When Lexington author Evelyn B. Christensen heard about a series of books turning the “Twelve Days of Christmas” into children’s travel guides for states, she knew Kentucky would be a great candidate for the series. But even the lifelong Kentuckian found the project revealing.
“I learned a lot of interesting things about Kentucky I didn’t know beforehand, in researching,” Christensen says of writing “The Twelve Days of Christmas in Kentucky” (32 pages, $12.95).
The Sterling Children’s Books series presents the states through a series of letters from a child home to her or her parents while visiting the featured state. In the case of Kentucky, it is Martin, not coincidentally the name of one of Christensen’s children, visiting his cousin Marybeth.
In the story, Martin goes on a whirlwind journey through the Bluegrass state from a horse farm to the Louisville Slugger Museum to Mammoth Cave to the National Corvette Museum to the coal mining museum.
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Sterling presented Christensen with some parameters, like the activities presented had to be things that a visitor to the state could actually do at Christmastime, so some summertime diversions were out. Also, the series had to start with the gift of the state bird and the state tree — in our case, the cardinal, of course, and the tulip poplar. They also wanted as broad a representation of the state as possible.
The meticulous Christensen had some standards of her own, too.
“I wanted the places to not just be a fun commercial place,” she says. “I wanted it to have a connection to Kentucky.”
For some places, the connection was obvious, like horse farms and Mammoth Cave. Others were interesting, like the Newport Aquarium, which is fascinating and educational attraction for children. But Christensen wondered what a venue with ocean life would have to land-locked Kentucky.
“I thought, oh, if they have the Kentucky fish there, they can go see the Kentucky fish, and that will be the tie in,” Christensen says. So she contacted the aquarium to see if the spotted bass and the reply was, “we don’t have the state fish, but we will stock it so it will fit with your book.”
Dinosaur World also slipped in because while no dinosaur fossils have ever been found in Kentucky, the Cave City attraction does also feature wooly mammoths, which did roam the Bluegrass State.
Researching the book, Christensen had numerous cool home state experiences, including a personal tour of Mammoth Cave. There were also interesting quandaries, like what to call the ring a basketball goes through. When she submitted the book, the editor changed goal to hoop, but Christensen said she always heard it referred to as a goal in Kentucky — something several people, including her son Martin, affirmed.
But people in her online children’s book author group said they referred to it as a hoop. Ultimately, as a book about Kentucky, the local lingo prevailed.
While many children’s book authors never see the illustrations until the books come out, Christensen got to consult on the images as Sterling was interested in accuracy.
“The Twelve Days of Christmas in Kentucky” is Christensen’s first published picture book, though she has written some unpublished children’s titles. Her previous published books have primarily been math and puzzle books and contributions to anthologies and collective books. The book is aimed at ages 5 and older, and the letters are sizable reads.
Still, Christensen had to pick and choose what to share. “There was so much I wanted to share about Kentucky,” she says. “But I didn’t want to overwhelm the reader.”
If you go
‘The Twelve Days of Christmas in Kentucky’
What: Evelyn B. Christensen will signing copies of the book.
Where: Barnes & Noble, 1932 Pavilion Way