By Chrysta Naron
It’s fall, y’all! Time for the weather and the apples to get crisp, the pumpkins to plump, and the holiday season to get rolling. People from countries and religions around the world observe a wide variety of fall traditions that celebrate the harvest, change of seasons, and love of family and friends. To help you bring reading into your favorite fall celebrations or learn about those that are new to you, we’ve curated a list of a few favorite picture books for fall holidays.
Picture Books for Rosh Hashanah
Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year and the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days. During Rosh Hashanah, adherents reflect on their actions of the past year and examine where they have harmed others or done wrong, as well as how they can improve themselves and the world around them. It’s one of the most important holidays in Judaism.
This volume is a modern adaptation of a tale about where a rabbi disappears during the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah. The town thinks their rabbi must be traveling to heaven, but a townsperson named Litvak isn’t so sure. Litvak goes on an adventure to discover the truth and learns that being close to God doesn’t mean you have to travel to heaven.
In this story told in rhyme, a family prepares for all the traditions of Rosh Hashanah by picking apples, going to temple, and decorating their house. It all culminates with celebrating the New Year via lots of family time spent eating and praying together. This book is just delightful!
Picture Books for Yom Kippur
Yom Kippur is the bookend for the Jewish High Holy Days. It comes 10 days after Rosh Hashanah. On this day, people atone for their wrongdoings. They apologize to those they have hurt and try to make their mistakes right.
This is such a sweet story. Talia and her grandmother spend the day preparing food for Yom Kippur, which Talia mistakes for Yum Kippur. This book explores the traditions and significance of this holiday, as well as illustrating how families can make mistakes and then make amends.
Sammy sits on a wall with his mother and watches a little boy and his parents celebrate Yom Kippur. Sammy’s mother explains the traditions and meanings to him, and Sammy learns first-hand what it looks like to ask for and grant forgiveness.
Picture Books for the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival
This holiday is also called Moon Festival or the Mooncake Festival. It is traditionally celebrated in many parts of Asia, including China, Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam. The day is based on the Lunar calendar and happens sometime between September and October. This holiday is a celebration of the Autumn harvest and is celebrated (as you might have guessed) at night! Families gather with lanterns, mooncakes, and starfruit to celebrate together.
Yet another home-run book by children’s book author Grace Lin, this is an adorable story of a family celebrating the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival with a nighttime picnic. Each family member has a job to do, lovingly preparing to share food and traditions with one another on this special night. Lin has even made a video explaining the holiday and reading the book, posted on her YouTube channel.
This one is a story within a story! At the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, a young girl and her sister beg their Ah-ma to tell them the classic tale of Hou Yi and Chang’e. We learn about how Chang’e became the Spirit of the Moon and the traditions behind the food shared at the festival. At the end of the story, you can learn more about the celebration, as well as how to make mooncakes.
Picture Books for Halloween
In the U.S. and an increasing number of countries around the world, October 31 means Halloween—pumpkins carved into jack-o-lanterns, spooky decorations, and costumed kids tramping door-to-door to the timeless refrain, “trick or treat!” All tricks aside, though, these books are total treats.
This story was written down by famed author Zora Neale Hurston as she collected oral folktales from African American communities. The illustrations are by incredible author, illustrator, and folk artist Faith Ringgold, who makes the tale come to life in a vibrant way. It’s fun and a little scary, just perfect for a slightly spooky Halloween.
By the author of The Gruffalo, this is a funny story, told in rhyme, of a witch who keeps letting her animal friends climb aboard her broom until it gets so heavy it crashes near a monster. Happily, her friends repay the witch’s kindness and rescue her. Kids adore this silly and sweet story about friendship.
Picture Books for Dia de Los Muertos
Dia de Los Muertos means “Day of the Dead” in Spanish. It began in Mexico and is now celebrated in many Latin American countries and across the world. Dia de Los Muertos celebrates the lives of loved ones who have died. Rather than being a sad and somber holiday, it is filled with love, flowers, sweet foods, candles, parties, and laughter.
In this tale of two sisters, Conchita’s sister Rosita has passed away. Conchita wants to make the perfect ofrenda (an offering, in the form of a home altar) for her sister on Dia de Los Muertos. This book offers a thoughtful way to help children understand the holiday and that love continues after death. It’s written in both Spanish and English, and it even shares how to make the traditional treat of sugar skulls.
This book is a biography of famed Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada. Posada created thousands of pieces of art in his lifetime, but became most famous for his calaveras (a skeleton or skull that’s often beautifully decorated). The book shows his art’s influence on Mexico and the celebrations of Dia de Los Muertos. You can even see people dress like his illustrations to this very day!
The tale of, you guessed it, a shy ghost named Gustavo, this book combines Day of the Dead themes with a splash of Halloween to make one great story. Gustavo wants to be friends with all the other monsters at school, but he’s just too shy. This book shows how being yourself makes others want to be around you, no matter if you’re incredibly quiet or the loudest in the room.
Picture Books for Diwali
Diwali, or the Festival of Lights, is the biggest holiday of the year in India (though it is celebrated around the globe), observed by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and some sects of Buddhism. This holiday takes place over five days with prayers, feasts, decorations like intricate sand art called rangoli, and the lighting of lamps. Though different regions of India have different stories as to the origin of Diwali, all people recognize it as a holiday celebrating the triumph of good over evil.
This is a sweet and beautiful book explaining the traditions of Diwali and how families celebrate. It’s lovely and child-friendly; kids always get so excited when reading this title. I highly recommend this book!
This is a graphic retelling of a Hindu text by the same name, which is one of the world’s oldest epics. Patel’s version is brightly illustrated and explores the long story of a prince named Rama’s adventures with his brother and wife, including rescuing his wife from a demon and being crowned king—the Hindu backstory for Diwali. It’s colorful, action-packed, and gives wonderful context for this significant holiday.
Picture Books for Thanksgiving
American Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. Originally, Thanksgiving was created to commemorate an Autumn harvest meal shared between Mayflower pilgrims and Wôpanâak Native Americans. In recent years, the focus and meaning of this holiday has shifted towards reflecting on family, thankfulness, and being together. Canadian Thanksgiving, with different origins but also a harvest feast, officially takes place the second Monday in October.
With simple drawings and language that are very relatable for preschoolers, this is a great book to introduce the powerful concept of being thankful to young children. Crafted and conveyed with joy and humor, this little volume is well worth adding to a list of Thanksgiving traditions!
In this book about the life of Tisquantum, more commonly known as Squanto, indigenious author Joseph Bruchac looks at Squanto’s life beyond the oft-told tale of him teaching pilgrims to grow corn. We witness his enslavement by Europeans, his escape with the help of Franciscan monks, his grief at learning the rest of the Patuxet tribe have died of European diseases, and more. It’s a wonderful and important part of the Thanksgiving story that all Americans should know. Don’t miss the author’s note at the end!
This intricately illustrated book tells the story of Tony Sarg, the man responsible for the giant balloons at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It recounts how Tony’s life as a puppeteer took him across the world and helped him create the display that has become a cherished Thanksgiving tradition for millions of people across the United States.
You may not be able to explore every country or celebrate every holiday in the world in person, but, as so often, books can be your ticket to carry you and your child wherever you want to go. We hope you’ll use this list of picture books as a jumping off point for delving into your own traditions with your little one and learning more about the world together. So grab a mug of cider and snuggle up with one of these fabulous fall books. Then add to the list by letting us know your favorite titles!
What are your family’s favorite picture books for fall holidays? Let us know in the comments below!
Chrysta Naron (she/her) is an early childhood educator and curriculum specialist in Austin, Texas, who believes everything is better with glitter! Read more from her at playfulprek.com.