In my family, the kids look forward to the holidays all year long—which makes the season especially precious when it finally arrives. Holiday traditions like family time, feasts, and gift-giving and receiving are all part of what makes the season special. Another tradition that can add to the magic of the season is reading holiday picture books. The children will appreciate the time huddled close, listening to and looking at festive stories. In addition, no matter which holiday you’re celebrating, reading is a great way to expose children to the holidays others may be celebrating like Kwanzaa, Christmas or Hanukkah.
My First Kwanzaa by Karen Katz
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company (November 1, 2003)
My First Kwanzaa is a wonderful introduction to Kwanzaa, the African American holiday celebrated from December 26-January 1. In the book, a little girl talks about how her family celebrates, providing simple explanations for each of the seven days of Kwanzaa. Parents will appreciate the phonetic spellings of Swahili words. My First Kwanzaa is written and illustrated by Karen Katz in the same iconic style as her other popular books Where is Baby’s Belly Button? and Counting Kisses.
Li’l Rabbit loves the feast of Kwanzaa, called Karamu. But his Granna Rabbit, who usually prepares it, is sick. In the spirit of Kwanzaa, L’il Rabbit searches for ways help his Granna feel better. He is upset to come home empty-handed until he realizes his search has lead to the best Karamu ever. This magical story captures the spirit of Kwanzaa and back matter explains Kwanzaa in more detail.
This pirate’s swashbuckling rendition of the twelve days of Christmas is perfect for ages 3 to 6. The bright illustrations beg for interaction, which is one reason why A Pirate’s Twelve Days of Christmas will stand up to many readings. Young readers will discover something new to do each time, whether it is searching for and counting each gift or identifying the gift giver on each page. The wind down at the end even makes this book appropriate for bedtime.
Ernest B. Spinosaurus is intent on getting a Jurassic Turbo Scooter for Christmas. This means staying on Santasaurus’s Nice list, which isn’t easy given his penchant for mischief. So starting January 1, Ernest launches a letter-writing campaign and readers are treated to his hilarious attempts to fool Santasaurus into thinking he’s more nice than naughty.
Christmas Wombat by Jackie French (Author), Bruce Whatley (Illustrator)
Publisher: Clarion Books (October 16, 2012)
Christmas begins like any other day for Wombat until he smells carrots, one of his favorite treats. Since it’s Christmas, he battles Santa’s reindeer for them and then climbs onto Santa’s sleigh for a nap. Whisked along on Santa’s delivery route, he finds carrots at each stop – meeting a polar bear, a toucan and more. This fun picture book features the main character from Diary of a Wombat and Diary of a BABY Wombat.
Jeremy’s Dreidel by Ellie Geidel (Author), Maria Mola (Illustrator)
Publisher: Kar-Ben Publishing (August 1, 2012)
At a dreidel-making workshop, Jeremy makes a dreidel for his father, who is blind. Despite a barrage of questions about his father, Jeremy manages to shape a dreidel fit for display. However, a dreidel behind glass is of no use to his Braille-reading dad. Jeremy’s Dreidel provides insight into the history and traditions of Hanukkah as well as how the blind live. Back matter includes instructions on building and playing with dreidels and information about Braille.
Caleb’s Hanukkah by Lisa Bullard (Author), Constanza Basaluzzo (Illustrator)
Publisher: Millbrook Press (August 1, 2012)
Caleb’s family is celebrating Hanukkah. As he experiences the holiday, he explains the significance of important Hanukkah traditions like the dreidel, the eight days, the menorah, gelt and latkes and jelly doughnuts. Back matter includes instructions for making a dreidel out of a milk carton and a glossary. Caleb’s Hanukkah is a great book to teach young children the meaning and traditions of Hanukkah.
Margaret Greanias (email@example.com) is an aspiring children’s picture book author. She has two young children and lives in Los Altos.