'Tis the season for all things Christmas. And yet, there's so much more to winter. We have the Winter Solstice and Hanukkah and St. Lucia Day and Kwanzaa and Diwali and Las Posadas and the Lunar New Year. There is so much more to celebrate.
Kids are continually charmed, as are we, by days demarcated as special and observed with ceremony. Mystery and wonder and culture fill these non-Christmas holidays. These seven children's books will help you bring that magic home to your kids.
The Shortest Day by Wendy Pfeffer
The Winter Solstice with all its darkness and cold gets more complaints than celebrations in comparison to its summer sister. But it marks a renewal of its own, when the world resets before the days begin to lengthen once again.
This book shares the science and history behind the shortest day of the year along with illustrations and suggestions for projects for kids. It's a children's history-science-activity book all in one, and the illustrations are just retro enough to give it a 1950s Dick-and-Jane vibe.
Hanukkah Haiku by Harriet Ziefert
Who wouldn't want to read a book that uses Japanese poetry to explain a Jewish holiday? Each of the eight nights gets its own poem, and every page is a work of art. The pages are stepped, so as you progress through the nights, you watch the candles grow.
The illustrations are saturated with blues, plums, ochres, and deep mossy greens that make this both a beautiful story and work of art. This book is coffee-table worthy.
Lucia Morning in Sweden by Ewa Rydaker
St. Lucia Day is the Swedish holiday that takes place on December 13, and it might have Christmas beat for its festivity. The book follows three children as they re-tell the story of Santa Lucia, the light-bearer depicted in her iconic white dress and red sash. Through their eyes, her story comes alive.
Because they spend the day preparing for the festivities, the book also contains activities, sheet music, patterns for traditional costumes, and recipes for the celebratory saffron buns and ginger snaps that mark the day. The illustrations are vibrant and intricate in a similar style to Jan Brett.
The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola
Flor de la Nochebuenao, the poinsettia, is known as the flower of the Holy Night in Mexico. These red flowers are iconic to the season, and this book re-imagines the traditional folktale that gives the history of the poinsettia's place in holiday tradition.
It is written and illustrated by the Newbery and Caldecott award-winning author, Tomie dePaola. His signature painting style gives each page its own mosaic work of art.
Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story by Angela Shelf Medearis
Another folktale re-imagined: Seven brothers, who do nothing but fight, must work together after their father's death to spin gold out of seven spools of thread. Through the fable, the seven principles of Kwanzaa are explained as well as the origins of Kente cloth.
With an introduction, glossary, and index, you come away with a competent knowledge of the holiday in children's book form. The painted linocut illustrations create a vivid portrait of the Ghanaian village where the tale unfolds.
Bringing in the New Year by Grace Lin
Celebrate the Lunar New Year as you watch a family get ready for the new season. Sweep out the dust from the old year and make dumplings. Decorate with suns, get out the drums, and put on your new clothes.
It is a time for fresh starts and fireworks, lanterns and parades. The prose in this story makes it perfect to read aloud. And the dragon folds out to epic proportions.
Winter Candle by Jeron Ashford
For another book about the darkest night of the year, "Winter Candle" takes you into an urban apartment complex where one candle lights the way for a Thanksgiving dinner, a Sabbath celebration, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and more. It is also the light in the storm that leads a lost tenant home through the snow.
This book unites all the winter holidays with a celebration of diversity and community. It's also written by a graduate school librarian who knows how to do her research.
The winter holidays offer an incredibly rich opportunity for learning about other cultures, religions, and traditions. Let these children's books introduce your family to the winter season on a global level.