Multicultural Christmas books are a great tool to show children how people around the world celebrate the same holiday in different ways. Multicultural children’s books reflect a diversity of characters and traditions and teach kids to see them selves as part of a global world.
Kids are naturally curious about different traditions and holiday picture books are a great way to start a conversation about diverse cultures and beliefs. These diverse books will take kids around the world to Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America as well as show them the variety of Christmas celebrations in their own backyard.
I’ve been working on this book list for a while and I’m excited to finally finish it. The library probably wondered why I was checking out Christmas picture books in summer and my kids are really eager for Christmas, now! (Note: I have chosen only books my family enjoyed. Covers and titles are affiliate links.)
Multicultural Books about Christmas:
The Night Before Christmas. Isadora’s gorgeous cut paper collages transport Clement’s original Christmas poem to a small snow covered village in Africa. A dreadlocked Santa delivers African toys to kids but the book doesn’t come across as a forced relocation of the poem. I have several versions of Clement’s poem and this is a lovely addition to them.
Christmas in Noisy Village. This is my favorite Christmas book of all time. I love the cozy, familial, Swedish traditions depicted in Wikland’s Carl Larsson-esque illustrations. Three sets of siblings set about getting ready for Christmas in a snowy landscape. They cut down a tree, make ginger cookies, wrap packages and play games. If you are like me and attracted to all things Swedish, be sure to take a look at my list of Swedish Holiday Picture Books.
Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama is on my list of Interfaith Holiday Books. My favorite part of this book about a mixed-faith family is that the two sides come together for a joyous blended celebration, as opposed to holding two separate celebrations – one for each side of the family. The family takes both Hanukkah and Christmas traditions and makes a new one.
Tree of Cranes. Set in Japan, a young Japanese boy comes home with a chill. While he is warming up with a bath and a bowl of rice gruel he watches his mother fold origami cranes and dig up a small tree. She pots the tree and explains to her son that when she was growing up in California, “today was a special day” and together they light candles on the tree. The entire act of reading this book is so peaceful and relaxing.
The Legend of Old Befana. In Italy, Befana brings gifts to children on Epiphany. When the Three Kings urge Befana to come with them to see the baby Jesus, she initially resists, insisting she must finish here sweeping. She decides to follow them, however, and as she travels she leaves gifts for children along the way. To this day, she continues to search for the baby King, following the star. I had never encountered this legend before, but I really love it, especially the idea that there is always a hope to find what you are looking for.
Carl the Christmas Carp. This picture book will introduce kids to an unusual cultural tradition! In Prague, Radim and his father head to the market to buy the traditional carp for Christmas dinner. The catch (pun) is that the family keeps the carp in the bathtub, feeding it breadcrumbs, to fatten it up for the big feast. Radim, however, begins to get attached to the fish living in his tub and he and his friend, Mila, set the fish free in the local river.
The 12 Days of Christmas. Like her book above, Isadora transports a traditional Christmas tale to Africa. Isadora designed the text to be read as a rhebus so even pre-readers can participate. Each item is given an African flair. For example, the five rings are women’s neck rings, the “maids a milking” are milking goats instead of cows, etc. Notes about traditions and geography are included at the end.
What’s Cooking, Jamela? In South Africa, Jamela raises a special chicken but then she finds out it is headed for the pot to become Christmas dinner! Jamela takes the chicken and runs away through the town. Finally everyone agrees, you don’t eat your friend and a hearty vegetarian meal is prepared instead. Local words are sprinkled throughout the text (glossary provided).
Yoon and the Christmas Mitten. Why are wonderful books like this out of print! It makes me so frustrated. You should be able to get a copy at your library. My youngest keeps asking for this book even though Christmas is still a ways off. Yoon and her family are recent Korean immigrants. Yoon learns about “Mr. Santa Claus” in school but her parents insist they are “not a Christmas family.” Yoon can’t help but hope, though, that Mr. Santa Claus will pay her a visit. What I love about this story is how the family members show each other respect and how Yoon’s parents, even though they originally rejected the idea of Christmas, listened to Yoon’s reasoned arguments and surprised her.
The Legend of the Poinsettia. Lucida’s mother is weaving a beautiful new blanket for the church when she falls ill. Lucida is determined to finish the blanket, but instead she tangles up the weaving. When the villagers join the procession of gifts to the manger in the church, Lucida watches in the darkness, feeling as if she has ruined everything. An old woman tells her that the Baby Jesus will love any gift she brings so Lucida carries an armful of weeds and offers them up at the manger, where they turn into poinsettias.
The Night of Las Posadas. I hope I’m not showing too much favoritism by having three dePaola books on the list! In Sante Fe, New Mexico, Sister Angie is helping to prepare for the nativity play during Las Posadas. Angie falls ill and cannot make it to the performance but it turns out beautifully with the help of a small miracle.
Too Many Tamales. My mother used to work with a woman who made and sold tamales during the Christmas season and my mom would always buy masses of them. They were sooooo delicious. In Too Many Tamales, Maria finally gets to help assemble the traditional tamales for the holiday feasts but in doing so she loses her mother’s ring — or so she thinks — in the mixture. The only way to find the ring is to eat the tamales, of course!
Nine Days to Christmas: A Story of Mexico won the 1960 Caldecott. Ceci is so excited to choose a piñata for her first posadas celebration in Mexico. She choses the Star of Bethlehem but when it comes time to break it, she doesn’t want to! It is finally smashed by the other children and when it opens a lovely miracle happens as the sky fills with stars.
The Spider’s Gift: A Ukrainian Christmas Story. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I do have a hard time reading any books about spiders. You don’t have to tell me how pathetic I am. I already know. Katrusya’s family is too poor to buy each other gifts for Christmas but she does manage to secure a tree. It turns out the tree is filled with spiders. Her mother wants to get rid of the tree (seems reasonable to me!) but Karrusya convinces her to keep it and in return the spiders decorate it with their webs. A Christmas miracle turns the webs to silver and brings riches to the villagers.
Everett Anderson’s Christmas Coming. I love this story about a young boy who watches snow falling from his 14th story window and explores the holiday festivities in the city. There are delightful details that urban dwellers will appreciate, like how to get a tree in an elevator and what the neighbors think of the party happing upstairs. Sadly, this book is out of print, but look for it at your library, it’s well worth the effort of tracking down. Read my full review at Storied Cities.
An Angel Just Like Me. As Tyler’s family decorates the Christmas tree, Tyler wonders why all of the angels are girls, and why they are all pale. He sets out to find an angel that looks like he does, searching through stores, and even looking at the nativity scene in church (which prompts him to ask why Jesus has blond hair if he was Jewish — how many of us have asked THAT question!). He tells his friend Carl, an artist who works as a Santa, about his search. When Carl crafts an angel just for Tyler, all of Tyler’s friends want “angels just like them!”
Grace at Christmas. Christmas is Grace’s favorite holiday and she is way of sharing it with her grandmother’s friends from Trinidad. She especially doesn’t want to share her room! Things turn out okay, though when Grace makes a new friend, the Christmas play benefits from extra actors and a very special guest arrives!
La Noche Buena: A Christmas Story. Nina is experiencing Christmas in Miami with her Cuban relatives. It is very different from the snowy, cold New England celebrations she is used to. There is a lot of food preparation! But also a bit of dancing, music and lots of family.
Grandma’s Gift. Artist Eric Velasquez remembers a special moment with his grandmother. Over winter break and against the backdrop of preparing for a traditional Puetro Rican Christmas celebration, a boy and his grandmother visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a school project. Eric is inspired when he sees the paintings of Diego Velasquez and realizes he can be an artist too. This is probably better for older kids, ages 7 and up.
N is for Navidad. A family prepares for the Christmas celebration in this rhyming alphabet book. Each letter is given a Spanish word, from ángel to iglesia to zapatos. A glossary is included.
What books would you add to the list?
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