When it comes to children’s Christmas books, I have a bit of a problem — I can’t seem to stop adding them to our collection. I started collecting them when I was in college 20+ years ago. Over the last couple of years, I’ve started to take inventory of our holiday picture books in an effort to include a more diverse array of characters and winter holidays. Reading about other holidays and cultural traditions around the world gives us (and our kids) a broader sense of what it means to be part of a family. I hope you’ll find something on this list that piques your curiosity, for there are endless ways to celebrate holiday traditions, even as we cherish those most familiar to us.
“My First Kwanzaa” (ages birth-5)
Written and illustrated by Karen Katz
Baby gets ready for her first Kwanzaa (a holiday celebrated from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1) with seven colorful candles. Mama brings the special unity cup and each child takes part in the seven-day celebration of the harvest. Learn about the guiding principles of Kwanzaa in this colorful board book and relish yet another reason why Karen Katz books are always a hit with young readers.
“Hallelujah! A Christmas Celebration” (ages 3-7) Written by W. Nikola-lisa and illustrated by Synthia Saint James
Presenting the miracle of Christmas retold with a Black baby Jesus. Readers will easily slip through sparse text and bold colors to follow shepherds, see the animals and hear the heavenly choir as each worshipper gathers beneath a silver moonlit sky to praise and celebrate Jesus’ birth.
“Silent Night” (ages 3-7) Written and illustrated by Lara Hawthorne
Though it may seem counterintuitive to simply place the lyrics of a song into book format, this is actually a powerful early literacy tool for little ones. Sing or read this lavishly illustrated book featuring Mary and Joseph as they journey to Bethlehem, and read more about the carol that has been translated into more than 200 languages.
“The Shortest Day” (ages 4-8) Written by Susan Cooper and illustrated by Carson Ellis
“So the shortest day came, and the year died …” begins this poem set to lavish illustrations. Bundled up in an array of warmth, people dance into the darkness and sing around the blaze of a fire. And so that tradition of lights and gathering continues as we feast, give thanks and spend time with loved ones. A non-holiday-specific book perfect for the long winter months.
“A World of Cookies for Santa” (ages 4-8) Written by M.E. Furman and illustrated by Susan Gal
Christmas is a time for giving. All over the world, children of various customs and nationalities leave treats for Santa during his yearly pilgrimage. The recipes and anecdotes of excited children, combined with layers of colorful texture created from charcoal on paper, make this book an especially delectable read for both budding chefs and globetrotters alike.
“The Legend of the Poinsettia” (ages 4+) Written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola
Lucinda lives with her family in a small village in Mexico. As Christmas draws closer Lucida’s mother works to make a beautiful blanket for the church, but she becomes ill and Lucinda tries to work on the unfinished blanket, without much success. Finally, the Christmas Eve procession arrives and Lucinda still doesn’t have a gift to give. But a mysterious old woman shows her a tangle of shrubbery that turns into the beloved holiday plumage once set before the church altar. A beautiful retelling of a traditional folktale.
“I Got the Christmas Spirit”(ages 4+) Written by Connie Schofield-Morrison and illustrated by Frank Morrison
An exuberant girl wakes up to falling snow and bundles up to venture into the world with her mother. She sees a bellringer and a street choir. She inhales the nutty aroma of sidewalk treats and feels the bitter wind nip at her nose. She skates on the ice rink and is dazzled by the twinkling lights but is abruptly stopped by the sight of a homeless family out on the cold, wintry streets. With a generous heart the young girl makes a plan. A truly wonderful book that captures the heart of the holiday season.
“Our Favorite Day of the Year” (ages 5-8) Written by A. E. Ali and illustrated by Rahele Jomepour Bell
Musa is skeptical when his kindergarten teacher says her favorite day of the year is meeting all the new students, but when she asks her students to tell the class about their favorite day of the year, this gives her multicultural class a way to celebrate all the days that are special to each class member. From one Muslim student’s celebration of Eid Mubarak, to a Jewish child’s Shanah Tovah spread (including apples, honey and challah bread) and Navidad (Christmas). At the close of the year the teacher gives each student a calendar to remind them what special holidays happen on each month. An inclusive and celebratory look at holidays celebrated throughout the world.
“All-of-a-Kind-Family Hanukkah” (ages 5-8) Written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
Hanukkah night in New York’s Lower East Side — the year is 1912 and a family with five girls hustles into the busy kitchen to help with the latke preparations. As mama cracks eggs and all the older sisters have a job to do, Gertie, who is only four, feels left out and puts up a fuss in outrage. When at last Papa arrives home, he spends some one-on-one time with Gertie to soothe her. In the end, the family lights the shammash and says a Hebrew blessing together, lighting the first candle for Hanukkah.
“‘Twas Nochebuena” (ages 5-8) Written by Roseanne Greenfield Thong and illustrated by Sara Palacios
“Our lovely adornos are hung up with cheer, in hopes that amigos soon will be here.” This retelling of the classic “Night Before Christmas” is a rhyming wonder that features a family setting up their home for the holiday. They then join their neighbors for posada festivities followed by mugs of hot chocolate and a brilliant piñata. Each joyful illustration elicits feelings of warmth and belonging. This was an immediate favorite of my kindergartener, and with a glossary of Spanish terms, this bilingual Christmas story is a gift worth rereading.
“Grace at Christmas” (ages 5-8) Written by Mary Hoffman and illustrated by Cornelius van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu
Grace loves Christmas. For years it has been her, Ma and Nana taking part in the traditional exchange of gifts, a church service and a lavish meal. However, this year two guests threaten to upend Grace’s familiar holiday traditions. When at last the guests arrive to stay with the three women for the Christmas holiday, Grace uncovers an unexpected friendship and finds room in her heart for the sweetness of change. Be sure not to miss the three other Grace books because each are equally as enchanting.
“Too Many Tamales” (ages 5-8) Written by Gary Soto and illustrated by Ed Martinez
Maria feels grown up in her beautiful dress and apron, kneading the masa for tamales with her mother. ‘If only I could wear mama’s ring too,’ Maria thinks. Which is just what she does when her mother leaves the room for a moment. Soon the house is bursting with cousins and Maria notices that the ring she’d slid on her thumb is no longer there. Convinced that the ring has landed in one of the tamales, Maria enlists her cousins to eat all the tamales to find the missing accessory. Originally published over 25 years ago, this festive read is a great one to celebrate Hispanic heritage.
“Nine Days to Christmas: A Story of Mexico” (ages 6-8) Written by Marie Hall Ets and illustrated by Aurora Labastida
Christmas is coming and Ceci, who has started kindergarten, is now old enough to stay up for the posada, which means she will have her very own piñata. As the days pass, Ceci waits doing ordinary things like visiting the park and watching the garbage truck; meanwhile all the adults keep asking Ceci what kind of piñata she will have. Finally, Ceci selects a bright yellow star as her piñata and discovers an unexpected surprise once the giant star bursts open. Filled with bold illustrations and colors (fuschia, marigold and golden yellow), this award-winning book is a longer read, but worth the time investment.