black lives, community, culture, family, fantasy, holiday, illustration

Book List: Christmas Tales

Tacky’s Christmas (Scholastic)
Written by Helen Lester
Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger

For ages: 3-7
Christmas time in Icy Land can be daunting as this is when the hunters arrive. Tacky isn’t going to let them ruin the holiday season, and he gets his penguin friends to decorate and celebrate. Tacky dresses up like Santa while his buddies dawn elf ears and hats. But then, a trio of beasts shows up with an evil gleam in their eye. Oh no! No worries. They think they have met the real Santa and his elves and a Christmas miracle occurs. This is a fun tale of Christmas time and how it can soften even the hardest hearts. The illustrations from Lynn Munsinger are the perfect accompaniment to this festive tale.

Snowmen at Christmas (Dial Books)
Written by Caralyn Buehner
Illustrated by Mark Buehner

For ages: 3-7
This is part of a whole series about these snowmen I needed to familiarize myself with. This sequel has the snowmen taking part in Christmas celebrations on the eve of the holiday. The rhyming text tells of the snowmen gathering late at night to decorate a tree, enjoy frozen treats, and open presents. Not to fear, snowwomen, snow children, and even a snow dog are present. It’s hard not to recall the masterpiece that is Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman when looking over these beautifully painted illustrations. It’s a similar story, finding Christmas magic amid a quiet, snowy-blanketed winter evening. This would make for a wonderfully cozy read. 

Between Us and Abuela (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux [BYR])
Written by Mitali Perkins
Illustrated by Sara Palacios

For ages: 3-7
There is a horror happening at the southern American border. You can deny it all you like, but genocide is happening there. Many of our children have had a front-row seat to that, and our responsibility as teachers to acknowledge what they have seen & continue to struggle with while providing comfort. This fantastic book tells the story of a little girl & her family going to visit Abuela. The girl and her family live in San Diego but Abuela lives on the other side of a highly guarded border fence in Mexico. The excellent illustrations focus on the joy being felt by both groups of people on either side, despite the looming presence of armed Gestapo-like guards from the Border Patrol. The children cannot hand their gifts to Abeula, which upsets them. However, our clever protagonist figures out a way to overcome the terrible fence and make sure her little brother’s drawing makes it into Abuela’s hands. If you have refugee children in your classroom, I see this as a must-have for Christmas.

How to Catch Santa (Dragonfly Books)
Written by Jean Reagan
Illustrated by Lee Wildish

For ages: 3-7
The most essential DIY book you’ll ever get for your child. The kids in this book discuss several ways they might capture jolly St. Nick. Maybe a series of cryptic notes leading Santa to your bedroom will catch him. But we all know the saying about “the best-laid plans.” The children do not get the expected outcome, but there are clear signs Santa was there the following day. Not the best book on this list but still a fun read. This does give me a soapbox to argue against clearly cheap digital illustrations. Not saying these are the worst drawings ever. Still, compared to other texts where more time and care has gone into the production, it’s something even the kids will notice.

The Lost Christmas Gift (Schwartz & Wade/Random)
Written by Kallie George
Illustrated by Stephanie Graegin

For ages: 4-8
One Christmas Eve, a group of forest animals watch as Santa’s sleigh passes overhead and a present accidentally falls out. Rabbit, Squirrel, Deer, and Bird find the gift and can tell from the tag it belongs at a nearby farm. They can’t just deliver it, though. A Christmas present from Santa needs to be given in the right way. So they construct a makeshift sleigh and make the trek to drop off the package. Surprises ensue, and the animals find that their good deed did not go unnoticed, receiving a wonderful treat when they return to their woodland home. The illustrations here are delicate and atmospheric, done in a pencil-and-ink wash. This style fits Christmas books perfectly.

Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama (Knopf Books for Young Readers)
Written & Illustrated by Selina Alko

For ages: 4-8
Sadie is a girl living at the intersection of two cultures, making her holiday season a rich & diverse experience. The table in the dining room doesn’t look like a mono-culture but a cornucopia of delicious items from her family’s backgrounds. Even the chairs around the table are mismatched to emphasize things further. Sadie takes us through a back-and-forth of how she cherishes various traditions. The prose can be, well…a tad tediously informative. Just stating the facts without many embellishments in the text. However, it is the illustrations where Alko truly shines. There are multiple techniques at work, from pencil to collage to watercolor, resulting in a spectacular holiday book.

Santa in the City (Dial Books)
Written by Tiffany D. Jackson
Illustrated by Reggie Brown

For ages: 4-8
Deja started to notice that her home in a large city doesn’t resemble the houses she sees Santa visiting in her storybooks. That has her worried that Santa isn’t able to visit her home. Deja voices this concern to her mother, who proceeds to show her child how Santa is still present in their lives. He doesn’t need a chimney; he has a magic keyring like the building superintendent. His reindeer park on their apartment roof. And so on. Deja has her faith in Santa renewed and receives an extra special gift on Christmas morning. Santa is presented as a Black man throughout the book, and we see a diverse host of characters in background scenes. Deja and her mother are also Black. It’s crucial that our children do not get a whitewashed version of the holiday and that we have books like this that reflect themselves and their questions about Santa and his magic.

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