Ned Bustard is a graphic designer, a children’s book illustrator, an author, and a printmaker. As the creative director for Square Halo Books, Inc, curator of the Square Halo Gallery, and creative director for Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA), Ned has lectured at colleges, schools, churches, and conferences. His artwork is found in numerous titles, including Bible History ABCs; Legends & Leagues: Or, Mr. Tardy Goes from Here to There; and Every Moment Holy. He lives with his family near Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
In this interview Ned talks with us about his latest Christmas Children’s book, Saint Nicholas the Giftgiver.
FF: What inspired the story in your book?
My book was originally written for my kids. I wanted to create a book that was magical and fun but also was very Christ-focused. I had grown up loving all the different stories I heard about Santa Claus, but I also was eager to make Christmas about Jesus for my children and not just about elves and reindeer. I’ve been writing and rewriting it, illustrating it and re-illustrating it for over twenty years. One thing that I think is curious about the whole process is that my original illustrations I made for the book tried to mimic the look of linocut prints, long before I actually learned how to make linocut prints.
FF: What can you tell us about the main characters in your book?
The earliest accounts of Nicholas’ life were made centuries after his death (and many legends were added since), so little can be known about his life with certainty. Traditionally, he is said to have been born on March 15, 270 in Patara (a coastal town in the south of Turkey the apostle Paul visited in Acts 21), to a wealthy Christian couple. Nicholas’ parents died while he was young, so he went to live with his uncle, an abbot. It is said that one of the ways he later disposed of his parents’ wealth was to secretly toss a bag of gold into a poor man’s home to provide for his daughter’s dowries, so they could be married instead of being sold into slavery (in church art the bags are represented as gold balls).
Nicholas was ordained a bishop in his early thirties in Myra (another town visited by Paul, in Acts 27). But before long he was swept up early in the Great Persecution under the Emperor Diocletian. Soon after his release, Nicholas was sent to the Council of Nicaea to take part in helping to settle a theological controversy. A priest named Arius denied the deity of Christ, and (according to various reports) this heresy so upset Nicholas that on the floor of the council he struck Arius. Tradition holds he died on December 6, 342.
Many legendary stories grew up around him, including: finding a husband for a mouse maiden, freeing innocent soldiers from the gallows, saving sailors during a storm, rescuing children from a barrel of pickling brine, feeding a widow with three magic fish, and, of course, Clement C. Moore’s famous poem (to which my book is obviously indebted) in which we learn of his flying reindeer and nose-triggered levitating abilities.
FF: Which character surprised you the most?
There really is only one character—Nicholas. And though we don’t know a lot about his life for sure, it is amazing how much has been written about him. I bought books and books, and went on one rabbit trail after another, searching out facts and fancies about the saint and the legend. One thing that surprised me in creating the book was how the little mouse ended up popping in and out throughout the book. She entered originally through an old Armenian Folktale I found in The Real St. Nicholas: Tales of Generosity and Hope from Around the World that tells about the time when Nicholas lived near Jerusalem in a cave and a young mouse kept him company during his prayers. The story is quite magical and once I put her in the cave in my book, she ended up scampering through almost the whole thing!
FF: Why do you think storytelling is such a powerful way to share truth?
We are open to the truth through stories and art in ways much more than how we might be willing to receive that truth through other sources. Our imagination creates a mighty bridge that leaps over our mind’s defenses and gets right to our heart. I believe that we are like this because we are reflecting the creative image of God. He is telling a great story throughout Time and Space that we can’t help but be swept up into. Ultimately this book points to that great story, helping children see from a slightly different angle how much God the Father has given to us in the Birth, Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus.
FF: What can you tell us about your next book?
The next book coming out from me is The O in Hope—a book I illustrated for Luci Shaw. The illustration style is completely different than the St. Nicholas book. For Shaw’s book I was inspired by Eric Carle and Henri Matisse to do collage/cut paper. It is a lovely poem by a poet who my wife and I have been avidly reading for our whole married life. When I read The O in Hope I was so struck by it that I just jumped right in to illustrating it, not knowing if she would ever see it, and having no idea if it would ever be published. At the time it seemed to me that it NEEDED to be made, and now I am so glad I did.
FF: What kind of research did you do for this book?
I bought lots of books about St. Nicholas, including: The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus: The True Life and Trials of Nicholas of Myra by Adam C. English, The Real St. Nicholas: Tales of Generosity and Hope from Around the World by Louise Carus, and The True Saint Nicholas: Why He Matters to Christmas by William J. Bennett. And, of course, I grew up on a steady diet of Rankin/Bass Christmas specials! Beyond that, it was more a matter of test marketing rather than research. I bound the little story and my drawings into a small book and gave it to family and friends. Then each Feast Day of Saint Nicholas my wife would give oranges and chocolates—along with my story with a drawing or two as a coloring page—to children in our church community. And every few years I would revise the story and the pictures, until we ended up with Saint Nicholas the Giftgiver.
FF: What do you want readers to take away after reading your book?
Saint Nicholas The Giftgiver is a book that fully embraces the wonder and enchantment of Christmas while also equally embracing the Faith and historicity of Christmas. Most books do one or the other. This does both. My hope is that this book will help the readers make both aspects of Christmas—the faith and the magic—part of their Advent celebrations. And above all, as Saint Nicholas would’ve wanted as well, I want readers to be pointed to Jesus.
FF: What are the biggest challenges for you as an author writing in your specific genre?
I love writing children’s books. Honestly the most challenging aspect of writing for this age-range is the competition. Everyone wants to create books for children, so getting the opportunity to write a kids book for me is harder than actually creating the book. The most challenging aspect of writing this particular book was being willing to cut out all the fun things I learned about the life and legends of Nicholas that were slowing down the story.
FF: What authors or books have inspired you as an author?
I have bookshelves all over my house, so reducing a list of inspirational authors in my life is rather difficult. But it is easy to say that The Chronicles of Narnia is the foundation of nearly all my creative inspiration, and I love all the books I’ve read by C.S. Lewis. Other books that have inspired me are Treasure Island, Fahrenheit 451, Alice in Wonderland, But Not the Hippopotamus, the Harry Potter books, Here There Be Dragons, The Twenty-One Balloons, The Light Princess, The Screwtape Letters, Melisande, and The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog. Other authors I really enjoy include Anthony Horowitz, Shawn Smucker, Francis Schaeffer, Calvin Seerveld, Luci Shaw, Tomie dePaola, J. Mark Bertrand, Ian Fleming, Sandra Boynton, Douglas McKelvey, and Frederick Buechner.
FF: How has your faith or world view impacted the way you tell stories?
My faith drives all my art and story-telling. But I imagine that that isn’t unique to me. Surely everyone who writes is drawing from their inner convictions and how they think the world spins. I think for the stories I like to tell, the Christian view of absolute truth—or True Truth as Schaeffer said—is my starting point. I believe that as long as ‘Good is Good’ and ‘Bad is Bad,’ the sky is the limit for our creativity. I also think my presupposition that there is more to reality than the material world leads me to want to create stories of wonder and mystery. And I think that comes out even in Saint Nicholas: The Giftgiver. The book is rooted in the truth of a famous figure in Church history, but it also revels in Time stopping and reindeer flying.
On the night before Christmas,
so the old stories say,
Saint Nicholas rides in a magical sleigh.
But what is the truth,
and what are the legends?
Who is this giftgiver,
and why all the presents?
Around Christmas we spend a lot of time thinking about presents, but have you ever wondered why we give gifts? Learn about the life of Saint Nicholas and discover why he became known as one of the greatest giftgivers of all time. Told as a delightful poem, this colorfully illustrated book will be enjoyed by children and the adults who read with them. Also included is a note from the author to encourage further conversation about the content. Discover IVP Kids and share with children the things that matter to God.
Saint Nicholas the Giftgiver
Genres: Children’s, Christmas, Historical
Release Date: October 12, 2021
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