I wrote Catherine’s Pascha because I couldn’t find enough Easter books that I loved when my children were small. But there are lots of wonderful books about St. Nicholas. Why write another one?
Because I discovered that writing picture books is fun! Especially because I get to collaborate with R.J. Hughes (aka Becky), who is the most wonderful illustrator I could have hoped to have had. There’s so much joy in seeing a story come to life in the hands of a talented artist. And even saying that isn’t enough. The illustrations add layer upon layer of richness and depth to the book.
Becky isn’t satisfied with just illustrating the story. In her talented hands, the brief references to Elizabeth’s grandmother become a fully realized wordless story-within-a-story. The events in the main illustrations meld with the illustrations of the events surrounding Elizabeth’s grandmother. Almsgiving, healing, and prayer, faith and love, are all united. The girls set out their shoes in hope of a surprise, and the adults pray and keep vigil for the grandmother. And all of them, in the end, receive joy.
But that story is conveyed simply, wordlessly, in the corner of each spread. The main story is about Catherine and Elizabeth. A sleepover with a best friend, making cookies, squabbles with siblings, holiday traditions, the excitement of an unexpected snowstorm. It’s all familiar, comfortable, and delightful.
And, in Becky’s hands, it’s all beautiful.
Who loves Nicholas the Saintly?
I also wanted to write the book because I love St. Nicholas. As I worked on the book, I often found myself humming traditional songs to St. Nicholas. But I didn’t exactly want to write about the saint himself (although part of his story works its way into the book). I wanted to write a story about how Orthodox children experience St. Nicholas.
It’s rather like what I did with Catherine’s Pascha. That’s not a story of Pascha, exactly. Rather, it’s the story of a child’s experience of Pascha. And The Saint Nicholas Day Snow is the story of two children’s experience of St. Nicholas Eve and St. Nicholas Day.
St. Nicholas in the illustrations
St. Nicholas has always been known for his goodness and his mercy and his practical acts of love and kindness. Because of this, he is loved and has been loved by people throughout many cultures and places and traditions and times. This universal outpouring of affection for one of my favorite saints shows up in the pages of The Saint Nicholas Day Snow.
Becky decorated the pages with images of St. Nicholas from mosaics and manuscripts, icons and statues. You’ll see St. Nicholas in a ship in Italy, and on an elephant in India. These images are ancient, modern, and everything in between. Along with these are images of churches dedicated to St. Nicholas from all over the world.
St. Nicholas in the story
Of course, over the centuries, stories about St. Nicholas, and traditions honoring him, have come to have differences. And those differences are part of the story. Catherine’s little brother, Peter, argues with Elizabeth about the traditions regarding St. Nicholas in their homes. Does he come in a sleigh, with reindeer? Or riding on horseback? Does he come on St. Nicholas Eve, or Christmas Eve? Does he put treats in stockings hung by the fireplace, or in shoes set out by the back door?
Peter’s godfather, Andrew, tells the story of St. Nicholas and the widower’s daughters. That’s the very ancient story on which all of the gift-giving traditions related to St. Nicholas are based. And Peter’s godfather tells the story in a way that embraces all the children and their traditions.
It’s that universal embrace of love that characterizes St. Nicholas, and the The Saint Nicholas Day Snow.
Disability and diversity in The Saint Nicholas Day Snow
And in The Saint Nicholas Day Snow, Catherine’s family’s embrace extends to Peter’s godfather, an African American man, and to Catherine’s best friend, Elizabeth, who has impaired mobility.
Elizabeth is especially important to me. Children with disabilities rarely show up in children’s books, especially when the disability is not the focus of the story. Because I’m a mom of kids with special needs, when I wrote Catherine’s Pascha, I wanted to include a disabled character.
But in that book, Elizabeth was a relatively minor character. By the time the book came out, I knew that her favorite color was purple and her patron saint was Elizabeth the Dragon Slayer. I knew that she could mostly get around with crutches, but sometimes needed a wheelchair. I knew that she preferred fried chicken to hot dogs. But there was so much more to know about her.
And so another reason for writing The Saint Nicholas Day Snow was to get to know Elizabeth a little better, and give her a larger role in a story. By the time we were done with the book, I felt like I knew her as well as I know Catherine.
I hope you love her as much as I do.
The Widower’s Daughters: It’s because of this story that we hang stockings by the fireplace, or set out shoes for St. Nicholas to fill.
The Baker’s Dozen: A Review: This gorgeous book, based on an American folk tale, is one of my favorite stories about St. Nicholas.
Disability in Children’s Books: Some additional thoughts and resources if you’re looking for children’s books that include children with disabilities.