Do you spend the holidays snuggled up with your children, reading Christmas picture books, with a mug of hot cocoa and a plate of cookies at your side? Consider adding these diverse and multicultural Christmas books to your stack!
Some of these multicultural books celebrate Christmas traditions from around the world, others feature children from diverse backgrounds, cultures or religions. Reading these wonderful and uplifting stories will bring extra joy to your family this season, so start making that hot cocoa, you've got some reading to do!
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A World of Cookies for Santa by M.E. Furman, illustrated by Susan Gal
This is such a fun way to learn about all the countries where children eagerly await the arrival of Santa Claus. On a trip around the world, readers are introduced to the different varieties of cookies that may be waiting by the hearth on Christmas Eve. In addition, the text relays with other fun facts about each country's Christmas traditions. Recipes included, thank goodness. Ages 4 and up.
Tree of Cranes by Allen Say
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. I found reading this book very peaceful and relaxing. Ages 4 and up.
Christmas in Noisy Village by Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Ilon Wikland
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, play games and spread holiday cheer to all. Ages 3 and up.
The Legend of Old Befana by Tomie dePaola
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 her 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. Ages 4 and up.
The Real Santa by Nancy Redd, illustrated by Charnell Pinkney Barlow
I adore this sweet and cozy Christmas book, which imparts the magical wonder of believing in Santa. A boy sees so many versions of Santa–on ornaments, figurines, wrapping paper, books, etc. He wonders which version truly reflects what Santa looks like so he comes up with a plan to find out. One of my favorite parts is all the outfits the extended family members don! Christmas sweaters and matching PJs enhance the cozy feeling. Ages 3 and up.
May Your Life Be Deliciosa by Michael Genhart, illustrated by Loris Lora
Every year the family gets together to make tamales for Christmas. Each step of the process is lovingly described, from the cleaning of the corn husks to the careful folding, and finally the eating. The joyous gathering is full of family stories and blessings, making this wonderful book about family love and tradition a must-read Christmas book. Ages 5 and up.
Miracle on 133rd Street by Sonia Manzano, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
On Christmas Eve, José's family is getting ready for a big dinner, but when the roast won't fit in the oven, José and Papi ask for help from the local pizzeria. On their way they notice that their neighbors are not feeling the Christmas spirit. But once the roast is finally ready, the delicious smell brings everyone together to recapture the true spirit of the holidays. A wonderful, diverse celebration of a book! Ages 4 and up.
'Twas Nochebuena by Roseanne Greenfield Thong, illustrated by Sara Palacios
In the rhyming format of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, a girl describes her holiday traditions, special foods and decorations. Some of the traditions like a piñata and celebrating Las Posadas may not be familiar to all readers, others such as hanging up stockings will be familiar to all. Sprinkled throughout the book are Spanish words. Ages 4 and up.
Silent Night by Lara Hawthorne
The illustrations in this book are gorgeous! The text is the classic Christmas song, and you may not be able to resist singing as you go along. The cast of characters is diverse, and Mary and Joseph are depicted with dark skin. I love the boldness of the black sky and the overall serene feeling of the book. Even if your family celebrates a secular Christmas, this is a beautiful book to share.
Red and Green, Blue and White by Lee Wind, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
This picture book is based on a 1993 incident in Billings, Montana. In a neighborhood adorned with red and green lights, one house stands out with its blue and white lights. Isaac's family celebrates Hanukkah and his friend, Teresa, who lives across the street celebrates Christmas. After their house is targeted in an anti-semitic attack, Isaac's family continues to light the menorah rather than hide. In solidarity, Teresa draws a menorah and places it in her window. The paper menorah becomes a catalyst for community solidarity. Includes author's note. Ages 5 and up.
The Christmas Mitzvah by Jeff Gottesfeld, illustrated by Michelle Laurentia Agatha
Mitzvah is the Hebrew word for a good deed that is done to fulfill a commandment from God. In this inspiring story, Al Rosen, a Jewish man, performs mitzvahs for his neighbors every Christmas by working their shifts so they can celebrate their Christmas holidays at home. The neighbors return the favor on the Jewish High Holidays of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. Gottesfeld based his story on the real-life Al Rosen who performed the mitzvahs for many years, beginning in 1969. Includes author's note. Ages 5 and up.
Carl, The Christmas Carp by Ian Krykorka, illustrated by Vladyana Krykorka
This Christmas 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. Ages 5 and up.
The Christmas Coat by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, illustrated by Ellen Beier
Find it: Amazon
In the 1940s, at the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, Virginia's coat is too small and she hopes for a new one. The community eagerly awaits the arrival of parcels filled with goods for Christmas that are sent to the reservation from the East. Virginia's father is an Episcopal priest so her family chooses from the parcel last; she worries that there won't be a coat left for her. When Virginia has to give away her coat she displays generosity and selflessness. A heartwarming read the teaches the rewards of thinking of others above yourself. Winner of the 2011 Youth Literature Award from the American Indian Library Association. Ages 5 and up.
I Got the Christmas Spirit by Connie Schofield-Morrison, illustrated by Frank Morrison
A vivacious and ebullient girl spreads Christmas spirit around the city, as she enjoys Christmas traditions and is kind to those around her. The onomatopoetic text is a joy to read aloud. Ages 3 and up.
Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto, illustrated by Ed Martinez
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! Ages 5 and up.
Grandma's Gift by Eric Velasquez
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. Ages 7 and up.
Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama by Selina Alko
In this cheerful story, a young girl describes her interfaith family's unique traditions like caroling to the neighbors about both the Maccabees and the manger, or making latkes to leave for Santa. One of the best aspects of this book is that it shows the extended family members from both sides of the family coming together rather than having separate celebrations. There is also a recipe for Cranberry Kugel stuffing: the ultimate interfaith side dish! Ages 4 and up.
A Piñata in a Pear Tree by Pat Mora, illustrated by Magaly Morales
This book is a fun twist on A Partridge in a Pear Tree. The rhyming text, heavy with Spanish words, is infectious. A girl gets gifts from an amiga, starting with a piñata, adding pastelitos, trompos, until finally she gets doce angelitos celebrando. At the end of the song, she learns the identity of the mystery amiga. Includes glossary and pronunciation guide. Ages 3 and up.
The Nutcracker in Harlem by T. E. McMorrow
I love this Harlem Renaissance adaptation of the traditional Nutcracker story, and I think you will, too. There are lots of Nutcracker picture books out there so why not pick up something with a little extra inspiration thrown in? The shy Marie gets a nutcracker from her Uncle Cab at a holiday party and afterwards falls asleep and enters a gorgeous dream mirroring Act One of The Nutcracker ballet. When she wakes on Christmas morning she gets her own gift of music. Ages 4 and up.
An Angel Just Like Me by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Ying-Hwa Hu & Cornelius van Wright
Find it: Amazon
As Tyler's family decorates the Christmas tree, Tyler wonders why all of the angels ornaments are pale girls. 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!" Age 4 and up.
The Spider's Gift by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Katya Krenina
Find it: at your library (out of print)
Katrusya's family is too poor to buy each other gifts for Christmas but Katrusya 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 Katrusya 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. Ages 4 and up.
Everett Anderson's Christmas Coming by Lucille Clifton, illustrated by
Find it: Amazon | at your library (out of print)
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 happening upstairs. Sadly, this book is out of print, but look for it at your library; it's well worth the effort of tracking down. Ages 3 and up.
Yoon and the Christmas Mitten by Helen Recorvits, illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska
Find it: Amazon | at your library (out of print)
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. Ages 4 and up.
What's Cooking, Jamala? by Niki Daly
Find it: at your library (out of print)
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). Ages 4 and up.