By Chrysta Naron
December is creeping closer, bringing its flurry of wonderful winter holidays! With those holidays come beloved traditions—favorite dishes, decorations saved and hung year after year, and stories to be told. Every family has their personal favorite tales and books (The Night Before Christmas is a staple in our household, like so many others). Traditions are a wonderful part of the holiday season. But what if, this year, you added some new books to your mix, to become new traditions, too?
How would you know which books to choose? If you look at many of the classic American Christmas books, they’re written by white authors. Christmas is a holiday that includes families of every race and ethnicity, so shouldn’t the holiday books we read our children? Black children deserve to see themselves in books and stories, and non-black children need to see how Christmas in the United States truly looks. There are so many incredible Christmas books by black authors, so we’ve curated a list of eight favorites, plus some other lovely winter holiday books by black authors, for you to add to your reading traditions.
This brand-new book by Nancy Redd is richly illustrated by Charnelle Pinkney Barlow. In it, a young boy ponders a question whose answer has fascinated but eluded children for years: “What does Santa really look like?” Armed with his brand new camera and a lot of determination, he settles under the Christmas tree to try to see for himself. Short, sweet, and full of love, this book is destined to join your Christmas classics.
Acclaimed author and poet Nikki Grimes has written a collection of 23 poems all about different parts of Christmas. The illustrations are by the brilliant Kadir Nelson, making it a visual treat as well. From shopping to ice skating to learning how to be generous with others, your family will fall in love with these familiar Christmas experiences.
Set during the Depression, this book by author Patricia C. McKissack tells the story of Nella and her family. Due to their poverty, Santa doesn’t visit every year. However, this year he does come and brings a beautiful doll. Nella claims the doll as her own, but soon learns that gifts from Santa might be nice, but spending Christmas with your family is what really makes this holiday special.
I have to smile when reading this book. I can’t help it! Neither will you be able to resist when you follow this effervescent little girl as she explores her city at Christmas. She feels the Christmas Spirit everywhere she goes, and by the end of this book, you’ll have caught it too.
As Christmas time approaches, Saraleen and Royce are missing their father, aka “Pap.” Pap’s gone to New York City to help build tunnels for a new invention: the subway. This story switches back and forth between Pap, working in a dark tunnel and dreaming of spending Christmas with his family, and the girls and their “Mim,” who are determined to send a special gift to Pap. And Mim’s Christmas Jam might just make it all possible.
It’s hard not to be disappointed when every family you see has a huge Christmas feast and your family just has watery holiday soup. At least, that’s how the children of the Beene family feel. Baby Fannie prays for “something more,” and instead of more food, more people show up—and the Beene family learns about giving and the true spirit of Christmas.
The beautiful and powerful words of cherished poet Maya Angelou ring out in this incredible Christmas poem. In this book, Maya Angelou captures the feeling of peace that is so often touted at Christmas with love and inclusion. This poem makes my heart warm and my eyes tear up. It’s a lovely addition to any family holiday tradition.
We often see Christmas portrayed with snowflakes, icicles, and warm woolen mittens, but Christmas isn’t like that everywhere. In this lovely book by Lynn Joseph, we see what Christmas Eve is like on the island of Trinidad. We learn about a young girl named Rosie and the Christmas traditions celebrated where she lives. It’s an excellent book if your family doesn’t live in a snowy location or if you’re just looking to see holiday celebrations around the world.
A Treasury is the perfect title for this book, because it is an incredible treasure. It contains a collection of Christmas stories and poems that were published between 1880 and 1953 (mostly in African American newspapers). It includes pieces by W. E. B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, and Pauline Hopkins. It’s a piece of Americana that every home should read and enjoy.
Synthia Saint James is an amazing visual artist with a long list of books under her belt. In fact, she has multiple books about Kwanzaa you can find. (For more books about Kwanzaa, including ones by Synthia Saint James, check out our post on 5 Kwanzaa Books Recommended by Culture Queen!) This title is beautiful, joyful, and told from the point of view of a child, something kids always love.
Li’l Rabbit’s whole family is getting ready for Kwanzaa, but this year, Granna Rabbit is too sick to make the Karamu feast. Li’l Rabbit is determined to help find a way to make Granna Rabbit feel better and have a happy Kwanzaa. In this story, community and family come together to show what the spirit of this holiday truly is.
This book tells the story of Kayla and her favorite holiday: you guessed it, Kwanzaa! A huge snowstorm hits, and it looks like her older brother may not make it home in time for the festivities. As she reminisces about all her family’s holiday traditions and how much she will miss her brother participating in them, the reader learns about the practices of Kwanzaa, too!
This book is so much fun! Told in rhyme and with vibrant illustrations, it’s a book that never fails to raise a smile. Shanté is on a mission to find lucky New Year black-eyed peas for Grandma’s New Year’s Day dinner. As she searches, she learns about the lucky New Year’s foods that all of her neighbors enjoy. Be sure to grab this book!
The winter holidays are a time for love, warmth, and togetherness. And what better way to celebrate those things than to get snuggle up cozy with the people you love and read books that bring us all together? You’ll never be lacking in holiday spirit when you pick up one (or all) of these fabulous Kwanzaa, New Year’s, and Christmas books by black authors. Who knows? You might even find yourself reading them all year round.
What books does your family love to read during the winter holidays? Share with us below!
Chrysta Naron 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.