Slate, Joseph. The Secret Stars. Illus. by Felipe Dávalos. Marshall Cavendish, 1998, 32 pages ISBN 0-7614-5027-0 op
On the Night of the Three Kings, Sila and Pepe think excitedly about the toys that might appear the next morning, and they worry that the frigid weather might make locating their New Mexico home next to impossible. Their grandmother, cuddled with her grandchildren under a cozy quilt, assures them that the Three Kings will find a way to navigate by stars even with clouds in the sky. (“There are stars behind clouds / and in many secret places.”) As they sleep in bed, she takes them on a dream where they find stars shining everywhere: in the twinkle of the freezing flowers, a spider’s icy egg sac, and even in the chicken coop. The children wake on the day of the Three Kings to notice beautiful stars in the veins on their grandmother’s face, presents waiting for them in the barn, and three frozen and glistening pine trees:
“Look-ee, look-ee there, Sila,” cries Pepe.
“The pines have become the Three Kings!”
“And their crowns and capes,” says Sila,
“they are filled with stars.”
Through their dialogue, the family’s faith and love shines as brightly as the glittering pieces of nature they discover together. The Three Kings, each with a different skin tone, are shown on the title page and later as figures on the mantle, but the mysteries of their gifts are left for readers to interpret. The text is engaging, full of metaphor (“She is the warm hearth on this cold night. / She is the nestling log.”) and descriptions, such as the “Rat-a-tat-tat” of the freezing rain on the rooftop. The illustrations combine spot art with paintings within frames, reflecting the Southwestern setting. A darker palette allows for shining objects to pop, reinforcing the mood of discovery and feel of light amid the shadows of winter.
While this is about a specific holiday, the family’s warmth and the children’s enthusiasm and anticipation will have universal appeal. It’s no surprise to me that the Pura Belpré Award Committee recognized Dávalos with an honor for illustration in 2000. Let’s get it back in print so that more families can snuggle up like grandmother, Sila, and Pepe and create new memories reading and sharing this story together.
The #OwnVoices tag in this case applies only to the illustrator.