‘Tis the Season for Stories: 20 Picture Books for Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Holiday Books

Open Sesame (photo credit: Cheli Mennella)

‘Tis the season for stories. And what better way to share a story than snuggling up with your favorite kids and turning the pages of a beloved holiday book. Here are twenty suggestions for Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa!

  1. The Polar Express written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg. Published by Houghton Mifflin, 1985. A boy takes a magical Christmas Eve train ride to the North Pole.
  2. Chanukah Lights written by Michael J. Rosen and illustrated by Robert Sabuda. Published by Candlewick, 2011. Follow the Festival of Lights through time and place from Herod’s temple to an Israeli kibbutz, by way of poetry and exquisite pop-ups.
  3. Seven Candles for Kwanzaa written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney. Published by Dial Books for Young Readers, 1993. Describes the festival of Kwanzaa, its origins and practices, while pictures follow a family through the seven-day celebration.
  4. The Longest Night written by Marion Dane Bauer and illustrated by Ted Lewin. Published by Holiday House, 2009. On the longest night of the year, a crow, a moose, and a fox think they can bring back the light, but it is the song of the chickadee that wakes the sun.
  5. The Third Gift written by Linda Sue Park and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. Published by Clarion Books, 2011. A boy and his father collect the tears of myrrh trees, then bring them to market, where they sell them to three men who need a special gift for a baby.
  6. The Jolly Christmas Postman Written by Allan Ahlberg and illustrated by Janet Ahlberg. Published by LB Kids, 2001. As the Jolly Postman delivers holiday letters and gifts to fairytale characters readers can join in the fun by finding messages tucked into pocket envelopes.
  7. Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins written by Eric A. Kimmel and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. Published by Holiday House, 1994. Clever Herschel of Ostropol uses pickles, eggs, and a dreidel to outwit the hill-dwelling goblins and save Hanukkah.
  8. The Little Tree written by E. E. Cummings and illustrated by Chris Raschka. Published by Hyperion books for Children, 2001. A little tree from the country and a little family from the city find each other at Christmastime.
  9. Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story written by Angela Shelf Medearis and illustrated by Daniel Minter. Published by Albert Whitman & Co., 2000. When given the task of turning thread into gold, seven Ashanti brothers embody the principles of Kwanzaa to attempt the impossible.
  10. The Money We’ll Save written and illustrated by Brock Cole. Published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2011. When Pa brings home a turkey poult to raise in the family’s 19th century New York City tenement, hilarity and problems arise, but the family pulls together and saves Christmas from being ruined. 
  11. The Shortest Day: Celebrating Winter Solstice written by Wendy Pfeffer and illustrated by Jesse Reisch. Published by Dutton Children’s Books, 2003. Explains what the winter solstice is, and how it’s been celebrated through history and in different parts of the world. Includes solstice activities.
  12. Moishe’s Miracle written by Laura Krauss Melmed and illustrated by David Slonim. Published by Chronicle Books, 2005. On the night before Hanukkah, with no money for eggs and flour to make the latkes, the kind and generous milkman, Moishe, receives a magical frying pan that will make all the latkes he wants.
  13. Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa written by Donna L. Washington and illustrated by Shane W. Evans. Published by Katherine Tegen Books of HarperCollins, 2010. Li’l Rabbit searches for the perfect Kwanzaa gift for his ailing Granna Rabbit and in the process, brings family, friends, and neighbors together for Karamu.
  14. The Night Before Christmas by Clement Moore and illustrated by Jan Brett. Reissued by Putnam Juvenile, 2011. The classic Clement Moore poem brought to life by illustrator Jan Brett, now on video with music by the Boston Pops Orchestra and narration by Jim Dale.
  15. Great Joy written by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. Published by Candlewick, 2007. Just before Christmas an organ grinder and his monkey show up on the sidewalk outside of Frances’s apartment building. When she realizes he is homeless, she knows one thing she can do to share the spirit of Christmas.
  16. The Legend of the Poinsettia retold and illustrated by Tomie dePaola. Published by Putnam Juvenile, 1994. In this retelling of a Mexican legend, Lucida has no gift for the baby Jesus at the church, so she gathers a handful of weeds, which miraculously blossom into flaming, red stars.
  17. Hanukkah Hop! written by Erica Silverman and illustrated by Steven D’Amico. Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2011. As Rachel and her parents prepare the house for Hanukkah, friends and family travel from near and far to sing, feast, tell stories, and dance the Hanukkah Hop.
  18. The Little Drummer Boy Song and music by Katherine Davis, Henry Onorati, and Harry Simeone and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats. Published by Puffin, 2000. Set in a desert landscape, Keats portrays a young boy’s simple but heartfelt gift.
  19. The Story of Hanukkah written by David A. Adler and illustrated by Jill Weber. Published by Holiday House, 2011. A recounting of the story of the Maccabees and the miracle that happened at the Temple of Jerusalem.
  20. The Winter Solstice written by Ellen Jackson and illustrated by Jan Davey Ellis. Published by Millbrook Press, 1994. Facts and folklore about the shortest day of the year.


Cheli Mennella

Cheli has been involved with creative arts and education for most of her life, and has taught many subjects from art and books to yoga and zoology. But she has a special fondness for kid’s books, and has worked in the field for more than 20 years. She is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Valley Kids and teaches a course for adults in “Writing for Children.” She writes from Colrain, where she lives with her musician-husband, three children, and shelves full of kid’s books.

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