Spotlight on Christmas: Diverse Children’s Books
Dream Snow by Eric Carle (Pre-K – 1)
This gentle story of a farmer who is concerned about the arrival of Christmas without snow includes fun surprises hidden behind flaps, and a short, Christmas song that can be played by pushing a button on the last page. A sweet tale of a farmer with five animals, named One, Two, Three, Four, and Five, this book can be used to teach basic counting. The pictures are in Carle’s signature style and the text is brief, so Dream Snow could be a fairly short read-aloud depending on the amount of discussion an educator brings to it. Children as young as age three will enjoy Dream Snow. Although Carle’s story isn’t hugely informational, Dream Snow could be a nice introduction to a Christmas unit for young children.
The Night Before Christmas by Rachel Isadora (Pre-K – 3)
Rachel Isadora brings one of her wonderful illustration techniques to her version of The Night Before Christmas. Isadora creates collages to depict how Christmas is celebrated in Africa. This book could be read to children as young as age three. This is a great compare/contrast book with other illustrated versions of the same poem by Clement C. Moore.
Tree of Cranes by Allen Say (Kindergarten – 2)
Chances are most children who have grown up in the United States know tons of information about American Christmas traditions, the story of Christmas, and Christmas folklore whether or not their own families observe and/or celebrate the holiday. Tree of Cranes is an excellent resource for learning about how Christmas was celebrated many years ago in another part of the world, Japan. A Caldecott Medal winner, Allen Say’s exceptional illustrations evoke the warmth and compassion in the narrative. Teaching a mini-lesson on origami and making paper cranes could be an excellent enhancement to reading this recommended story.
The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree: An Appalachian Story by Gloria Houston (Kindergarten – 3)
This beautiful book of historical fiction, The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree is illustrated by Caldecott Medal winner, Barbara Cooney. This story of a poor girl, growing up in an Appalachian village while her father is off fighting in the First World War, keeps the themes of family, gratitude for the intangible things, and resilience central to the narrative. This highly praised children’s book can be appreciated by children as well as adults, and is a wonderful addition to a unit on winter holidays.
Que Monton de Tamales (Too Many Tamales) by Gary Soto (Kindergarten – 3)
A Mexican-American bilingual family tale, here Christmas is peripheral, and the heart of this funny story is about one girl’s mistake when cooking tamales with her mother. Maria has slipped on her mother’s wedding ring when her mother isn’t looking, and when her cousins arrive to celebrate Christmas, Maria realizes the ring is missing. Has she cooked the ring into the tamales? Too Many Tamales offers a sweet, silly, and beautifully illustrated family story with a look at how one culture celebrates Christmas. This recommended story also provides a lesson in being honest even when it’s difficult, and of the importance of forgiveness.
The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola (Kindergarten – 3)
Another book with a perspective on Christmas from outside American traditions, The Legend of Poinsettia describes the importance of the poinsettia in Mexican Christmas celebrations. In a mountain village in Mexico, a young girl, Lucinda is helping her mother weave a blanket to place in the Nativity scene for the baby Jesus. Her mother falls ill and is unable to finish the blanket. Lucinda learns a lesson about giving and generosity, and dePaola’s characteristic illustrations beautifully convey the traditional lore behind the poinsettia. DePaola also includes an author’s note, explaining how he heard of this Mexican lore and background about the poinsettia and how it was introduced to the United States.
The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve (Kindergarten – 3)
Winner of the American Indian Youth Literature Award for Best Picture, The Christmas Coat is a rare children’s book sharing the author, Sneve’s experience growing up on Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota at Christmas time. A highly recommended story for children to learn about the importance of giving, appreciating what one has, and empathy, reading The Christmas Coat could be a great way to introduce a classroom or schoolwide coat, can, or blanket drive during the holiday season. Accompanied by beautiful illustrations by Ellen Beier, Sneve remembers growing up as the daughter of the Episcopal Priest on the reservation. Because her father is the priest, Virginia is not allowed to be the first person to select a new coat from the clothing donation boxes that have arrived in time for Christmas. In the end, she receives something special, and readers will share in the lesson of gratitude and giving. This culturally authentic book about growing up on a Sioux reservation will enhance a unit on Christmas holidays, Native people, and autobiography.
Christmas Tapestry by Patricia Polacco (1 – 3)
As one reviewer put it, this author/illustrator’s books are especially good at conjuring up “Polacco tears.” Christmas Tapestry is a wonderful addition to a winter holiday unit to educate children about both Hanukkah and Christmas. This beautiful story is of a young boy who moves with his father, a pastor to Detroit where they set to work fixing an old church. When the church is close to being restored, a winter storm blows through and damages one of the church’s walls. The father and son purchase an old tapestry to cover the wall for Christmas, and while they are waiting for the bus to take them back to the church, an old woman notices the tapestry and says she made it for her husband many years ago. On Christmas Eve, the father finds a man who is willing to work to fix the church wall. This man tells the pastor that he is Jewish, and we learn he is also a Holocaust survivor. It turns out he recognizes the tapestry as one that his wife made for him prior to the Holocaust. The old man and woman had thought each other perished during the Holocaust, and are ultimately reunited. Polacco includes an author’s note, claiming to have heard different versions of this beautiful story, which she wove into her own wonderful holiday tale. As with most books by Polacco, this is a highly recommended treasure. Be prepared to shed your own “Polacco tears.”