Here, a list of just a few of my favorite holiday books that share heart-comforting perspectives:
Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem by Maya Angelou, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher (Schwartz & Wade Books, 2005)
This is a beautiful story about taking the higher ground through family, home, and joy in spite of a climate of doubt, fear, and hate. Painted illustrations depict family, play, rituals. music, and the warmth of community. Angelou inclusively writes: “We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas. We beckon this good season to wait awhile with us. We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come. Peace.”
The Nutcracker in Harlem by T.E. McMorrow, illustrated by James Ransome (HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2017)
Set in Harlem’s Sugar Hill in the 1920s, this re-telling of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker is lovely. Fictional characters are named after influential musicians of the Harlem Renaissance Adelaide Hall, Duke Ellington, and Cab Calloway — each of whom influence the main character, Marie, as she looks up to them as her role models.
The Farolitos of Christmas by Rudolfo Anaya, illustrated by Amy Cordova (Museum of New Mexico Press, 2015)
There are three stories in my edition: The Farolitos of Christmas, Season of Renewal, and A Child’s Christmas in New Mexico, 1944. Each story is a little lengthy for a picture book, but the stories capture the attention of my children, all the same. In The Farolitos of Christmas, Luz wants to carry on the village tradition of lighting luminarias in her village of San Juan in New Mexico. Her abuelo is sick, though, and her Papa is away in the army, so emergent Luz comes up with a creative way to keep the ritual alive, so that the farolitos “shone like guiding lights, welcoming the family home.”
The Stone Lamp: Eight Stories of Hanukkah Through History by Karen Hesse, illustrated by Brian Pinkney (Hyperion Books for Children, 2003)
To me, the term “heart-comforting” doesn’t always mean sappy and sweet and happy. Our hearts need sad stories, also, for comfort. Stories that move our children to quietly reflect, grieve, and sometimes even cry. The Stone Lamp is that kind of book, as historical Jewish moments of hardship are poetically told through the perspectives of eight different children.
A Child is Born by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Floyd Cooper (Hyperion Books for Children, 2000)
This is a re-telling of the birth of Jesus with sparse text and realistic illustrations. Jesus, his parents, and the angels are depicted as black, so the imagery offers a fresh, needed perspective on this beloved Christmas story. My only frustration with this one is the factual error of Jesus being born in a barn (a common misconception that the adult book, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth E. Bailey, straightens out). Sadly A Child is Born is now out of print, but can still be found at an awesome library or used bookstore near you.
Love, Santa by Martha Brockenbrough, illustrated by Lee White (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, 2017)
Almost every mom friend I know has at some point posted Brockenbrough’s letter to her daughter Lucy — The Truth About Santa — on one of their virtual walls. It makes the rounds of the Internet every holiday season. The author is a friend of mine, and I always get a little fan-friend proud when her letter gets shared in unexpected circles. Martha’s letter to her child elevates the simple answer to whether Santa is real or not to that of faith: in family, friends, and yourself. “Here, I’m talking about love, which will light your life from the inside out, even when things feel cold and dark.” This is one of those golden nuggets of parenting wisdom that can be shared with children when they are ready to know “the beautiful truth about Santa.”
The Third Gift by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline (Clarion Books, 2011)
“My father collects tears,” begins Newbery Medalist Linda Sue Park, telling this Christmas story through the eyes of a young boy who joins his father at work collecting sap from knotty trees that seem as if they are crying. The “tears” are sold to the spice merchant, who uses them for medicine, wine, and funerals. (In modern-day terms, we’d probably say essential oils.) The young boy is honored by the chance to help his father in his trade, then proud to learn that the tear he harvested will transform into the gift of myrrh for a very special baby.
Home by Another Way: A Christmas Story by Barbara Brown Taylor, illustrated by Melanie Cataldo (Flyaway Books, 2018)
Stunningly illustrated, this book offers a unique take on the Christmas story by telling it from the perspective of the three wise men — who don’t know each other at first, but end up meeting on the road to Jerusalem after they all pursue the bright star lodged in their right eyes. I love that this book offers a diverse perspective and also portrays Mary as playful.
Christmas Tapestry by Patricia Polacco (Philomel Books, 2002)
Year after year, this book remains one of my daughters’ very favorites. It’s a re-told story about a tapestry that ultimately ends up reuniting a Jewish couple who had been separated from each other during the Holocaust, each believing the other dead. When they both separately find themselves in a church, they discover their wedding tapestry. The pastor and his son realize their connection and on Christmas Eve, help bring the couple back together. It’s a lovely, non-preachy honoring of Jewish and Christian perspectives, as viewed through the relationship of a soft-hearted boy and his caring father.
Santa’s Favorite Story: Santa Tells the Story of the First Christmas by Hisako Aoki, illustrated by Ivan Gantschev (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1982)
Our preschool teacher first told us about this book, a lovely story that helps make sense of both the Santa and Jesus narratives. Gantschev’s watercolor illustrations are beautiful.