Summary: Eli misses his dad, who’s been working long days for the last week and a half. He wants to help, but his parents tell him school is the place for him. Now that the family is free, Eli’s parents want him to get all the education he can. Finally, on day 10, he’s allowed to go paint the fence surrounding the new cemetery where Union prisoners of war are buried. The next morning, everyone dresses in their best clothes, arms full of flowers, to march together in honor of those dead soldiers. The children lead the way to the cemetery, where everyone decorates the graves with the flowers. They spend the rest of the day listening to speeches, praying, and celebrating their hard-won freedom. Includes an author’s note, additional information on the origins of Decoration Day, a timeline, two photos; notes, and a bibliography. 48 pages; grades 2-6.
Pros: A fascinating look at an early (maybe the earliest; the history is unclear) celebration of Decoration Day, the holiday that eventually became Memorial Day. Coretta Scott King Award winner Floyd Cooper has captured the day magnificently, and the text, combined with the extensive back matter, will give kids a new perspective on the day.
Cons: There was a of information covered for a picture book. If you’re doing this as a Memorial Day read-aloud, plan on spending some time…I had to go back for a second read to get it all.
Summary: Amira is excited when she sees the crescent moon in the sky; Ramadan has ended and Eid is the next day. There will be a big celebration, and she’ll get to skip school. But then she remembers that tomorrow is also picture day, and she’ll miss being in the photo with the rest of her class. Her mother assures her that she’ll take plenty of pictures of Amira at the big celebration, but it’s not quite the same. The next day, though, Amira dons her shalwar kameez, leaving the pink dress she was going to wear for picture day hanging in the closet. As predicted, Amira and her family have a wonderful celebration, but on the way home, Amira is feeling sad about having missed picture day. An abundance of leftover goody bags gives her an idea, and she is able to make it to school in time for the picture and to share some of Eid with her classmates. Includes an author’s note with additional information about Eid and a glossary. 40 pages; grades K-3.
Pros: The colorful illustrations and realistic story make a great introduction to Eid for those who don’t celebrate it, and a story that will be relatable for those who do.
Cons: The author’s note states that Muslims “do not know the exact date for Eid until they spot the new moon’s crescent”. This confused me, because I was able to Google the date (the evening of May 12 until the evening of May 13) for 2021.
Summary: Muriel is excited that Passover is approaching, but sobered by the knowledge that there probably won’t be much at her Seder dinner. It’s 1933, and her father has lost his job. As she walks home through the streets of Washington, DC, she spies a ragged man performing magic tricks in front of the Lincoln Memorial. When she gives him the only penny she has, he tells her to hurry home where she’ll find a Seder dinner waiting. When she gets home, though, the house is as empty as it has been for weeks. Her parents are trying to decide whose dinner they might be able to share, when there’s a knock on the door. It’s the man from the Lincoln Memorial, and in an instant a magical dinner has appeared. Friends and neighbors join Muriel and her family for the meal, which goes far into the night. Just before midnight, Muriel remembers the wine in Elijah’s cup. When she looks, she sees that the cup is empty, and she realizes who the mysterious stranger was. Includes notes from the author and artist and a note on the Passover holiday. 40 pages; ages 4-9.
Pros: Based on a story by I. L. Peretz (also the basis for Uri Shulevitz’s 1973 book The Magician), this story blends magic with a real time and place (Washington, D.C. in the Great Depression), offering hope in difficult times. The illustrations, based on Marc Chagall’s art, do an excellent job with the magic realism as well.
Cons: The magician is a little creepy looking in a scary clown kind of way.
Summary: “First day of the new year,” begins this book, showing a girl, her brother, and their parents waking up on New Year’s Day. The year of “firsts” continues: first snowfall, first short sleeves, first summer storm, first new teacher. Some events are repeated: by the end of the year, the count is up to 384 for sister-brother fights, but the two manage a gift-getting, hugging reconciliation on Christmas. The final pages show the last wake-up, last snowfall, and last bedtime stories before cycling back to the first day of a new year. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: This is a perfect book to start a new year, with charming watercolor and ink illustrations and milestones that will ring true for most readers.
Cons: 384 seems a conservative estimate for sibling fights in a year.
Summary: While a boy celebrates Passover with his family, a little white kitten waits outside the family’s house. Inside is light, laughter, and food. Outside is darkness, silence, and nothing to eat. The boy enjoys all the parts of the Seder dinner, eating each food and singing, while the kitten waits in the darkness. Finally, it’s time to welcome Elijah. When the boy opens the door, the kitten is there waiting for him. “And that’s how Elijah found a home.” Includes an author’s note with additional information about Passover. 32 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: A fun introduction to Passover, and cute illustrations portraying the multicultural family celebration and the adorable kitten.
Cons: It might have been nice to have an activity or some additional resources about Passover.
Summary: The girl telling the story is excited that her grandmother has invited her to help make the soup for New Year’s Day. The name of the soup is Freedom Soup, and making it inspires Ti Gran to tell the story of Haiti, and how the slave revolt there led to freedom for their ancestors. The story has been passed down from Ti Gran’s mother and grandmother, and both the girl and Ti Gran like the idea that she will someday pass it along to her own children and grandchildren. When the soup is done, it’s time to share it with the family, and everyone enjoys it to the last drop as they celebrate a new year. Includes an author’s note with additional information about Haiti and the author’s own grandmother and a recipe for Freedom Soup. 32 pages; ages 4-9.
Pros: A perfect way to celebrate New Year’s and effortlessly learn something about history and cooking in the process. The vibrant illustrations make the story come alive.
Cons: The recipe is billed as “kid-friendly”, but there’s a pretty long list of ingredients and will definitely require a good deal of adult help.
Summary: When Sophie’s grandmother tells her that the heart of a person who fasts during Ramadan is “pretty and sparkly” like Sophie’s new ring, Sophie decides she wants to fast. Waking up before sunrise is tough, though, and Sophie falls asleep at breakfast, and again during morning prayers. By lunchtime, she is famished, and her little brother is tempting her with his delicious cookie. Grandma finds her eating cookies, and reassures her that her sparkles are growing, and that there are other ways to celebrate the holiday. She and Grandma spend the afternoon preparing a pizza dinner, which the whole family enjoys after sunset. Includes an author’s note about Ramadan. 32 pages; ages 4-9.
Pros: Children of all faiths will connect with this story, and those who don’t know about Ramadan will learn about it through the eyes of another child who is a lot like them.
Cons: The reasons for fasting during Ramadan aren’t explained in either the story or the author’s note.
Summary: Susan Cooper’s poem, originally created in 1974 for Christmas Revels, celebrates the winter solstice. “So the shortest day came,/and the year died,/And everywhere down the centuries/of the snow-white world/Came people singing, dancing,/To drive the dark away.” People are shown celebrating, bundled up against the cold, with torches and fire to light the long, dark night. As the sun finally rises, they celebrate and give thanks. Illustrations include a Christmas tree, wreath, holly, and a menorah. An author’s note gives the history of her poem, with the full text printed on the last page. 32 pages; grades K-5.
Pros: A beautiful book to share in December; it’s a celebration without connections to any particular religious holiday (unless you count the solstice). The poem is lovely, and the gorgeous illustrations perfectly capture the darkness, light, and spirit of celebration.
Cons: This may be a little over the heads of younger kids, who will undoubtedly still choose The Polar Express as their preferred holiday fare.
Summary: Lucy the bird finds her friend Thomas the bear hunting all over for some missing dried fruit that he wants to use to make a wintercake for the Winter’s Eve celebration. Later, Lucy gets stranded at a cafe during a blizzard and overhears another animal (maybe a weasel?) talking about a basket of dried fruit he found that morning. Lucy is sure he’s up to no good, and follows him when he leaves. Much to her surprise, he goes to Thomas’s place and returns the fruit. The two friends are so surprised and impressed that, after they make the wintercake, they decide to follow his tracks to find where he lives. It turns out to be an arduous journey, but they finally find his den and celebrate the holiday together. A friendship is born, as well as a holiday tradition that carries on for many years to come. 48 pages; grades K-4.
Pros: The talented Lynne Rae Perkins has both written and illustrated an engaging story perfect for a long winter’s evening. The vocabulary (“bereft”, “forlorn”, “melancholy”) shows a respect for young readers’ intelligence, and the illustrations are adorable. A perfect non-Christmas holiday tale for December.
Cons: I was initially a little put off by the length of this book, but once I started, I found the story so engaging that it went very quickly.
Summary: A little girl tells the story of her family’s trip to the border to visit her abuela who lives in Mexico. It’s a special day near Christmas called La Posada Sin Fronteras when the people of San Diego and Tijuana work to gather people from both sides of the wall that separates the two countries. It’s exciting to visit abuela, whom they haven’t seen in five years. The girl has brought a scarf she made, but the guards won’t let her pass it through the fence. Her little brother has drawn a large picture of Mary and Joseph, but the fence’s holes are too small for him to give it to abuela. When he starts to cry, his sister has an idea. Using knitting needles and yarn, she turns the picture into a kite that flies over the wall to the cheers of spectators on both sides. Abuela picks up the picture, and then starts the trip back to her home while the girl and her family head back to theirs. Includes an author’s note with additional information about La Posada Sin Fronteras. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: A heartwarming story that would make a unique Christmas read-aloud and could lead to some interesting conversations.
Cons: The whole event looks like a fun party, and the sadness that the family can’t be together isn’t really touched upon.