"It just came very easily to me to tell this story, because I've seen it a million times in the work we do on Home Town," says the HGTV star of the picture book she created with friend and illustrator Adam Trest

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Erin-Napier-Author-Photo-The-Lantern-House
Credit: Brooke Davis-Jefcoat

Erin Napier's first children's book tells the story of the most important place in her life: home.

The star of HGTV's Home Town teamed up with her friend and frequent collaborator, artist Adam Trest, to write and illustrate The Lantern House, a heartwarming picture book from Little Brown due out in May 2022. And PEOPLE has a first look at the cover, below.

"Adam and both live in old houses and we both have two little girls. We just thought it would be wonderful if we wrote a book for our girls and that's where it began," Erin tells PEOPLE exclusively of her first foray into children's literature. (Erin and her husband and co-star Ben, who share Helen, 3, and Mae, almost 4 months, published their first book, a memoir called Make Something Good Today, in 2018.)

The sweet story of The Lantern House is told from the perspective of a house as it watches its occupants change and grow, start families, and move away over the years, each leaving a mark on the home — both physical and emotional. "The house is the narrator and it's a watcher, a keeper and a guardian of the families that live there," Erin explains.

lantern house

"The house is, at first, I think, a little bit proud and maybe kind of indifferent. It's just a brand new house built in the early 1940s and then a couple moves in," Erin explains. "You see that the woman is expecting a baby and the house becomes more human when that baby arrives. It gets attached to this family, it watches the little girl grow up and then builds kind of a sadness as the family changes."

The house fills with cobwebs and feels lonely for a time but eventually, it changes hands and feels joy again at becoming the home of a new family.

The narrative was inspired in part by Ben and Erin's own home, a 1925 craftsman in Laurel, Mississippi. "We know a little bit about the families who built the house, who lived here before us. We know that one girl who grew up in our house got married at the fireplace hearth," Erin says.

RELATED VIDEO: Erin & Ben Napier Feel "Blessed" to Be Expecting Baby No. 2: "We Didn't Know If It Was Possible"

As she and Adam brainstormed, they both knew immediately the impression they wanted their story to leave.

"Up was a huge inspiration for this book," says Erin of the 2009 Disney Pixar animated film — the first several minutes of which are a notorious tearjerker moment. "Adam and I were like, I want this book to feel like the beginning of Up. And we both knew exactly what we meant by that."

When it actually came time to write the story, Erin says, the words flowed easily.

"Honestly, I sat down and I wrote that in 30 minutes, the rough [draft]," she admits. "It just came very easily to me to tell this story, because it's a story that I've seen a million times in the work we do on Home Town. We've renovated nearly a hundred houses. And Ben's favorite thing to do is to research the history of these houses before we present them as an option to the family. So they know a little about the people that lived there before them."

The lesson of their many renovations that stuck with the designer: "We just learned a lot that houses are more than houses."

Erin Napier
Erin Napier and daughter Helen
| Credit: Ben Napier/ instagram

The titular "lantern house" is an amalgamation of the many homes Erin, Ben, and occasionally Adam, have helped to restore in Laurel. The name is meant to evoke the image of a house viewed from the outside at night with all the windows aglow.

"It's the place that I want to be when I'm away from it," Erin explains. "There's a coziness and a warmth. And that's all I can think of for this house and for what we wanted to call it."

Erin Napier
Credit: Erin Napier/ Instagram

Despite not yet having a physical copy of the book, Erin says the story of The Lantern House is already a favorite of Helen's: "She begged me to tell it to her every night. So I know it by heart and I speak it to her because we don't have the book yet. I think she thinks I'm just making it for her. I really don't think she understands that other kids [will be able to] read it too."

But seeing the book on the shelves of a store is a reality that can't come soon enough for the HGTV star.

"It's going to be such a huge moment for Adam and I both, when we get to read this book to our daughters, they're going to be so excited, I think, to see it. Helen's never seen any of the illustrations."

"I'm very attached to the books I loved in childhood," she adds, "and I just imagine our girls and the way they're going to love this book."

The Lantern House comes out May 24, 2022 and is currently available for pre-order.