By Lani Aquino
There’s more to the month of December than the jolly man in the bright red suit. With the diverse student populations that inhabit today’s classrooms, it’s important to broaden the lens of focus when it comes to discussing and exploring cultural traditions. With this collection of children’s books, teachers can share a wide variety of observances and celebrations that allow students to gain new insight about the diversity that abounds.
The Story of Hanukkah- The background of the eight day celebration of Hanukkah is expertly told by author David A. Adler and illustrated by Jill Weber. This Jewish holiday that falls in December honors the story of the Maccabees and the miracle that occurred more than two thousand years ago. The simple text telling the story is accompanied by a traditional recipe for latkes and instructions for playing dreidel.
Carlos, Light the Farolito- Las Posadas is a seasonal tradition practiced by many in the Mexican culture. It is a nine day observance that follows the journey of Mary and Joseph. In this story told by Jean Ciavonne and illustrated by Donna Clair, Carlos finds himself the only one home when his neighbors come to his home to reenact and celebrate the culminating night of Las Posadas. He nervously takes on the role of the inn keeper as the friends and family gathered come seeking refuge. A tradition filled with singing, food, piñatas, and enjoyable interactions.
Lucia Morning in Sweden- St. Lucia Day is celebrated in Scandinavian countries on December 13th each year. Author Ewa Rydaker and illustrator Carina Stahlberg take young readers into a modern-day Swedish home to discover this holiday tradition. The day honors the legacy of St. Lucia, and the young girls in the story prepare for the celebrations that include girls dressing in white, baking, and spending time together. In addition to the story, the book also includes recipes, music, and craft ideas.
Kevin’s Kwanzaa (Cloverleaf Books: Fall and Winter Holidays)- Author Lisa Bullard and illustrator Constanza Basaluzzo share the history and traditions of Kwanzaa as Kevin and his family prepare to celebrate. As the family prepares, readers are given background information about the origin of this seven day celebration of African culture that is observed by many African-American families. The seven principles behind Kwanzaa are shared, and additional resources including crafts, a glossary, and links to books and websites are also provided.
The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice- This delightful book written by Wendy Pfeffer and illustrated by Jesse Reisch is both engaging and educational. Among the warm illustrations, students will find a lyrical explanation for the changes that occur as the winter solstice arrives each December. The accompanying resources include science activities, ideas for celebrations, and additional reading suggestions.
The Legend of the Poinsettia- This seasonal tale from beloved author and illustrator Tomie dePaola is a retelling of the Mexican legend describing how the poinsettia flower came to be. As Lucinda works to prepare a special blanket, her yarns become tangled before she can complete it. When she is prompted to give any gift because it is in the spirt of giving that a true gift of love is received, her bouquet of weeds are transformed into bright and vibrant poinsettias upon being placed upon the altar. The origin of the story and facts about the poinsettia are included.
Happy, Happy Chinese New Year!- While Chinese New Year falls in February, there is much preparation leading up to it and continued celebrating following it. This book by Demi offers a thoughtful explanation of the many intricacies and traditions of the holiday. There is ritual cleaning, personal preparation (haircuts), feasting, dancing, and more. Each page highlights a tradition and offers lots of details to inform readers about this holiday celebration.
Literature is an excellent window into the lives, beliefs, and differences of others. During the holidays, much retail and media focus falls on a singular view of the season. This collection of children’s books offers a chance to share a more diverse perspective on the celebrations that may be occurring in students’ communities.
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