Monday, December 04, 2006

Holiday Books for December

For my library classes in December I try to read books I don’t think they will hear in their classroom. Some of my favorites are not here for that reason… but these are good too!


The Story of Hanukkah by Norma Simon, illustrated by Leonid Gore. Tells the story of the Maccabees and traces the Menorah to modern times. A little long for Kindergarten; I skipped parts.

Little Tree by e.e.cummings, illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray. A lovely poem about two little children who find a bedraggled tree on a city sidewalk and bring it home to adorn.

Christmas in the Country by Cynthia Rylant & Diane Goode. Traditional celebrations including helping grandparents decorate their country house, writing a note to Santa, waking up to presents under the tree, going to church, sharing a huge meal with a crowd of relatives and cleaning up the pine needles the week after. Sweet and nostalgic.

Little Owl and the Star; A Christmas Story by Mary Murphy. The Christ child’s birth told by a little owl that follows the star with the wise men, the shepherds and the angels. I especially like that the holy family has brown skin. Baby Jesus’ smile blesses everyone with happiness and light.

K is for Kwanazz: A Kwanzaa Alphabet Book by Juwanda G. Ford and Ken Wilson-Max. “Kwanzaa is a non-religious holiday that honors African-American people and their heritage. Everyone can join in the Kwanzaa celebration, which lasts for seven days from December 26 until January 1”. Bright colorful illustrations and a Kwanzaa word explained for each letter of the alphabet. Many of the words are Swahili, illustrating the principles and values taught through the celebration. This is an attractive book that teaches a great deal with a very simple format.

Beni’s First Chanukah by Jane Breskin Zalben. Beni is a little bear and this is the first Chanukah that he will be old enough to remember celebrating. The story takes us through his day of anticipation and preparation for the evening celebration. He helps to make the latkas, applesauce and doughnuts. He searches the house for gifts but finds none. He goes out in the snow with his sister and visits his friends Sasha and Christopher, helping them decorate their Christmas tree. He invites his friends home to the Chanukah celebration when the whole family comes over for the lighting of the menorah, the prayers and songs, the gifts and stories. A very warm and cozy book full of love and sharing.

First Grade:

Kwanzaa by Dorothy Rhodes Freeman & Dianne M. MacMillan. Explains the history of the holiday and the elements of the celebration. Nice illustrations. All seven of the principles are explained and the rituals described. It also includes description of the symbols, definitions and pronunciation for the Swahili words in a glossary and suggestions for things to do during Kwanzaa.

The Tree of Cranes by Allen Say. Set in Japan, this is the story of a young boy learning of his mother’s Christmas tree tradition while recovering from an illness. This is one of the sweetest, most beautiful, and most peaceful Christmas books I know. The illustrations are magical.

The Night Tree by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Ted Rand. A family goes out into the woods at night to find their Christmas tree. Instead of cutting it down they decorate it with popcorn, seeds, millet and honey balls. They scatter nuts and breadcrumbs underneath for the creatures that can’t climb. They spread a blanket and have hot chocolate and sing songs. Then they go back to the truck and go home. The next day while celebrating with family the boy thinks of the birds and little creatures having their Christmas dinner in the quiet woods. It’s nice to share a book about the sweetness of giving joy on Christmas, with no thought of what you are getting. It’s nice to think of their tree growing in the forest every year and not needing to be cut down to be decorated. What a lovely tradition.

A Great Miracle Happened There; A Chanukah Story by Karla Kuskin, illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker. A boy explains to his friend and neighbor what Chanukah is all about. He defines the Hebrew words, describes the prayers with the lighting of the menorah candles and tells the story of Antiochus and Mattathias. The story of the Maccabbees fighting and rededication of the temple is framed by the family celebration and festive meal. A warm and satisfying telling of the miracle.

Elijah’s Angel by Michael J. Rosen, illustrated by Aminah Brenda Lynne Robinson. An African American barber and wood carver befriends a young Jewish boy. The boy loves to visit the barbershop and watch him carve. One day Elijah, the barber gives him a carved angel for Christmas. Michael is afraid it is a graven image and God and his parents will be angry. His parents see it as an angel of friendship, however, and encourage him to respond by giving Elijah a menorah as a gift. Elijah puts it in the window of his shop and lights another candle every night. This is a beautiful story of friendship and reaching across the differences that divide us. I love how honest Michael is in his fear and misunderstanding. I love the wisdom and grace shown in Elijah’s wood carving artwork. This is a wonderful story bringing together celebrations of the two holidays.

Second Grade:

The Trees of the Dancing Goats, Patricia Polacco. A family with Babushka from the Ukraine and Grampa from Soviet Georgia celebrates Hanukkah on their farm in Michigan. Grampa carves little toys out of wood to give as gifts. When their friends and neighbors come down with a sickness and can’t celebrate Christmas the whole Jewish family steps in and takes care of the neighborhood, bringing them chicken dinners, little Christmas trees they decorate with the carved wooden toys and Babushka’s homemade Hanukkah candles. The neighbor family returns with a menorah they have carved out of wood and together they watch the miracle of the candles burning. A delightful story.

Norman Rockwell’s Christmas Book, Molly Rockwell consulting editor. This anthology has many of my all time favorite Christmas stories and poems. I am reading ”Mr. Edwards Meets Santa Claus” from On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder and “Christmas Every Day” by William Dean Howells. There are too many other lovelies here to name them all…

The Power of Light; Eight Stories for Hanukkah by Isaac Bashevis Singer, pictures by Irene Lieblich. I like to read “The Power of Light” or “A Hanukkah Evening in My Parents’ House” for second thru fifth graders. These stories are of the European Jewish community celebrations, tales passed down through families. They are of hardships and family life in Warsaw and Brooklyn during my student’s grandparent’s days. It’s a nice balance from all the history of Hanukkah stories, to hear about how another generation celebrated the miracles and traditions. Singer is a master storyteller.

I might not have time to read all these to my students in the next two and a half weeks, but I am going to try to squeeze in as many as possible. I will be reading more and different ones at home, and will post on that later. What are your favorite holiday stories?

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