Growing Reader

Books That Introduce Children to Different Holiday Cultures and Traditions

by Charnaie Gordon

For many families, holidays and traditions play an important role in shaping their beliefs, experiences, and who they are. As the holiday season approaches, it’s important to remember there are a diverse set of holidays available to explore. I want my children to have an understanding of why our family holidays and traditions are important to us, but I also want them to appreciate the customs and traditions of other cultures so they can have a well-rounded and realistic view of the world.

I wholeheartedly believe children who have an awareness, understanding, and appreciation of other cultures are more likely to grow up to be adults who are more compassionate, kind, and empathetic. Below I’ve rounded up a few books that help introduce children to different holiday cultures and traditions. Spy any of your favorites?

  • Too Many Tamales

    by Gary Soto, illustrated by Ed Martinez

    It's Christmas Eve and Maria is excited to help her mother make tamales for their family's annual Christmas celebration. All dressed up in her mother's apron and feeling like an adult, Maria is tempted to try on her mother's diamond ring. After getting caught up in the joy of the holiday and playing with her cousins, Maria realizes her mother's ring is missing! That's when she and her cousins come up with a plan to eat all of the tamales, in hopes of finding the ring. A fun story with a valuable lesson that incorporates family, teamwork, and Mexican American culture.

  • Celebrations Around the World

    by Katy Halford

    Celebrations Around the World exposes children to different cultures around the globe. Twenty-five events are featured, including both religious and non-religious holidays and festivals. I think the range of holidays and celebrations included and the little snippets of information provided are just right for kids to understand. A delightful introduction to diverse celebrations around the world.

  • Together for Kwanzaa

    by Juwanda G. Ford, illustrated by Shelley Hehenberger

    Together for Kwanzaa is a story about a little girl named Kayla who wants to see her older brother Khari come home so they can celebrate Kwanzaa together as a family. Khari is stuck at college when a blizzard hits and his car breaks down. Will he make it home in time for Kwanzaa? The story also explains the principles of Kwanzaa and provides more information about the holiday.

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  • Strega Nona's Gift

    by Tomie dePaola

    The Christmas season has arrived in Strega Nona's village of Calabria, and everyone is ready to celebrate. Strega Nona and Big Anthony get busy preparing traditional foods for all the Feast days. In the end, Big Anthony learns a valuable lesson about greediness, and children learn about different winter holidays around the world and how they are celebrated.

  • Holidays Around the World: Celebrate Kwanzaa

    by Carolyn B. Otto

    Geared towards kids ages 6 - 9, this is a beautiful book with colorful photographs and large text all about celebrating Kwanzaa and its traditions. All aspects of Kwanzaa are covered: the history, the seven principles, symbols, and extension activities - including crafts, recipe, and further reading recommendations.

  • A Child's Christmas in Wales

    by Dylan Thomas, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

    Reminiscent of A Christmas Story, this book is a funny, nostalgic tale of Christmas Eve afternoon through Christmas night in Wales, and is full of unique imagery and poetic prose. An ALA Notable book illustrated by a Caldecott Medalist, A Child's Christmas in Wales will evoke a sense of familiarity for some young readers while introducing them to different aspects of Christmas traditions.

  • We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga

    by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frane Lessac

    The word otsaliheliga (oh-jah-LEE-hay-lee-gah) is used by members of the Cherokee Nation to express gratitude. This is an amazing story that describes a journey through the seasons with a modern-day Cherokee family. Readers learn about Cherokee culture, celebrations, and language. Cherokee history and traditions are also seamlessly woven into the story in a very kid-friendly way. I love that this is an #OwnVoices picture book that helps expose children to Native American perspectives and culture. The back matter includes pronunciations for Cherokee words, a glossary, a Cherokee syllabary, and a personal author's note. There is also a classroom guide available online.

  • All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah

    by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Paul O'Zelins

    Travel back to 1912 New York City, and watch as preparations for Hanukkah are made by a family on the Lower East Side. When Gertie, the youngest, is not allowed to help prepare latkes, she throws a tantrum. Banished to the girls' bedroom, she can still hear the sounds (and almost taste the smells) of the family getting ready to celebrate. But then Papa comes home, and she is allowed out of her room to perform the best job of all: lighting the first candle on the menorah.