One of my great delights, both as a parent and as a teacher, is reading with children. So when I saw that two of my favorite authors – Nikki Grimes and Mitali Perkins – were releasing holiday picture books, I was giddy with anticipation. Grimes’s Lullaby for the King (Beaming Books) and Perkins’s Holy Night and Little Star: A Story for Christmas (Waterbrook) celebrate Christ’s birth with a fanciful look at a few overlooked participants on that first long-ago Christmas.

Grimes, the 2022 winner of the Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award, has written many award-winning stories for children and adults, including poetry. Her latest, illustrated by Michelle Carlos, begins with a burst of sunlight beaming from behind the dazzling hills of Judaea. “One magnificent morning in Israel, when the sun warmed the Great Salt Sea,” Grimes writes, “word spread to every living creature: The Holy One has, at last, been born. A season of celebration can begin!”

This joyous proclamation prompts a parade, and “a caravan of creatures” makes its way to Bethlehem, bearing gifts. An antelope carries an alabaster flask filled with myrrh. An Asiatic Lion brings a “bowl of beaten bronze.” A camel carts a zither within a cedar chest. Beside the sea, through the skies, across the plains, this colorful array of Middle-Eastern animals progresses until “at last, glittering diamond-bright, Bethlehem appeared through the haze.” Arriving at the stable, they present their gifts to their sleeping Lord. The book ends with a 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,” causing this reader – and perhaps others – to ponder what gifts we might bring the King.

Perkins, nominated for a National Book Award, has likewise written numerous books for young readers. Her newest picture book, illustrated by Khoa Le, also tells the Christmas story from a fresh point of view – that of a bashful star. “Every night, she twinkled above the hills, small and faint,” Perkins writes as sheep graze beneath the star’s faint light. “She liked her low view. She liked her soft gleam … I hope nothing changes, she thought.” But Maker has other plans. Big plans.

Gathering the stars together, he announces, “Holy night is coming!”

“Big, brilliant stars leaped up,” eager to join the angel’s song. Little Star wants no part of it, but obeying Maker’s call, she finds herself drifting over the grassy, sheep-filled plains, tasked with leading Joseph and Mary, the shepherds, and eventually the wisemen to Bethlehem. There she looks into the eyes of a baby who she recognizes as … Maker! “So this is Holy Night! Little Star thought. Maker, with lamb’s eyes. Seeing her. Knowing her.”

In a world filled with flashy and fast, Perkins’s story gently reminds us that it takes humble courage and obedience to share our small, quiet gifts with others.

No little ones to read to? Borrow some for an enjoyable afternoon of cocoa and stories with these beautiful books. Or consider adding them to your own holiday collection. No one is ever too old for picture books. Especially at Christmas.

Meadow Rue Merrill is the author of the award-winning memoir, Redeeming Ruth, and of the Lantern Hill Farm picture book series, celebrating the holidays with activities that build children’s faith. She was provided with a free copy of Holy Night and Little Star for this review. Join Meadow and other Maine authors for the Bangor Author’s Book Fair and Literary Festival at the Bangor Public Library from 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, December 9. Or connect at: meadowrue.com