I know you have your favorite holiday books but I also know that as an avid reader you looking for something new! Long time fans of my book lists know that I strive to include diverse and multicultural books in all my lists, not just the “designated diverse book lists.” This year as I was trying to decide what kind of holiday book list to put together I figured I would try to make a list of multicultural winter holiday picture books that will teach kids about celebrations both new and familiar.
I’ve listed the holiday books in a rough order of when they fall on the calendar. As several winter holidays are based on lunar calendars, the dates shift every year, but you get the idea. It was truly a pleasure discovering more about new holidays and I know you will love reading these diverse picture books about winter holidays around the world as much as we did. (Note: book covers and titles are affiliate links.)
Winter Candle by Jeron Ashford, illustrated by Stacey Schuett. I’m beginning with a book which touches on many different winter celebrations. What links most winter holidays is the celebration of light in the darkest hours. In this story, a diverse group of neighbors live in an urban apartment building. Each family needs a candle to light up their celebration and a lumpy stick of wax makes it around the building before finally lighting the way for a new tenant to find his way home. This is a fantastic book to illustrate the beauty of community in a multicultural, diverse world.
Divali, sometimes spelled “Diwali” is a Hindu festival of light celebrated in October or November. It is a festival of harvest and new year, and is not well known in the United States but I urge you to share the fascinating story of this holiday with your children.
Lights for Gita by Rachna Gilmore, illustrated by Alice Priestley. Gita is a recent immigrant and she looks forward to celebrating Divali in her new home. But disappointment mounts as it seems that nothing is going right and her celebration plans will be ruined. However, as her family prepares to light the Divali lights, a power outage occurs. Gita’s home is the one shining in the darkness, leaving Gita to reflect on the meaning of the holiday and her new home.
Prince of Fire: The Story of Diwali by Jatinder Nath Verma, illustrated by Nilesh Mistry. This is a short chapter book version of the epic story, The Ramayan. I’ll admit, there were a lot of players to keep track of but this is an adventure full of colorful characters and suspense.
You may also enjoy: Folktales from India
St. Lucia Day Books
One of my favorite holidays is celebrated on December 13th in Sweden.
Lucia Morning in Sweden by Ewa Rydaker, illustrated by Carina Stahlberg. I wish there were more picture books about St. Lucia Day, but for now, this is a good introduction to the holiday. A family goes through the excitement of getting ready for Lucia morning. There is background information as well as ideas, crafts and recipes families can use to create their own celebration.
Winter Solstice Books
Learning about the winter solstice doesn’t have to focus on pagan celebrations. A look at the history and science of this time of year will give kids an appreciation for why so many holidays are celebrated on and around the shortest day of the year.
The Shortest Day: Celebrating Winter Solstice by Wendy Pfeffer, illustrated by Jesse Reisch. I love the variety in this book. There is a walk through nature as the text describes life on the shortest day, there are scientific facts about the solstice and astronomy, plus a history lesson about solstice celebrations. Kids will come away with a deeper understanding and appreciation for why their own holiday, whether it be Christmas, Hanukkah or another is a celebration of light held during the darkest part of the year.
Lucia and the Light. This book is not really about the winter solstice as a holiday, per se, but it fits right into the festivities. One winter, when the sun disappears, the intrepid Lucia sets out to free the sun, held hostage by a group of trolls. A wonderful story about a courageous and clever young girl whose commitment and love for her family help her succeed in her quest. Gorgeously illustrated by Mary GrandPré, whom you might recognize as the illustrator of the US Harry Potter book covers.
Hanukkah, a minor Jewish holiday has been given its celebrity status due to its proximity to Christmas. Learn about the true meaning of the 8 day festival of lights with your kids. There are loads of wonderful Hanukkah picture books at your local library. Here are just two of them.
Hanukkah Haiku by Harriet Ziefert, illustrated by Karla Gudeon. This is a fun take on telling the story of Hanukkah. Each night of the festival of lights gets its own short poem. The pages are stepped for each day which gives the book an interactive element. I love the illustrations which take the readers on a whirlwind tour while at the same time teaching us about the 8 day celebration.
The Story of Hanukkah by David A. Adler, illustrated by Jill Weber is exactly what the title says. Adler’s text gives a clear and straightforward account of the miracle in the Temple of Jerusalem. After the account of the historical story of the Macabees, Adler ends with a brief look at how Hanukkah is celebrated today. This is a great book to read to introduce kids to the holiday.
More on this book list: Interfaith holiday picture books
Las Posadas Books
Las Posadas is a nine day celebration running up to Christmas. It is celebrated in Mexico and by Mexican-Americans.
Nine Days to Christmas: A Story of Mexico by Marie Hall Ets, illustrated by Aurora Labastida 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 Night of Las Posadas. 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.
There are hundreds of terrific Christmas books! I chose books that focused on the religious origins of the holiday, as well as one traditional holiday poem.
Christmas is Here based on the King James Bible, illustrated by Lauren Castillo. Spare text from the King James Bible accompany terrific illustrations as we witness the gathering around the nativity both in Biblical times and in the present day.
One Starry Night by Lauren Thompson. A poetic journey as the animals gather to meet the Christ child. I love the way Thompson uses two narrative lines – one for the visual gathering and another for the emotional sway of the story.
The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore, illustrated by Holly Hobbie. There are numerous illustrated versions of this classic poem. I particularly like this one by the creator of the Toot and Puddle books.
Kwanzaa is a 7 day end-of-year harvest festival celebrated in the African-American community.
My First Kwanzaa Book by Deborah Chocolate, illustrated by Cal Massey. For those unfamiliar with Kwanzaa, this is a great primer. Learn about the key aspects of the holiday as you watch a family prepare for the celebrations.
Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story by Angela Shelf Medearis, illustrated by Daniel Minter. My kids and I really enjoyed this story, which is more a folktale than a story about Kwanzaa. There is a forward which explains the holiday, but the story focuses on how seven brothers learn to cooperate and invent a beautiful fabric that ends up inspiring the entire village.
New Year’s Books
Ring in a fresh start!
Shanté Keys and the New Year’s Peas by Gail Piernas-Davenpor, illustrated by Marion Eldridge. Eating black-eyed peas at New Year’s is a southern tradition signifying good luck for the coming year. When Shanté goes out to her neighbors, looking for the requisite peas, she learns all about how other cultures celebrate New Year’s.
The Stars Will Still Shine by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke. This is not a New Year-specific book, but is still at the top of my list of books to read when everyone is talking about the holiday. I love this gentle reassuring book about how cycles of events continue to come and go. It’s optimistic, reaffirming the goodness of life and the kindness of individuals no matter what comes
Lunar New Year Books
NYC began honoring the importance of Lunar New Year in our ever-increasing diverse community by declaring it a school holiday. Lunar New Year is sometimes referred to as “Chinese New Year” but it is celebrated in many countries.
Bringing in the New Year by Grace Lin is a wonderfully vibrant and joyful book to read to your kids for the Lunar New Year. We watch a family prepare for the celebrations and learn about activities and food traditions. I particularly love the fold out dragon!
Sam and the Lucky Money. Sam is excited to be able to spend his lucky New Year money. He has four dollars and his mom has told him he can buy anything he wants. On their trip through the neighborhood Sam notices a homeless man with bare feet. As he contemplates how to spend his money he gets frustrated that the four dollars is never enough to buy what he wants. His mother reminds him to appreciate what he has. During a second encounter with the homeless man, Sam understands how he can best spend his money.
Tu B’Shevat Books
Never heard of Tu B’Shevat? That’s okay! Now’s a great time to learn about this Jewish celebration of trees.
Happy Birthday Tree! by Madelyn Rosenberg, illustrated by Jana Christy. Joni wants to take care of her tree in the best way possible. At first she offers the tree sunlight, water, food but in the end she decides what the tree really needs is a friend! She and her family pick out a new tree and carefully plant it, even offering up a small prayer for the new life in their yard.
Netta and Her Plant by Ellie B. Gellman, illustrated by Natascia Ugliano. In an Israeli preschool, Netta plants a seedling on T B’Shevat. She brings it home and over the years both Netta and the plant grow bigger and bigger until it’s time to plant the tree in the ground.