The holiday season is a time for “peace on Earth.” One small contribution toward achieving peace is choosing holiday books for kids that promote inclusivity and understanding.
The Importance of Inclusivity and Understanding
Inclusivity in children’s literature is important because an inclusive society is important. By presenting young readers culturally diverse literature, we give them a variety of opportunities to see themselves. When readers see characters externally similar to themselves, it is easier for them to relate to internal conflict universal to humankind. Conversely, when young readers see characters with different backgrounds but similar struggles, they realize the similarities we all possess.
Once students see the similarities between themselves and literary characters, they are able to build a deeper understanding and empathy for those characters. Empathy for others is essential for young people’s emotional development. With emotional development comes the ability to form relationships with people of diverse cultural backgrounds. These inclusive and understanding relationships are the key to a more inclusive and understanding society.
One very important component of any society is the holidays it celebrates. These are events that bring people together for a common cultural connection. Though different cultures celebrate different events for different reasons, all holidays involve coming together to celebrate in the spirit of unity.
With 93% of Americans celebrating Christmas, according to a 2019 Gallup poll, it is no wonder that there are so many children’s stories centered around the holiday. However, the other 7% of Americans either celebrate a different winter holiday or none at all. Even of the 93% of Americans who celebrate Christmas, some celebrate other December holidays concurrently.
With the next generation promising to be even more diverse, it is important that we offer diverse literary experiences for young readers. Reading is sometimes the first encounter young people have with cultural differences. Thus, it is important that young readers have access to good quality literature depicting holidays being celebrated in a positive way. High quality literature for children is written at a level they understand, with engaging characters and settings, as well as beautiful illustrations.
Holiday Books Promoting Inclusivity and Understanding
Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama, by Selina Alko, is a picture book about a little girl named Sadie who celebrates both holidays. Her parents blend their two traditions into new traditions that feel just right for their family. This story will really resonate with readers in religiously blended families. Recommended for kindergarten through third grade.
The Joyful Book, by Todd Parr, is a simple book about joy in the little things in life, including celebrating all kinds of different holidays. Illustrated in a childlike fashion and using plain language, even the youngest of children can comprehend the message of this book. Preschool through third grade.
Written by veteran educator Terrance L. Shipman, Mr. Shipman’s Kindergarten Chronicles: December Celebrations, depicts a kindergarten class celebrating Kwanzaa, Christmas, and Hanukkah in their kindergarten classroom. As part of a series, this book may entice young readers to read more about Mr. Shipman’s class and their kindergarten adventures. Appropriate for any age.
Too Many Tamales, by Gary Soto, celebrates family, food, and culture. Maria is so excited for Christmas, especially to help her mother make tamales. While making tamales, Maria secretly tries on her mother’s diamond ring. Hilarity ensues when Maria believes she has lost the ring in an enormous batch of tamales. Recommended for preschool through third grade.
The Giveaway: A Christmas Story in the Native American Tradition, by Ray Buckley, is a story about the spiritual and physical sacrifices that we make to show our love to one another. Told as a dialogue among animals, birds, the Ancient One, and The Creator, readers are reminded that giving is more than gifting. The animals help the Natives remember the importance of the traditional giveaway by giving their own gifts, with the Creator’s gift the most precious of all. Appropriate for all ages.
Ming desperately wants a Christmas tree like the other children in her community. Ming’s Christmas Wishes, by Susan L. Gong, and illustrated by Masahiro Tateishi, depicts Ming’s struggle to fit in with her peers. As an immigrant to 1930s California, she feels misunderstood by her parents and excluded by her peers. Finally, Ming’s Pop takes her to see a wise man who helps Ming see her place within her culture and her world. Recommended for ages five to eight.
The Shortest Day, by Newberry medalist Susan Cooper, is a theatrical poem celebrating the winter solstice, otherwise known as Yule. For thousands of years, on the shortest day of the year, communities gathered to light candles or fires, sing, and dance, awaiting the rising of the sun. This is a tradition still observed today. With beautiful illustrations by Caldecott honoree Carson Ellis, this is a book that will connect young readers to nature and peoples of the past. Recommended for kindergarten through fourth grade.
Of course, the holiday season is a great time for old favorites, but consider adding one of the above books into your Christmas repertoire. It will be enriching for both young readers and the adults who read to them.