Ellie Holcomb Asks Who Sang the First Song

We talk with Ellie Holcomb about how her own children helped her come up with and create her children’s book Who Sang the First Song?.

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We talk with Ellie Holcomb about how her own children helped her come up with and create her children’s book Who Sang the First Song?.

What inspired you to write your first book, namely a board book for young children? How did you come up with the idea for Who Sang the First Song?

I have two little kids who love to read books, so writing a board book for children was a very natural extension of my everyday life. It was so fun to be able to have a little test audience in my own home while writing Who Sang the First Song?.

I came up with idea for the book because my little girl actually asked me one day in passing, “Mom, who sang the first song?” I love that kids are always asking questions, and I love how my kids’ questions often make me slow down and think about things that I normally wouldn’t. So instead of answering my daughter right away, I decided to do some research and write a book!

Emmylou’s question reminded me of some beautiful passages we have read in Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing by Sally-Lloyd Jones. In the first of many beautiful family devotionals in the book, Sally says this:

“In the beginning, God sang everything into being—for the joy of it—and set the whole universe dancing” (p19).

I’ve always loved that image she gives of God singing creation into being, and it felt like a clue to my daughter’s question, so I went on a treasure hunt of sorts looking for the answer.

Sally happens to be a sweet friend of mine, so I met up with her when she was in town to pick her brain on the idea that she presented in her book. She was kind enough to point me to a sermon on Genesis 1 by Tim Keller, who is one of my very favorite teachers. In this sermon, Keller talks about how we often get caught up in the “how” of Creation, but he was more curious about “why” God decided to create the world and all of us. He explains that the first chapter of Genesis is written in the form of an archaic Hebrew poem, so there was a cadence and a rhythm to the way that God spoke the world into being. It feels very close to a song, and Keller suggests that perhaps God sang the world into being so that the world itself could sing of the goodness, power , and love of its’ Creator! 

But Keller doesn’t stop there. He explains that while God’s song says we are good and wonderfully made, and while He fully intends for us to sing that song, we know that something is off and broken in this world and in our own hearts. He asks where else in the Bible we see the words “In the beginning,” other than Genesis 1, and points us to chapter 1 of John: “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God.” So it is through the work of the Living Word, Jesus Christ Himself, who died on a cross and rose again, that we can be restored to the whole versions of ourselves and sing the song of love and beauty that God created us all to sing. I was captivated and deeply encouraged by this insight, and I’m so grateful that this message is woven throughout the pages of Who Sang the First Song?.

How can parents use this book to spark conversations with their kids on God’s creation and how/why He made us? 

The majority of the book loosely follows the creation story in Genesis by asking questions, which feels very appropriate for children, since they are always full of questions! Parents can start by letting their kids take their own guesses at who sang the first song. Was it the sun? The moon? The stars? The waves? As I was writing the book, it was so fun to hear my kids take their own guesses at this question. My four-year-old’s first guess was Dolly Parton!  

I hope this book will spark conversations between adults and children not only about who made the earth, but how and why the earth was created. I think all of us want to know why we are here. We’re all looking for purpose and direction for our lives, and I hope this book will be a conversation starter about what we were created for. I hope there are conversations about how we can sing both with our voices but also with our lives. I am so grateful that we were created in the image of a very creative God, and I love the idea that adults and children would be talking about how we can create beauty and love with the gifts that we’ve been given. 

Here are some questions for parents or adults to ask children that will hopefully spark wonderful conversation:

I love how creation sings the song of God’s love for us, and I suppose I wanted to drop some breadcrumbs for kids and their parents to be able to trace the beauty of creation to the beauty of our Creator.

Ellie Holcomb
  • Who do you think sang the first song?
  • Who created the world?
  • How was the world created?
  • What does God say about us?
  • Why did God make the world?
  • Why did God make you?
  • What did God make the world and us to do?
  • How can we “sing” and share the beauty of God’s love with the way we live our lives?

How did you select the artist for the book’s illustrations?

My publisher was amazing and gave me a lot of creative freedom in choosing an art direction for the book, and I cannot explain how fun it was searching the internet for children’s illustrators that I felt might be able to capture the playful and whimsical vision I had for the book. I was delighted to discover Kayla Harren on Instagram while searching with the hashtag #childrensillustrator! Her work jumped out to me. It often made me smile or laugh out loud. She has incredible skill in the way that she illustrates, but there is also great heart in her work as well. I was thrilled when Kayla agreed to partner with us on Who Sang the First Song?

I have also loved the conversations that you end up having when you are working on a children’s board book! You end up sending emails like this: 

  • “I love the polar bear, but do you think we could make him a little less fluffy on the bottom?” 
  • “It looks like the little girl is hugging the blue heron a little too tightly, do you think we could loosen her grip?” 
  • “Could we make the lion on the see-saw look a little more playful and a little less hungry? Thanks!” 

I highly recommend this kind of dialogue. It is sure to brighten any rainy day. 

How did your own kids influence the words and inspiration behind the story?

The title of the book was an actual question my daughter asked me in passing one day, so the very idea for the book came from a four-year-old, which I love. When I asked her who she thought sang the first song, she took a long pause, and then answered brightly and inquisitively, “I don’t know, Dolly Parton?” I love four-year-olds!

The majority of the book is full of questions because my kids are always asking questions that lead to more questions, so their natural posture in life completely influenced the way I structured the book. 

I also wanted to make sure that there were some words that would engage my kids because they always love it when they get to participate in a children’s book. So I worked in words like "ROAR" and "BOOM" specifically for my son, who loves an excuse to make loud noises whenever possible, and who communicates with us half the time in roars.

I’d say that my kids inspired me to want to give an answer to the question, Who Sang the First Song? as well. More than anything, I want them to know that they are deeply loved by the Creator of the universe and that because of His love for us demonstrated on the cross, we always have a reason to sing!

My kids also had a lot of influence on the artwork! Kayla Harren was kind enough to include them in the cover and some of the spreads, which was an absolute joy! Emmylou got to pick the color of the dress she was wearing on the cover and asked,  after the first draft, if Mrs. Kayla could remove the frog from the top of her head and give her a flower crown instead! Mrs. Kayla gladly obliged. I knew an illustration was right on when my kids would say “WOW!!!” or “Look at that, Mommy!!!” when they saw it, which was pretty much every time because Kayla is such an incredible talent. I also very much wanted to have animals and children on every spread because my kids love spotting animals in every children’s book we read. So thankful for Kayla’s expertise in illustrating both people and animals so skillfully. 

How do you hope parents and kids grow from reading Who Sang the First Song?

I love how creation sings the song of God’s love for us, and I suppose I wanted to drop some breadcrumbs for kids and their parents to be able to trace the beauty of creation to the beauty of our Creator. That way, when they wake up and see the sun coloring the sky a grapefruit pink color, or when they hear the birds singing their songs throughout the day, or see the stars filling up the night sky like diamonds, they will be reminded that all the beauty is there to declare the love and the goodness of God. I’m hoping that when kids and parents admire creation, they will be reminded that they are a part of God’s beautiful creation too and that we too are image bearers of the love and goodness and beauty and creativity of our God.  

I also hope this book will be a conversation starter. I hope kids and parents will enjoy talking about creation, our Creator, and all the ways that He designed us to create beauty and music and joy with our lives.

Who Sang the First Song? by Ellie Holcomb

In this engaging board book with whimsical art, singer/songwriter Ellie Holcomb asks a childlike question and answers with a lovely lyrical tale that shows young readers that God our Maker sang the first song, and He created us all with a song to sing. Available now in an exclusive to LifeWay hardback edition. Find it online or in your local LifeWay store!

Ellie Holcomb

Singer-songwriter—and now author—Ellie Holcomb began her musical career touring the country with her husband in the Americana band Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors. Her honest voice and rich lyrics shined on her first solo album and deemed her the Best New Artist at the 2014 Dove Awards. In 2017, she followed with the restorative, hope-inducing Red Sea Road. Ellie, her husband, Drew, and their three children live and make music in Nashville, Tennessee.