is textually and visually very different from the previous books I’ve read by Nikki. It’s certainly not her first picture book though! Click on this link and you’ll see the great variety of books that Nikki has published.
Each stanza of this fanciful depiction of the animals who come to honor the birth of Jesus Christ is accompanied by vibrant illustrations by Michelle Carlos.
The lyrical story opens with a beautiful sunrise celebration:
One magnificent morning in Israel,
when the sun warmed the Great Salt Sea,
word spread to every living creature:
The Holy One has, at last, been born.
A season of celebration can begin!
On the next few pages, we follow a “caravan of creatures” wending their way to Bethlehem–each with their own unique gift for the newborn King.
In an allusion to the wise men bringing gifts, an Antelope has an alabaster flask filled with myrrh, a Hawk has an incense stand of purest gold, and a Jackal carries frankincense along with a linen sash. But the similarity to the Biblical gifts ends there. Fanciful creatures–not people–fill these pages: a camel draped in crimson carting a cedar chest, a Hippo “lumbered heavily” carrying jugs of oil strapped to his girth, and a Stork “carefully cradled a bundle of wildflowers, scenting the air as she flew.” Notice all of the wonderful alliterations!
As they turn pages together, both young and old readers will enjoy the variety of animals and the gifts they bring. Imagine in your mind the pictures that these words convey:
At last, after traveling through the wilderness for “hours that spun into days” the colorful caravan arrives in Bethlehem.
Sparrow–as always, silent and shy–
skimmed the wind, a silk sash round her wee throat,
holding grains of mustard and saffron–
all a small bird could hope to tote.
Tortoise, awhile, the Royal Prince of Slow,
trudged up from Tiberias
with a tambourine in tow.
The first gift presented was Nightingale’s hum,
which swelled into a glorious, sky-piercing chord
that reverberated through the stable
and startled the sleeping Lord.
As the animals bow before the Babe, the angels join them with a new lullaby:
Rest, sweet child from on high,
apple of your Father’s eye.
We humbly honor you, O King.
Please bless each gift we bring you.
The brilliant watercolor illustrations will invite readers to explore every page. But remember: Nikki Grimes’ words came first. She carefully constructed each image-filled phrase.
This post originally appeared on Carol Baldwin’s blog. Carol is Write2Ignite’s blog coordinator. You can find her on a variety of social media platforms. In addition to tweaking her historical young adult novel, Half-Truths, she works on a graphic novel and is a volunteer publicist for Monarch Educational Services.