This post was written by media specialist Lauren Davis, as part of my “Reading Wednesdays” series in which Lauren and I share our favorite kids lit recommendations.
I love this time of year, when the joy of the season spills over front door thresholds and floods the streets outside, where well wishers carol from door to door, engaging in random acts of kindness just to brighten one another’s day. I love how the smell of fir trees and fireplaces mingles in the air, the lights shimmer from roof tops and menorahs glimmer from window sills.
The atmosphere is electric, tinged with hope and positivity. Even as an adult, I feel an extra skip in my step after Thanksgiving, knowing my family will soon light the menorah, stuff ourselves with latkes, and gather at friends’ homes to decorate their majestic trees with ornaments of silver and gold.
I’ve always found it magical to think that people worldwide spend the month of December preparing to celebrate, and then celebrating their own meaningful holidays, whether it’s Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa. Even more meaningful is the fact that I live in a community so open to learning about all religious and cultural traditions throughout December. These traditions become our families’ steadfast foundations, infusing our lives with meaning, purpose, and love.
What better way to celebrate the generosity of December than with fabulous picture books we can share with our children?
This Hanukkah, I’ve decided to start a new tradition with my boys. For each of the eight nights of the holiday, we will read not just books about our own Jewish traditions, but also “window” books to help us all learn about the holidays celebrated by so many friends and neighbors in our community. Below you will find the eight books we will be reading this year—- plus a few more books that showcase the magic of the holiday season.
1) Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, by Eric Kimmel and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman: We love this story of clever Hershel who outwits the goblins that repeatedly attempt to ruin Hanukkah for everyone in a small village. How does he do so? With pickles and eggs and dreidels, of course! This a unique and creative adaptation of the ancient Hanukkah story in which the Syrians prohibited the Jews from worshiping as they desired, reminding all that miracles can happen even when the odds seem stacked against you.
2) A World of Cookies for Santa, by M.E. Furman and illustrated by Susan Gal: This is a fabulous new book detailing the varied ways in which children all over the world prepare themselves for Santa’s arrival. Santa doesn’t get milk and cookies in India. Instead, kids leave Christmas Baba (Father Christmas) a crispy fried treat called a kulkuls, together with a cup of spicy chai. And in South Africa, Kersvader arrives by donkey and children leave him hertzog cookies filled with apricot jam and topped with coconut meringue. Yum! This is a fascinating look at how Christmas is celebrated worldwide, filled with gorgeous illustrations to boot. Definitely our new favorite!
3) The 12 Sleighs of Christmas, by Sherri Duskey Rinker and illustrated by Jake Parker: If your kids love Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site, don’t walk, but run out to buy them The 12 Sleighs of Christmas. When Santa’s elves discover Santa’s sleigh is totaled just before Christmas, the elves split into a dozen teams and set out to build Santa Claus a cool new sleigh — and Santa himself will decide which one to use for his special day. A fun new read aloud that will have kids marveling at the coolest sleighs imaginable, inspired by big rigs, motorcycles and zeppelins, too!
4) Chanukah Lights, by Michael Rosen and Robert Sabuda: This is a stunner of a pop-up book, following the Festival of Lights through place and time as the Jewish people search for a place to call home. For each of eight nights, the menorah is pictured in a different scene, and the intricate designs on each page are sure to thrill little readers. Equally gorgeous? Robert Sabuda’s The Christmas Story — another pop-up that captures the wonder of Christmas and the Nativity on every exquisite page.
5) Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg: You can’t celebrate Christmas without this marvelous classic, the story of a young boy who is welcomed aboard the Polar Express on Christmas Eve, right at a time he begins to question Santa’s existence. The boy’s magical journey to the North Pole reminds us that being a believer will keep us young at heart, and even as we age, the spirit of Christmas can continue to enchant.
6) The Little Reindeer, by Nicola Killen: Oh how I adore the illustrations in this new book! This is one of those quiet, understated books that breathes magic on every page. The story tells of a friendship between a little girl and a lost reindeer, and a Christmas eve the two will never forget. It’s a simple, sweet, and wondrous story – complete with die cut pages and metallic ink – sure to become an enthralling family favorite.
7) Room for a Little One: A Christmas Tale, by Martin Waddell and illustrated by Jason Cockcroft: This is a gorgeously illustrated book that tells the story of all the animals sharing the manger — animals who are typically foes but instead rest together in harmony. At the end, Joseph and Mary arrive and Mary gives birth to Jesus, who is welcomed by all. A heartwarming and simple story that celebrates Jesus’s arrival in a manner even toddlers can understand.
8) Together for Kwanzaa, by Juwanda G, Ford and illustrated by Shelly Hehenberger: Kayla loves celebrating Kwanzaa every year, but when her brother is trapped at school due to a snowstorm, Kayla fears Khari will miss their family celebrations completely. This is a lovely story that introduces young readers to the practices and traditions that make Kwanzaa a special December holiday.
9) Hanukkah Bear, by Eric Kimmel and illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka: This story never disappoints and is one of my absolute favorite Hanukkah tales. A retelling of The Hanukkah Guest, Hanukkah Bear tells of an old woman, nearly blind and deaf, who is known throughout her village for her fabulous latkes. When Hanukkah arrives, the woman invites the rabbi to dinner to celebrate Hanukkah and feast on latkes, but the aroma from her kitchen awakens an old bear who arrives at her home before the rabbi. Due to her failing eyes and ears, the story never fails to elicit giggles as the old lady mistakes the bear’s furry coat and happy growls for the rabbi’s beard and blessings.
10) Maccabee!: The Story of Hanukkah by Tilda Balsley and illustrated by David Harrington: Judah and his team of super-hero like Macabees fight to free Jerusalem from the cruel King Antiochus in this rhythmic, rhyming story that is perfect for reading aloud. The book tells of the miraculous oil that lasted for eight days and the Macabee’s determination to stand up for what they believed in, making this a perfect read to share with little ones curious about the real story behind the holiday.
11) Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa by Donna L. Washington and illustrated by Shane Evans: When Li’l Rabbit’s grandma falls ill and is forced to miss out on the Kwanzaa feast, he seeks to find something else for his Grandma to enjoy. This story perfectly captures and celebrates several of the principles of Kwanzaa and illuminates the true meaning of the holiday – working together to help others.
Please share your favorite books filled with holiday magic in the comments!