Congratulations to fellow author, Jenny Fulton, on her new book, Princess Lillian and Grandpa's Goodbye, illustrated by Indra Grace Hunter. I had the opportunity to interview Jenny about her heritage, faith, recent loss and how a combination of those things entered into her writing to help children deal with the death of a loved one. Hope you enjoy getting to know more about Jenny and her beautiful children's book.
Jenny, can you share about your love of the Navajo people and about your Navajo heritage?
Sure, I’m a quarter Navajo and an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation. My Grandma Lillian is of the Bitter Water clan. She grew up there, was put into a Baptist boarding school at an early age, and later became an interpreter at one of the missions.
From as early as I can remember, I have loved the fact that the blood of this people runs through my veins. My eyes are brown and my skin tans dark in the summer. My hair, however, was light brown when I was young. I always wished it were darker, so I’d look more like the Natives. Although I didn’t grown up in the Navajo Nation, I heard stories about it from my dad and cousins.
When I was young, we’d make the trip to the Navajo Nation to visit family or spend time at the mission where my dad had lived for several years. I loved everything about the land. I was in awe of the mountains. My eyes soaked in the sight of the rising mesas, the rainbow-colored cliffs, the wild and untamed beauty of the terrain. My other senses were equally mesmerized. My ears listened in wonder to sounds that traveled across the mesas and through the canyons from miles away. Smells moved as easily as the noise. If someone was cooking anything nearby, you knew it.
I loved it when Grandma Lillian Litfin came to visit. She went on walks with me, made us fry bread, and talked to me like I was an adult. I loved the look of her dark brown skin and the musical quality of her speech with its Navajo tone. One time she came to visit in the fall while school was in session. We were studying Native Americans and I was able to get permission for her to speak to my class. I was proud of my heritage and excited to share both it and my grandma with my friends.
In my various trips there, including the year I lived and taught there, I’ve come to know many of the Navajo people, and they are amazing. In many ways, they’re just like everyone else. In other ways, there is something beautifully unique about them. And I’m so very thankful I share that heritage, even if in a small way.
How did you first come to hear about Christ and when did that become more of a knowing and trusting in Him personally as the one who came to save mankind?
I first heard about Christ from my parents and Sunday school teachers. There was one Sunday school lesson, when I was no more than 5 or 6, when the teacher told us we could ask Jesus to come live in our hearts. I liked that idea, so when I got home, I knelt down by the steps behind our back door and asked Him to come live in mine. He was real; He was with me; He was my friend.
I think it was around that time, I forget the order, when another event cemented the reality of Christ’s presence. It’s a lot to go into right now, but after a traumatic even left me feeling scared and alone, I heard him tell me that He was with me. I felt his presence – it was one of peace and safety. That’s what him saving me meant to me at that time. Later learning that he saved mankind added to the love and connection that was already there.
What do you want people to understand about the Navajo heritage and how do some in that culture view Christ?
There are a lot of different ideas, even among the Navajo, about what it means to be Navajo. While some of them still hold to traditional Navajo beliefs, the number who do seems to be decreasing. Some believe in and practice a hybrid of traditional beliefs with Christianity; some have left the tradition beliefs behind to follow Christ; and some don’t follow either. Regardless of which belief system they follow, there seems to be a wide-spread belief in the spiritual. They know spiritual beings are real and they know they interact with this world.
As far as who Christ is, there is still, among some Natives, anger toward white people and Christ/Christianity is seen as a white man’s religion. Among the Christian Navajos, Christ is seen as not only the savior of the world who set us free from sin, but also as one is stronger than the dark spirits and is able to protect against them. In many ways, these Christians have a much stronger faith and understanding of Christ’s work and power in our lives today.
How are Angels viewed by the Navajo culture?
I don’t know if there is a concept of angels in traditional Navajo culture. I’ll have to ask others about this or see if any Navajo readers can weigh in on this question. There are traditional beliefs in dark spirits that roam this world and in what they call the Holy People who love them and watch from the fourth world. But I don’t know if either of those would translate into the equivalent of an angelic being, especially as we think of them.
What age did you first start writing? When did you first begin to dream about writing and what led you to write this book?
From as early as 3 years old, I’d draw pictures and tell my mom detailed stories about them. She’d sit and patiently write them down. I still have some of those. When I learned how to hold a pencil and write the words myself, I’d fill pages of stories and ideas. I was the kid that, when the teacher told us to write one paragraph, I’d write two pages.
I was probably no more than 8 or 9 when I first saw the movie, Little Women. I absolutely loved Jo and wanted to be just like her. I think that’s when the dream of becoming an author began. As I grew older, reality took over and I realized that I probably wouldn’t be able to make a living as a writer right away. So, I turned my focus to teaching and kept writing on the side as a private hobby.
I wrote this book in December 2020 after my grandpa had a heart attack and was taken to the hospital. My mom kept us updated. “He’s ready to go home,” she told us. A video she later sent us confirmed it. I’ve never seen someone so patiently and eagerly awaiting his call into heaven. Shortly after watching the video, I sat down to process the bittersweet feelings of seeing someone I loved preparing to leave this world. As is often the case, I processed by writing. In this case, I took a character I already loved and tried to look at the scenario through her eyes. I also pulled from an earlier experience in my life. When I was somewhere between the ages of 5-7, my aunt died. They took us to see her in the hospital right before she went. It was scary. I didn’t like the noise or the smells, didn’t fully understand what was happening. For a long time after that moment, I didn’t like hospitals. Writing this book allowed me to pull from the past and the present to create a story that could explain death and heaven in a way that, while still sad, wasn’t bad or scary.
What’s the main take-away you want readers to remember after reading Princess Lillian and Grandpa’s Goodbye?
I want readers to see that death, while still sad, can also be a good and beautiful event. It doesn’t need to be feared. There is a great life we have to look forward to after we leave this world if we are following God. I also want to give children a visual reminder that, no matter what happens, God is always with them. He’s there to love and comfort them even if they feel sad or scared.
Jenny, thank you again for this interview! Below, you can find out more about Princess Lillian and Grandpa's Goodbye, as well as info about Jenny and her bio!
Book Blurb for Princess Lillian and Grandpa’s Goodbye
Can two worlds exist at the same time?
Little Princess Lillian learns the spiritual world can interact with the physical. Imaginary is used to explain a reality, how heaven reaches down to earth as a young girl observes her grandpa awaiting his entrance into his eternal home.
How do you explain death and heaven to a child?
Led through a long hall in a hospital, Princess Lillian holds her mom's hand as an angel whispers comforting words.
Incorporating bits of Native American and Christian tradition, an intimate celebration of a loved one's passing occurs as a family says good-bye to a man eager to meet his best friend, the King Above All Nations.
Purchase the Book
Jenny Fulton is a wife, mother, children's book author, YA fantasy author, blogger, and freelance writer with a B.S. in Bible, a B.S. in elementary education, and an endorsement in K-12 ESL. After graduating from Grace University in 2007, Jenny worked as a teacher in a variety of cultural and educational settings, both abroad and in the United States. She is a storyteller, a follower of Christ, and a seeker of truth.
An enrolled member of the Navajo Nation, Jenny grew up hearing stories from her dad about the supernatural workings on the Navajo Reservation. Her days are now mostly spent raising her three young daughters (homeschooling two of them) and writing as much as time and opportunity allows.
Jenny is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), Faithwriters.com, and is an author with Capture Books.
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