The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Children's Books for the Winter Holidays

McCall Magazine, Night Before Xmas from 1939. Photo courtesy of flickr user George Eastman House

Nothing is better than the holiday season as a child. Snow days mean no school and comic books, your house is transformed into a miracle of tiny lights. All you?re required to do is eat cookie dough, open presents, and be adorable in family photos.

Growing up in a multi-cultural community, the holidays always meant school lunch was supplemented by a PTA mom-supplied overload of sugar cookies, candy canes, sufganiyots, and coconut pie. Best of all, every day was craft day: felt Christmas trees, popsicle stick reindeer, woven Kwanzaa mats, pompom snow men, clay dreidels, and endless paper snowflakes filled my afternoons at elementary school while fellow classmates zoomed around on a sugar high.

But ultimately, despite developing what would turn out to be a full-fledged craft addiction, my favorite part of the day would be when we all settled down for story time. While Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol and Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas will always be family favorites, what follows are my top five favorite, elementary teacher-approved, beautifully written, and artistically rendered children?s stories:

Hanukkah: December 20 through December 28, 2011

The Trees of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polacco

This family favorite features Trisha and Richard who live with their grandparents and mother on a farm. They're having a lot of fun preparing for Hanukkah when the find out their Christian neighbors are sick and unable to get and decorate a Christmas tree. So Trish, Richard, and family do it for them. This heartwarming interfaith exchange is one that all readers will love.

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

Goblins have been haunting a village's synagogue and preventing the villagers from celebrating Hanukkah. This beautifully illustrated tale tells the story of how Hershel tricks the goblins just in time to celebrate the holiday. Kimmel gives a great afterword that explains the meaning of the Hanukkah holiday and significance of menorahs, dreidels, and latkes.

Christmas: December 25, 2011

The Night Before Christmas by Rachel Isadora

Ballerina turned children's book author Rachel Isadora lived in South Africa for many years. In this brightly colored book, she takes on the classic Clement Clarke Moore poem, "A Visit from St. Nicholas," and retells it in the setting of an African village. The beautiful collages show how the spirit of Christmas can come alive in any cultural setting. Plus Santa in his zebra jacket, leopard pants, and Kente cloth belt cannot be missed.

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

Sculptor Chris Van Allsburg won the 1986 Caldecott Medal for this wonderfully written and illustrated tale of a boy who is swept off, one Christmas Eve, on a fabulous journey to the North Pole. Now a major motion picture, the original book still holds the magical Christmas spirit and will force all non-believers, Scrooges, and Grinches alike, to creak open those hearts and listen for silver bells.

Kwanzaa: December 26, 2011 through January 1, 2012

Seven Spools of Thread by Angela Shelf Medearis, illustrated by Daniel Minter

Linoleum block prints bring to life this clever story. Seven brothers make their family miserable with all their fighting. Find out how seven spools of thread are used to illustrate the seven principles of Kwanzaa and bring the brothers together again in an exceptional and understandable way.

BONUS: While this year's celebration of Diwali has already passed, growing up in my little multi-cultural family meant both Diwali and Christmas holidays were recognized, and so one last book will be added to the list:

Diwali: November 13, 2012

Lights For Gita by Rachna Gilmore, illustrated by Alice Priestley

In this sweet tale Gita has just moved to the United States and misses her home in New Delhi. She looks forward to brightening up a gloomy winter with Diwali fireworks, friends, and celebrations. Unfortunately plans do not go quite as expected and Gita begins to hate her new home. This story tells at how one little girl learns about the true spirit of Diwali lights.

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