Lullaby for the King

writ­ten by Nik­ki Grimes
illus­trat­ed by Michelle Car­los
Beam­ing Books, Octo­ber 10, 2023

Buy this book:

Lullaby for the King

About the Book

The car­a­van trav­eled through wilder­ness, uphill and down, for hours that spun into days.

Then at last, glit­ter­ing dia­mond-bright, Beth­le­hem appeared through the haze.

With glit­ter­ing poet­ry and stun­ning water­col­or art­work, Lul­la­by for the King ush­ers read­ers into the awe and won­der of the Christ­mas sto­ry. Ani­mals from across the ancient Pales­tin­ian land­scape lum­ber, gam­bol, crawl, fly, and parade toward Beth­le­hem with gifts wor­thy of the new­born King. Rare ebony wood, a fine­ly tuned harp, mus­tard and saf­fron, a zither, apri­cot cakes, and oth­er trea­sures are car­ried to the manger. The ani­mals bow low and join the music of the angels in a wel­com­ing lullaby.

Awards and Recognition

  • Book Riot 25 Best Christ­mas Books of All Time
  • Fuse #8, “31 Days, 31 Lists, 2023 Tran­scen­dent Hol­i­day Books”
  • Kirkus Reviews starred review
  • Moon­beam Chil­dren’s Book Award (Sil­ver)
  • North­ern Lights Book Award, Illustration
  • Best Chris­t­ian Pic­ture Books for Kids
  • YA Book Cen­tral, Buzz­wor­thy Book


  Grimes and Car­los’ take on the birth of Jesus cel­e­brates the majesty and diver­si­ty of the nat­ur­al world. As the sto­ry opens, the ani­mals learn that the Holy One has been born, and they begin to make their way to Beth­le­hem, laden with gifts. Ante­lope brings an alabaster flask con­tain­ing myrrh, while Lion brings a bronze bowl. Don­key car­ries dates and dried apri­cot cakes, while Crane brings a spoon made from ebony, and Jack­al the Clever brings a linen sash and frank­in­cense. Goat’s gift is a harp, while Leopard’s is a crown of elec­trum. At last, they all arrive in Beth­le­hem at the sta­ble where Mary and Joseph are wait­ing with Jesus. All three present as Black; Mary and Joseph have Afro-tex­tured hair, and Mary’s hair is in braids. Nightin­gale gives the first gift to the Holy One: the gift of song, which startles—and delights—the baby. The oth­er ani­mals, inspired, play their own instru­ments. Grimes’ lush verse is brought to life by Car­los’ vibrant, ornate art, which depicts the fan­ci­ful­ly col­ored ani­mals strik­ing dynam­ic pos­es and car­ry­ing sump­tu­ous gifts. The angels, depict­ed as ghost­ly white ephemer­al beings, con­trast beau­ti­ful­ly with the mul­ti­hued ani­mal ensem­ble. Text and visu­als strike a won­der­ful bal­ance between whim­sy and solem­ni­ty. Back­mat­ter includes an orig­i­nal song with accom­pa­ny­ing sheet music. Mas­ter­ful prose and exquis­ite images com­bine for an unfor­get­table Nativ­i­ty retelling. (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)

This book teas­es the imag­i­na­tion to envi­sion the role of the nat­ur­al world in the Christ­mas sto­ry. Crea­tures from near and far gath­er their spe­cial gifts and trav­el to hon­or the birth of a sacred child. An enchant­i­ng menagerie hears the excit­ing news and begins the jour­ney to deliv­er their offer­ings to cel­e­brate the occa­sion. Antelopes, jack­als, ostrich­es, and croc­o­diles are a few of the crea­tures who fig­ure promi­nent­ly in bring­ing gifts to the king. Read­ers might enjoy try­ing to pre­dict what gifts each ani­mal will bring, and then rev­el in the stun­ning con­tri­bu­tions of each: grains of mus­tard, sho­fars, and zithers are among the glo­ri­ous offer­ings. Read­ers of all ages will be drawn in by the exot­ic crea­tures and vibrant col­ors that enhance this love­ly tale. The illus­tra­tions in this beau­ti­ful book are sump­tu­ous. While it is cer­tain­ly a sooth­ing visu­al treat for bed­time, the sto­ry also offers amaz­ing vocab­u­lary-build­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for grow­ing read­ers, with words such as gam­boled, elec­trum, and nar­cis­sus. VERDICT Anoth­er win­ner by Grimes that is sure to become a new clas­sic. (Dar­by Wal­lace, School Library Jour­nal)

Begin­ning “one mag­nif­i­cent morn­ing in Israel,/ when the sun warmed the Great Salt Sea,” Grimes imag­ines in rev­er­ent, dis­tinc­tive verse a lengthy car­a­van of crea­tures bear­ing gifts for the Beth­le­hem-born babe—“the Holy One.” From Ante­lope, who car­ries a “frag­ile flask of alabaster/ tied round her neck/ and filled with per­fume of myrrh,” to Pea­cock, who “parad­ed proudly,/ a pome­gran­ate perched atop his head,” and Tor­toise, who trudges with a tam­bourine on its back, a menagerie of ani­mals rise won­drous­ly to the occa­sion, peace­ably wend­ing their way to greet the Christ child, whose fam­i­ly is por­trayed with brown skin. Car­los uses greens, pinks, and pur­ples in engag­ing, sat­u­rat­ed art, en route to a mov­ing sta­ble denoue­ment fea­tur­ing a lul­la­by sung by atten­dant angels. Sheet music and lyrics con­clude. (Pub­lish­ers Week­ly)

What cri­te­ria do I use when con­sid­er­ing hol­i­day books? In essence, it’s quite sim­ple. If I can read a book out of sea­son and still feel a fris­son of feel­ing and remem­brance of the hol­i­day being cel­e­brat­ed, that is a wor­thy hol­i­day book. In the case of Lul­la­by for the King, I read this book at the begin­ning of May, when the world was warm­ing and spring was com­ing into its own. And yes, read­ing this book I felt a wave of famil­iar­i­ty for hymns and Christ­mas feel­ings. No sur­prise to any­one who sees the cov­er that this is a straight up baby Jesus book. But Grimes, who has a poet­ry pedi­gree few could match, is up to the chal­lenge of doing some­thing orig­i­nal here. Her sto­ry is about a pletho­ra of dif­fer­ent ani­mals and the dif­fer­ent gifts they are bring­ing to the babe. Some are as per­son­al as an ostrich’s own egg, some are instru­ments, some are jew­el­ry, some just some­thing small and beau­ti­ful. And it was a smart cook­ie who pegged Michelle Car­los to pro­vide the illus­tra­tions. She’s for­ev­er chang­ing the col­ors of the ani­mals fea­tured into shades and hues you wouldn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly find in nature. My favorite of these? The red pea­cock. Every­thing is still incred­i­bly stun­ning, not least the way in which the angels are depict­ed. Not that I’m giv­ing it away. You’ll just have to give them a glance your­self! (Bet­sy Bird, “31 Days, 31 Lists: 2023 Tran­scen­dent Hol­i­day Books,” Fuse #8, School Library Jour­nal)

Buy this book: