Holiday Season Book Reviews

by Elizabeth Kamath

Beginning on December 1st, my children and I count the days to Christmas in two ways. First, I make an advent calendar for them with a different festive thing to do each day (make birdseed ornaments, cut out snowflakes, put up the Christmas train, etc.). Secondly, we read a holiday- or winter-themed book together each day. There are many wonderful holiday and winter picture books for children. Here are a few I recommend (in alphabetical order).

The Christmas Alphabet by Robert Sabuda

Just as the title promises, this is a Christmas alphabet book. There’s little reading to be done here, as each letter is represented by a single word. It’s the illustrations that star here, in the form of a marvelous pop-up for each letter. Each pop-up is a wintery white on a colorful background. C is for candle along with its warm glow, G is for gift with a surprise inside, M is for manger complete with Baby Jesus, straw, and doves. For a second pop-up delight, also get Sabuda’s The Night Before Christmas.

Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck

Although Pearl S. Buck is better known for her Pulitzer- and Nobel-winning writing for adults, she has also written many children’s books, including this tender Christmas story about a man who remembers back to his first gift of true love, given to his father on Christmas morning. It’s a wonderful way to discuss the idea of giving of ourselves. Beautifully illustrated by Mark Buehner.

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel

A delightful story about how Hershel defeats a series of goblins who are preventing a village from celebrating Hanukkah. One by one the clever Hershel outwits them, lighting a candle each night, until their spell is broken. Another book by Kimmel I love is ZigaZak! – A Magical Hanukkah Night. In this story two demons are causing mischief and frightening the townspeople until the Rabbi deals with them and teaches a beautiful lesson from the experience. (This second book contains magic—done by the demons—if this is a concern to you.) Both books are wonderfully illustrated.

Seven Spools of Thread – a Kwanzaa Story by Angela Shelf Medearis

Rather than a dry introduction to the holiday, this book illustrates the seven principles of Kwanzaa through a charming folktale-like story about seven brothers in Ghana. The artwork by Daniel Minter is exquisite and vibrant. The principles of Kwanzaa are described at the beginning (creativity, purpose, faith, etc.), along with the Swahili for each word. As a bonus, you’ll find instructions for a simple way to weave a belt (the story involves weaving).

Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin

Winner of the Caldecott Medal for Mary Azarian’s illustrations, this is a biography of Wilson Bentley, known as Snowflake Bentley because of his pioneering work in photographing and studying snowflakes. This book is instructional and inspirational, as Bentley overcomes a myriad of obstacles in his quest to capture the beauty of snowflakes on film using late 19th century equipment (which is just as difficult as it sounds).

The Story of Hanukkah by David Adler

This book briefly tells the story of the Maccabees, the event upon which Hanukkah is based. There are many books out there that do this, but I’m fond of this one for its brevity (which makes it great for younger children), Adler’s writing style (he has many great children’s books), and its colorful artwork by Jill Weber. To extend your holiday fun, the book includes a recipe for latkes and directions for playing dreidel. This book can also go well with the two by Eric Kimmel, listed above. Read this one first, then discuss with your child why Kimmel’s stories might focus on defeating an enemy during Hanukkah.

The Twenty-four Days Before Christmas by Madeleine L’Engle

More of a story- and less of a picture-book, this is still short enough to read at one sitting. The Austin Family is expecting a new baby, and Vicky is afraid her mother will be in the hospital on Christmas instead of at home with them. Just like in my family, as they count the days until Christmas, they do something festive on each day (making a wreath, baking cookies, making cards, etc.). You’ll no doubt find ideas for Christmas projects here.

Winter: An Alphabet Acrostic by Steven Schnur

This book is a combination alphabet and poetry book. Each word relates (some more directly, others more tangentially) to winter, and the word is then made the foundation of an acrostic poem. For example, C is for Cold:

Of ice as delicate as
Lace ring the
Duck pond.

Use this book as a jumping off point for your children to write some acrostic poems of their own for seasonal or holiday words not included here, or just enjoy the writing and the crisp, colorful pictures by Leslie Evans.

These books are only the tip of the frosty iceberg of wonderful holiday- and winter-themed children’s books out there. Find your own favorites at your local library to read to your children or have your children read to you. Happy Holidays!


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