In December 2019, we put up a fake fir tree in the Children’s Room of my library. I didn’t take it down. As long as the kids were hanging things on it, I’d already been calling it our “holiday tree.” Why not have a holiday tree for every holiday, all year long? This is what we’d do for New Year’s! And there are Valentine’s Day decorations, as well. And there are St. Patrick’s Day decorations, as well. And—well. Everyone knows how March 2020 turned out.
This time of year, the tree is still there. It’s a little sad that the kids can’t run in and redecorate it yet. But! Decor doesn’t make the holidays, as anyone who reads a lot of kids books knows. This year, the Children’s Room isn’t as busy as it usually is. Virtual storytimes or great books to read to kids at home aren’t the only ways we can make kids feel less alone. The stories we tell them still matter. To help you choose a book for this holiday season, we’ve put together ten books that are good for all kids. These books will help some kids see characters who look like them in a good way, and others will see the winter holidays in a whole new way after reading them. Each title, no matter what, is sure to bring happiness and comfort.
Inclusive Children’s Holiday Books
Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel and Trina Schart Hyman
It doesn’t matter how much I love Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins as a story time choice, though, when I asked five kids about Hanukkah and got five blank stares back. My choice of a Hanukkah book should have been more simple. As I opened the book, I thought quickly. Nope. Everyone in the group was captivated by Hershel of Ostropol, who takes on the task of defeating a group of goblins who are terrorizing a village synagogue and preventing the people there from celebrating Hanukkah, so they can all enjoy the holiday. As more goblins came out, my little audience laughed even more at Hyman’s designs and Kimmel’s jokes. Some people gasped in excitement as Hanukkah neared its eighth night. This is because Hershel is a great example of Jewish folklore and the celebration of Hanukkah. It’s also the kind of book you read aloud every year because it’s so delicious to people of all backgrounds and ages. If those five kids had never heard of Hanukkah before, it’s hard to think of a better way to start.
Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brosgol
“Leave me alone!”: An old woman stomps away from her family home with a bag full of yarn and a desperate plea: “Leave me alone! I need to finish my winter knitting.” She goes up a mountain, to the moon, and even through a wormhole before she finds the creative solitude she wants. When she’s done, her work’s goal brings her back to where her journey began. “Tell him to stop licking my book! Tell him to stop licking my book! Tell him to stop licking my book! Tell him to stop licking my book! Tell him to stop licking my book! Tell him to stop licking my book!”
Grandma’s Gift by Eric Velasquez
This heartfelt autobiographical story might make you cry, but only in a good way. It might make you think about your own childhood. Velasquez remembers the Christmas that made him an illustrator, when he and his Puerto Rican grandmother went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and saw a picture of someone who looked familiar. As we follow Eric and Grandma around the museum, through their own neighborhood of El Barrio, or into the kitchen as Grandma makes her holiday pasteles, there’s a real sense of warmth in each scene. Eric says that translating English writing into Spanish for his grandmother sometimes makes him feel like he’s going to school for two. That honesty makes the book even more of a love letter to his grandmother at every turn.
Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa by Donna L. Washington and Shane W. Evans
Li’l Rabbit goes out to find a special treat for his sick grandmother, so that his family can still enjoy the Kwanzaa feast known as Karamu even though his grandmother is sick. His journey shows the Nguzu Saba, or Seven Principles of Kwanzaa. Another thing that is said about Li’l Rabbit, according to many descriptions, is that he is based on Brer Rabbit. Since the stories of Brer Rabbit and the holiday of Kwanzaa both came about as a way for African Americans to connect with and celebrate their African heritage, this is a good idea.
Santa’s Husband by Daniel Kibblesmith and AP Quach
In December 2016, the Mall of America hired a Black Santa Claus, and a wave of racist rage broke out. Daniel Kibblesmith tweeted: “Me and [my fiancee] have decided that our future child will only know about Black Santa. I don’t care what you think.” People will say, “That’s his wife.” By the next Christmas, Kibblesmith and AP Quach had turned Kibblesmith’s joke into a wonderful children’s book that everyone loved. Santa’s Husband is a sweet and silly picture of Santa and Mr. Claus’s home life, with a wedding officiated by Parson Brown. This is how the story ends: “Maybe Santa Clauses come in all shapes and sizes!” Just like the families Santa Claus visits all over the world, so are we.
Ramadan Moon by Na’ima B. Robert and Shirin Adl
Ramadan Moon is written in free verse and illustrated with watercolors and collage. It’s about Muslims around the world who observe Ramadan and Eid. The young narrator talks about the traditions of these religious holidays, as well as the wonder and sense of community they make her feel. She enjoys jubilant times with her family, as well as quiet times gazing at the Ramadan moon. This reminds her to “share more, pray more, do more, and give more,” which she should do.
Rachel’s Christmas Boat by Sophie Labelle
Her best-known webcomic is “Assigned Male,” which is about a transgender child who isn’t always accepted by her caregivers. As the story of a transgender parent coming out to a very sensitive child goes, Labelle changes the story. In Rachel’s Christmas Boat, Labelle tells the story of a transgender person coming out to a very sensitive child. Her dad tells Lulu that she is now a woman, and her name will be Rachel from now on. Lulu worries that Santa won’t know about the change in time to change all the name tags on Rachel’s Christmas presents, because it’s before Christmas. She makes sure her dad has the Christmas of his dreams, so there will be no doubt in Rachel’s mind that they love her just as she is.
The Mitten by Jan Brett
It’s a favorite book for the holidays, and it has beautiful illustrations. The Mitten tells the story of a lost mitten and a group of forest animals. Shelter: The small white mitten grows into a place for bigger animals to stay warm as they try to get inside. As a side note, Brett shows the mitten’s original owner enjoying the snowy woods. He doesn’t know that his lost piece of clothing has become a safe haven for so many other cold-weather creatures!
The Lotterys More or Less by Emma Donoghue
There was a middle-grade book called The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue that I’ve talked about before, and its holiday-themed follow-up is just as lovely. When Sumac Lottery is 9, she can’t wait for her big, diverse family to celebrate the winter holidays for a whole week: the Solstice Parade, the Saturnalia Banquet, and the neighborhood-wide cookie party are just a few of the events. But this year, the Lotterys lost their electricity and some of their family members’ travel plans were pushed back because of a storm that was very strong and hard to get through. This is a big deal for Sumac, who doesn’t like it when it doesn’t snow in time for the solstice. These breaks from tradition are completely unacceptable to her! When she has a party that is “more or less” perfect, how will she get through it?
Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story, by Angela Shelf Medearis and Daniel Minter
Seven Spools of Thread starts with a short history of Kwanzaa and a fun question for kids: can you find all seven principles of Kwanzaa in the story? From there, we go to Ghana and meet seven brothers who are always fighting. Their father wants them to weave seven spools of thread into gold. Soon, it becomes clear that in order to change the thread, the brothers will first have to change their own selves.