December 20, 2010

Christmas Books for Our Multiracial Family

My confession for the day: I have a weakness for Christmas books. Our new-ish tradition of wrapping up twenty-four books to be unwrapped and read one at a time over the nights leading up to Christmas gave me an excuse to add to our collection a couple of years ago. But I haven't been able to resist adding even more. There are too many wonderful books out there and it's such a joy to pull them out of storage every year. Thankfully Mari and Eddie are so far as fond of them as I am.

I've particularly been focusing on adding books with black characters. It's positive for Eddie to see some of the world's diversity reflected in our collection, of course. But it's especially important to me that Marian be able to place herself easily within the stories, especially those depicting the Nativity. We're surrounded by white faces in the holiday decorations at the stores, in the holiday specials on television, in most of the nativity scenes we see, and every Santa in the mall. Our Christmas books, like the decorations in our own home, are one tiny way of pressing back against that. Here are some of our favorite Christmas books for the preschool-and-under set featuring African-Americans, Africans, and even a Jamaican family living in England.

Christmas for 10Christmas for 10 by Cathryn Falwell is a rhyming count-up story in the same style as her classic Feast for 10. It's a cutie-patootie book that's a good length for toddlers. With its bouncy text and happy children, it's been a favorite of both my kids.
How Many Miles To Bethlehem?How Many Miles To Bethlehem? by Kevin Crossley-Holland and illustrated by Peter Malone, is a different take on the Christmas story. It assumes you know the basic plot and instead has everyone from the Magi to Jesus sharing small glimpses of what they're thinking and feeling. The Renaissance-style pictures depict a variety of ethnicities and Mary is brown-skinned with crimped hair. I thought the poetic style might be too abstract for little children, but something about it captivates my kids. (One heads up: Herod says he wants to rip Jesus away from his mother, which could be an intense image for some children.)
The Night Before ChristmasWe read The Night Before Christmas before bed on Christmas Eve and I had almost given up on finding a version with a black Santa. So I was glad to discover this version by Rachel Isadora which pairs the classic text with images from across Africa. The collage-style pictures are full of energy and color. And Santa wears leopard print pants. So much fun.
The 12 Days of ChristmasRachel Isadora's newest book illustrates the carol The 12 Days of Christmas. She again pulls images from different places in Africa: twelve men playing drums from Ghana and Nigeria, a woman wearing five "gold" neck rings in a style seen in parts of South Africa. The tone of the author's note at the end makes me twitch a little. But the pictures are vibrant and fun. And I may finally be able to learn all twelve days of the song!
These last few are out of print and aren't as easy to find at the bookstore. But there are lots of used and new copies available through Amazon's third-party sellers.

A A Child Is Born: Child Is BornI enjoy Margaret Wise Brown's (of Good Night Moon fame) version of the Nativity story in A Child Is Born, but it was the gorgeous illustrations by Floyd Cooper depicting an African Jesus, Mary, Joseph and angels that really drew me to this book. It has a picture of an adorable toddler Jesus that makes me want to nibble on his cheeks.
Waiting for ChristmasIn Waiting for Christmas by Monica Greenfield with illustrations by Jan Spivey Gilchrist, a sister and brother can barely contain their excitement as they pass the time before Christmas Day doing little things like drinking hot cider with cinnamon sticks and looking for their presents "one more time". I love the little girl's braids. I also covet the pretty house in which they live.
Happy Christmas, Gemma, written by Sarah Hayes and illustrated by Jan Ormerod, makes us giggle. A big brother shares his family's Christmas activities--and reports on the ways his baby sister Gemma "helps". "First of all we made the Christmas pudding. I stirred the mixture and made a wish. Gemma threw the spoon on the floor." It was published in Great Britain, hence the "Happy Christmas" in the title.

What are some of your favorites for small children?

[Disclosure: The links above are part of Amazon's affiliate program.]


Artemis said...

I'm not sure if I've ever commented on your blog before but I really enjoyed this post and have added quite a few of the books to my shopping cart.
The only ones that I think you're "missing" is The Most Precious Gift by Marty Crisp and Floyd Cooper which also features characters that are a bit more diverse than typical, and the book has a lovely message about giving.
The All-I'll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll by
Patricia McKissack and Jerry Pinkney is about a black family during the Depression, and has a great message about sharing at Christmas.
And then there's An Angel Just Like Me by Mary Hoffman, Cornelius Van Wright, and Ying-Hwa Hu about a little brown skinned boy who wants a Christmas angel that he can identify with.
I hope you'll do other posts like this about storybooks featuring people of colour; I'm always on the lookout for books like that.

a Tonggu Momma said...

Although not truly a holiday book, "The Patchwork Quilt" by Valerie Flournoy is set over the course of a year, with Christmas playing a prominent role. The focus is more on aging, however, and family relationships. (It's also a Reading Rainbow book.)

"Poppy's Itchy Christmas" by Medearis is a fun read, especially for anyone who ever received an ugly sweater or underwear (or an itchy scarf) for Christmas.

"An Angel Just Like Me" by Mary Hoffman is a good discussion starter: why DO most of the angels out there have white skin and blonde hair?

I also really like "The Christmas Play" by Clare Bevan. It's about a nativity play with children of all races, and it kinda reminds me of a sweet, little kids' version of "The Worst Christmas Pageant Ever."

Heather @ Production Not Reproduction said...

I have "An Angel Just Like Me" waiting on hold at the library--I'm looking forward to checking it out!

Anonymous said...

Not a Christmas book, but Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats is on our featured shelf right now. Um, yes I rotate books around and have a featured shelf.

harriet glynn said...

Fantastic list! I will be getting a few even if for next year.

Brenna said...

What a great list, and great tradition! I have to admit that most of our Christmas books have been either hand-me-downs, gifts, or picked up at the library book sale. I am realizing just how many I am not fond of and was thinking about weeding through and adding more that are thoughtful and beautiful Guess I have a few to check out!

Anne Sibley O'Brien said...

I got to your wonderful list via Mama C's link on December 27.

I've just posted about the topic on my blog (, with a link to this post, and adding these picture books:
- A NORTHERN NATIVITY by William Kurelek
- TOO MANY TAMALES by Gary Soto, illustrated by Ed Martinez
- SPIRIT CHILD: A STORY OF THE NATIVITY, translated from the Aztec by John Bierhorst, illustrated by Barbara Cooney

Coffeegrljp said...

This is a great idea! I looked at what my library has to offer, but have only come up with a couple of titles and hope to check them out in the future (this is going into my own personal list!) but confess I haven't seen them in person and can't attest to the quality of these:
"Everett Anderson's Christmas Coming" by Lucille Clifton
"Grandma's Gift" by Eric Velasquez
"Snowflake Kisses and Gingerbread Smiles" by Toni Trent Parker

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