Illustrating Little Lost Nun

My heart is FULL of joy. Below is a photo the publisher sent me of the final front cover printed out on real paper, so I could see it “in real life.” It’s one of several ways the publisher and illustrator have led me and my story more deeply into the human experience.

Cover spread, Little Lost Nun

Today, by the grace of God and Summer’s excellent gifts as a book midwife, Little Lost Nun is available for preorder. I hope you will take a minute of stillness to look at the two human beings in the picture above. Look at Gerontissa’s face, and the way her whole being yearns over this little girl. And look at Tabitha, who has almost nothing, clasping her first and greatest treasure in her shaky little hands.

And this is Nina, the second protagonist from Little Lost Nun. Here you see Nina’s mama comforting her at the end of a sad day.

Nina in Mama’s arms

And…

That makes this a picture of Black Americans as main characters in an Orthodox children’s book.

I credit the editor, Summer Michelle Kinard, and the illustrator, David Moses, with the final conception of Nina and her mama, and of Tabitha on the cover image above. In my mind’s eye, they were smaller and farther away, their color and experiences made slightly vague by their continued existence in my imagination. It’s an odd thing to say, but I feel David read and drew the story in the present. He would. It’s the perpetual mystery of illustration that no one sees back into the author’s imagination. The artist depicts only what he reads.

But I did know that for this story, I wanted the little girl who was brown to be the one who had everything, the one standing for normal, joyful life, not the one in need of rescue. And I wanted that to be true without the book being “about race.” Little Lost Nun is not about race. The character descriptions just tell you what the people look like.

Although I welcome the intention and effort that goes into making children’s books more diverse, I especially look forward to the day when we no longer do that “on purpose.” Sooner or later, all kinds of people will appear in children’s books because that’s how we see the world, not because we carefully included one of each kind. Sooner or later, we’ll reach the point where brown skin in a book is not always a plot point or a mission, not the main reason the story is told. That will be the day we’ve accepted the many skin colors God gave us. It will be the day we can give brown children books about brown children because the story is good, not as a way to support them in their otherness.

Perhaps that will never happen. But I’d like to remember it as a possibility.

#littlelostnun

Inaccessible

Candle lit inside lantern with heart-shaped window

Yes, I saw what happened in Charlottesville. No, I am not being silent and failing to stand up for the right. That kind of silence is not one of my choices. I am a white woman married to a black man. My life is a declaration every time I go out in public and the lights are on or the sun is up.

Except for this: my life is not a statement. It’s just my life. It’s just marriage and parenting and friends and work and grocery shopping. It’s not created or experienced in reference¬†to people who are not participants in it. Continue reading