Have you heard of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement? It’s a movement that is devoted to getting books with diverse characters promoted, on library shelves, and into the hands of kids. This isn’t just a good idea, it’s desperately needed. Children need to see themselves in books just as much as they need to see children not like themselves. Books are powerful points of access to new ideas, experiences, and ways of life and don’t require more than a library card to read. This book list is for children who might see themselves in these books but it is also for all children who might see someone new and see that no matter how different our lives on the outside might be there is always something we have in common.
Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama by Selina Alko is a good book about how many families with two different faiths celebrate both during the holidays. My son and I both really liked this book and it’s loving family that creates it’s own traditions from both parents. I wish it had more information about Hanukkah but that wasn’t it’s goal even if I was hoping to find it. What it did have was a lot of little bits of traditions that you can use to dig deeper to learn more.
The Christmas Truck by J.B. Blankenship is a story of a little boy who is excited about Christmas with his family and chooses a star from a wishing tree in his town. Together with his parents he learns about the wishing tree and buys the items on the wish. Unfortunately the gift is broken but at the last minute together with his parents and grandparents Christmas is saved. So you might be wondering what is so diverse about this book. The parents are both men. I was thrilled to find a holiday book with same sex parents and like so many of the other books I have featured in the past there isn’t a huge discussion about why this boy has two dads, it’s just normal. I love that. My kids loved the rhyming text and fun illustrations too.
Who Built the Stable?: A Nativity Poem by Ashley Bryan is a beautiful illustrated poem all about who it was that built the stable where Jesus was born. The bright colorful illustrations will wow you as will the heart of this book. The vibrant colors are in contrast with the simplistic poem that tells the familiar nativity story from a fresh perspective. What wowed me was the way that Joseph and Mary were depicted as a loving and vulnerable couple waiting for their first child in less than perfect conditions.The book depicts all the people with dark skin which for me is a great opportunity to talk about this with my children since so much of their experience is with the blonde blue eyed Baby Jesus.
The Most Precious Gift by Marty Crisp made me tear up. This touching story of giving is really what Christmas should be about. The book follows Ameer a young boy who works for one of the wise men and is part of the caravan to meet Baby Jesus. We learn of his devoted dog Ra and their deep connection and when it is time to offer something to Jesus Ameer gives him Ra. It is not easy to give away his best friend but he knows it is what he should do, and is blessed because of it. The tender relationship between Ameer and his dog Ra will pull at your heart in all the right ways. Children will also be able to really understand sacrifice and giving because they can relate to how important a dog is to a young boy. This book is a great choice for kids 4 and up.
Disney It’s A Small World Christmas Around the World by Disney Book Group & Calliope Glass is a hidden gem. The story isn’t complex but readers get a glimpse into children all over the world and the fun animation style illustrations are bright and fun! My daughter loves getting a sneak peak into different countries and I like trying to find the flag in each page. It really is brief and perfect for an introduction into different celebrations not an in depth study of other cultures.
Din Dan Don, It’s Christmas by Janina Domanska is one of a kind. The books follows the pilgrimage to the manger to see the infant Jesus . It starts with a single duck playing bagpipes, but it builds on it self until they spot the manger and the infant Jesus wakes. The story is simple because there is no need for lots of text , the illustrations are amazing. Every page looks like a cross between a stained glass window and a ornate mosaic in a Orthodox church somewhere in Eastern Europe. My son exclaimed “WOW” many times as we turned the pages of this book, and I know I let out a gasp or two as well, simply beautiful! * When I did a search for a photo I could not find this book in print , so you may not be able to find it in store, try your library though!
N Is for Navidad by Susan Middleton Elya and Merry Banks is a great alphabet book that takes readers through the traditional elements Christmas in Latino ( primarily Mexican) culture. I loved this book. I loved the fun cartoon like illustrations that matched well with each bit of text. I loved learning more about how a culture different from my own celebrates Christmas and know that for many of you this will be a fun reflection of your own traditions. At the end of the book there is an author’s note with longer explanations of each item in the alphabet book. Not only can your kids learn a few new Spanish words but getting a peak into traditions other than their own is a wonderful eye opening experience. Lovely lovely book!
When Christmas Feels Like Home by Gretchen Griffith made me cry. This book is a touching story about a little boy who immigrates to the US in the fall and as Christmas approaches he slowly feels more and more like he is home. Finally as he opens Christmas ornaments he finally feels at home. Immigrating is hard, especially when you don’t speak the language and this book really captures that and so much more. You can feel Eduardo’s homesickness as you read. It’s an incredibly touching story. While I would say this is a Christmas book, it could be used 365 days a year.
Happy Christmas, Gemma by Sarah Hayes is a hidden gem. The book is narrated by a preschooler, the older brother to little baby Gemma. Throughout this family’s preparations for and celebration of Christmas he notes how he does what he is supposed to and his baby sister does not. She makes messes, pulls the ornaments off the tree, has terrible table manners during Christmas dinner and so much more! What makes this a gem in my mind is that no one ever corrects her, these are all age appropriate behaviors and the family is loving and accepting. Perfect for families like mine who are expecting a baby, or those with older siblings who like to boss their younger ones around and may need a reminder that babies are still learning, just like they are!
Grace at Christmas by Mary Hoffman is a lovely story about a little girl who lives with the mom and Nana who open up their home to friends of friends over Christmas. Grace isn’t so sure about this but her Nana reminds her what could be more in the spirit of Christmas than opening your home to those who need it? I like this book for a bunch of reasons. Not just because they talk about being shy, feeling like a stranger and how to turn that into being friends, but also because Grace’s family looks very different than my children’s family. I try hard to get books with all sorts of families and in this one Grace lives with her mom and Nana while her dad lives in Africa. I read this with my 8 year old and we talked about all different kinds of families, divorce, and how he would feel about spending Christmas without his dad. It’s also just a fun story with a great Christmas wish ending too!
Calvin’s Christmas Wish by Calvin Miles is a story about a little boy who is very anxious about the bike he’s asked Santa for. He wants it so badly and as he helps his family prepare for Christmas his anxiety grows. I am not sure there are any kids that can’t relate to that! His family isn’t rich, in fact their farm doesn’t even have electricity but what they do have is a lot of Christmas spirit. My eight year old was shocked to hear people didn’t have electricity in this century so we had a great conversation about all different ways people live in this country and around the world. The best part for me though was discovering that this book was written by Calvin many years after leaving school yearly to work, and not learning to read and write until well into his adult life. It was at these classes that he first wrote this story and was encouraged to share it.
Welcome Comfort by Patricia Polacco is a touching book that I think every family should read. The story is about a little boy Welcome Comfort who is picked on at school, has been in the foster system forever and has no family of his own. His school custodian becomes a refuge and helps him believe in Santa for the first time. Over the years he and his wife become Welcome’s family and when the old custodian retires he reveals a wonderful secret to the now grown Welcome. I love this book because it really lets parents dive into the truth of how not all children wake up to a beautiful tree with way too many toys under it. Christmas isn’t everyone’s favorite time and this book lets children learn about that while still being about magic.
Jackie’s Gift by Sharon Robinson is one of the best picture books I have read in ages. It was a perfect read with my 8 year old who has a good grasp on various holidays. The story is a true one about a little boy in Brooklyn and his very famous neighbor Mr. Robinson, as in Jackie Robinson. My son and I were howling laughing at the story of how Jackie Robinson bought a Christmas tree for his neighbor when their son said they didn’t have one, not knowing they were Jewish. The story is so heartfelt and the book gives a wonderful look at diversity even many years ago. Now I just need to slip a copy into my son’s stocking.
King Island Christmas by Jean Rogers is the story of the remote Eskimo village on King Island and their efforts to get Father Carrol their new priest onto the island before the sea freezes and boats can no longer reach the village. What I love about this book is that the whole community works together to get the priest to their village so that they can have Christmas mass. It’s not about things it’s about not going a whole year without the candles in the church being lit on Christmas.
10 Trim-the-Tree’ers (Holiday Counting Books) by Janet Schulman is a favorite at our house after only a few readings. We are huge fans of this series that include Halloween, Easter, and Valentine’s Day versions as well. In this one the group of little friends are decorating a Christmas tree and readers count along as they add their items to the tree all with a rhyming text. I found the text a little awkward but it didn’t bug my daughter one bit. We love counting the ornaments over and over and playing little math games while reading. This whole series has the same group of racially diverse kids and I also like that the kids all live in an apartment. I know it’s a small detail but for my 4 year old it’s very odd not to love in a house. I like that this series she loves so much helps me widen her horizons even just a little.
Santa’s Kwanzaa by Gail Eileen Thomas starts out like a typical Christmas book but as Santa returns to his home at the North Pole he begins a whole new celebration. Kwanzaa! I really like this book for many reasons but the main one because it uses something very familiar to help teach about Kwanzaa which is not terribly familiar to many of us. I get many requests for Kwanzaa books and I am thrilled to be able to add this book to my list of recommendations especially since so many people celebrate both Christmas and Kwanzaa.