Little Island wanted to make a special Christmas picturebook, very beautiful and very appealing, a book that families would treasure and read and pore over in the run-up to Christmas. For that, we needed an amazing illustrator with a real heart for Christmas.
Well, I do love illustrating Christmas – that season of warm coziness amidst the dark and cold of winter. When I got the brief for Evie’s Christmas Wishes I knew at once that this was just that kind of story, physically and emotionally.
I was thinking strings of fairy lights and woolly jumpers – exactly the kind of thing I love to illustrate. I began work on the book on the first of December. Christmas was in the air, we were wrapping our gifts and putting up our own tree, so the mood was just right.
We wanted the book to show how Irish families actually do prepare for and celebrate Christmas: the nativity play, the plum pudding, the letter to Santa, the pantomime, the Christmas tree … and a trip to the airport to welcome someone home.
Yes, ideas from many perspectives came together, and a consolidation of Christmas traditions and tropes inspired the illustrations. Small details litter the pages, embodying what Christmas represents to everyone involved. And to create the sense of wonder the story brings, I knew I wanted to have little sparks of joy and magic throughout.
The story centres on Evie, a little girl of about five or six, as she and her parents prepare for Christmas. How did you imagine Evie, Shannon?
Well, you wrote a character full of intrigue and curiosity. Evie has so many questions and ideas, she is almost tumbling over them. So, the design for Evie began with wide eyes, encircled by huge glasses. On a big head with giant hair, packed with the knowledge she’s been gathering. Pants turned up at the ends because she hasn’t grown into them, and of course her Christmas jumper. She won’t take it off, it’s Christmas and she has no interest in non-seasonal outfits.
Yes, you really ‘got’ her, as she dreams her way to Christmas.
And then, in my real life, came February, in lockdown ¬¬– but Evie and Mammy were on their way to the pantomime. Immediately, my mind is rushing down Grafton Street as a child with my auntie, on our way to the Gaiety. Among the chaos and twinkling lights, everything always seemed so magical. It seems little sparks of magic from childhood stay tucked away until you need to illustrate them.
As I was writing the very simple text for each scene, I was imagining how Evie would be feeling as the Christmas preparations start and the anticipation builds.
Children do wish a lot around Christmas time, don’t they? They invest emotionally in the whole idea of Christmas as a magical time of year, and they wish not only for presents, but for everything to be lovely and the family all to be together. These wishes are often not expressed, and so I came up with the simple storyline that, throughout the book, Evie would be keeping most of her wishes to herself.
And all the time, I was working away on creating Evie’s home life in December. I had a bit of a problem with the scene where Evie and her dad are preparing the Christmas pudding. I had to get some advice there! I have never and most likely will never make a pudding. Collaborating like this allows the illustrations to represent, not just one story, but many, allowing it to be the perfect example of the archetypal Irish Christmas.
And while Shannon was consulting other people about the pudding, Evie was just hoping Christmas would be good.
I became fond of Evie, and the more she wished, the more I wanted to grant her wishes. But I didn’t want to create a story that was all about a character getting everything she wants. So I came up with the idea that most of Evie’s wishes would come true – but hardly ever in the way she expects.
On the very first page, for example, Evie wishes she had a singing part in the school play; later in the story, when the play is performed, Evie just gets to sing along. When she sees a reindeer in a shop window display, she wishes for a reindeer. Later, I had her find a reindeer among the decorations for the tree.
And then it occurred to me that as an only child, Evie might secretly be wishing for a sibling. Not a wish that is all that easily granted – but you will have to read the book to find out how this one turns out.
(c) Siobhán Parkinson and Shannon Bergin
About Evie’s Christmas Wishes:
Christmas is coming and Evie is getting excited! There’s lots to be done to prepare for the big day. She helps her mammy and daddy to make the pudding, ice the cake, and decorate the tree, and rehearses with her class for the Nativity play. As she partakes in all the festive fun, she makes a series of wishes, which suddenly begin to come true: just not in the way she expects!
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