I am in love with UNDER MY HIJAB by Hena Khan and illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel, a fabulous new multicultural children’s picture book to add to your collection. This one is a beauty!Read More
If you are looking for children’s books about Passover, Happily Ever Elephants has just the list for you, whether you are reading to children who celebrate the holiday or teaching children who have never experienced Passover’s beautiful traditions. Check it out this list!Read More
Antisemitism. Child Labor. Social Justice. These are some of the issues that have always been critically important to me - to understand, to work towards, or to fight against. So when these problems are explored in a beautifully written, fantastical story about one child’s struggle with her position in society and her relationship with an unconventional new friend, I want nothing more than to shout about it from the rooftops and share it with every child, parent and educator I can. Enter Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster, by Jonathan Auxier. When I tell you this book sucked me in and I couldn’t put it down, I speak the honest truth. I was utterly captivated, from beginning to end, and I now want to read every single story ever written by Auxier. What a brilliant writer!
Sweep is the story of Nan Sparrow, an orphaned chimney sweeper who spends her days performing a thankless — and wholly dangerous — job. After her “Sweep” leaves her, and after she almost loses her life in a chimney fire, Nan fears her days are numbered. But when she awakens in an abandoned attic and discovers a golem made of soot and ash in the room with her, she begins a new life full of hope, friendship and the courage to conquer her greatest challenges.
I love stories that teach without being didactic, ones that encourage you to make new discoveries every time you open their pages. Sweep is that and so much more - a book that tackles tough topics and follows Nan as she puts one foot in front of the other after facing so many unspeakable losses. Sweep is separated into two sections, appropriately called Innocence and Experience, and they so beautifully illuminate Nan’s journey from a guileless young child to a tween fraught with complicated questions and even more troubling realizations about society and her place within it. Why are children forced to work dangerous jobs? Why are kids losing their lives due to nothing but their unfortunate lot in life, and what on earth can she do to change it?
Simply put, Sweep is a feat. It is an adventure of the greatest kind, an ode to friendship, a discovery of self, and a testament to the power of one voice to create change. But my favorite part? Sweep excels in its exploration of “monsters,” finds tenderness in the terrifying, and combats all of our preconceived notions about the frightening things that keep us up at night. Exquisite - this marvel will stay with me for a long, long time.
Want the book? Get it here! Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster, by Jonathan Auxier. *This is an affiliate link.
I love the holiday season, when the joy bubbling within festive homes spills out front doors and floods the streets outside. I love the smell of fir trees and fireplaces mingling in the air, colorful lights shimmering from roof tops and menorahs big and small glimmering from window sills.
There’s no doubt about it - the atmosphere in December is practically electric, tinged with hope and positivity. Kindness abounds, neighbors are merry, and the festive spirit soothes even the toughest of days. Though my childhood has long since passed, I still feel an extra skip in my step after Thanksgiving, knowing my family will soon light the menorah, stuff ourselves with latkes, and gather at friends’ homes to decorate their majestic Christmas trees with ornaments of silver and gold.
I’ve always found it magical to think that people worldwide spend the month of December preparing to celebrate, and then celebrating their own meaningful holidays, whether it’s Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa. Even more meaningful is the fact that I live in a community so open to learning about all religious and cultural traditions. No matter what you believe, holiday celebrations are our families’ steadfast foundations, infusing our lives with meaning, purpose, and love.
Though we celebrate Hanukkah, I truly enjoy exposing my boys to the traditions so significant to our friends and neighbors. And what better way to learn about the holiday season than with fabulous picture books we can share with our children? Here are some of our very favorite stories that celebrate the rich and meaningful holidays that bring such joy to our lives in December. Happy Holidays, friends!
1) A World of Cookies for Santa, by M.E. Furman and illustrated by Susan Gal: This fabulous book came out last year and details the varied ways in which children worldwide prepare themselves for Santa’s arrival. Santa doesn’t get milk and cookies in India. Instead, kids leave Christmas Baba (Father Christmas) a crispy fried treat called a kulkuls, together with a cup of spicy chai. And in South Africa, Kersvader arrives by donkey and children leave him hertzog cookies filled with apricot jam and topped with coconut meringue. Yum! This is a fascinating look at how Christmas is celebrated across the globe, filled with gorgeous illustrations to boot. Definitely a new favorite!
2) Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, by Eric Kimmel and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman: We love this story of clever Hershel who outwits the goblins that repeatedly attempt to ruin Hanukkah for everyone in a small village. How does he do so? With pickles and eggs and dreidels, of course! This a unique and creative adaptation of the ancient Hanukkah story in which the Syrians prohibited the Jews from worshiping as they desired, reminding all that miracles can happen even when the odds seem stacked against you.
3) The Broken Ornament, by Tony DiTerlizzi: More! More! More! Isn’t that what we all hear our children say all the time? Jack constantly wants more of everything, so when he breaks his mom’s old Christmas ornament, he doesn’t understand why she is so upset. Can’t they just buy more ornaments? Turns out, that dusty old ornament was his mother’s treasured heirloom, and Jack has much to learn about the true meaning of the holiday and Christmas spirit.
4) Chanukah Lights, by Michael Rosen and Robert Sabuda: This is a stunner of a pop-up book, following the Festival of Lights through place and time as the Jewish people search for a land to call home. For each of eight nights, the menorah is pictured in a different scene, and the intricate designs on each page are sure to thrill little readers. Equally gorgeous? Robert Sabuda’s The Christmas Story — another pop-up that captures the wonder of Christmas and the Nativity on every exquisite page.
5) The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg: You can’t celebrate Christmas without this marvelous classic, the story of a young boy who is welcomed aboard the Polar Express on Christmas Eve, right at a time he begins to question Santa’s existence. The boy’s magical journey to the North Pole reminds us that being a believer will keep us young at heart, and even as we age, the spirit of Christmas can continue to enchant.
6) The Little Reindeer, by Nicola Killen: Oh how I adore the illustrations in this book! This is one of those quiet, understated stories that breathes magic on every page. The story tells of a friendship between a little girl and a lost reindeer, and a Christmas eve the two will never forget. It’s a simple, sweet, and wondrous tale – complete with die cut pages and metallic ink – sure to become an enthralling family favorite.
7) Room for a Little One: A Christmas Tale, by Martin Waddell and illustrated by Jason Cockcroft: This is a gorgeously illustrated book that tells the story of all the animals sharing the manger — animals who are typically foes but instead rest together in harmony. At the end, Joseph and Mary arrive and Mary gives birth to Jesus, who is welcomed by all. A heartwarming and simple story that celebrates Jesus’s arrival in a manner even toddlers can understand.
8) Meet the Latkes, by Alan Silberberg: Lucy Latke comes from a family of — you guessed it — latkes! And these potato pancakes are a little wacky. So when Grandpa Latke tells the story of Hanukkah to the family, complete with mighty Mega-bees who battle evil alien potatoes, things get a little off the rails. Laugh out loud funny for those looking for a creative and fun take on the Hanukkah story!
9) Together for Kwanzaa, by Juwanda G, Ford and illustrated by Shelly Hehenberger: Kayla loves celebrating Kwanzaa every year, but when her brother is trapped at school due to a snowstorm, Kayla fears Khari will miss their family celebrations completely. This is a lovely story that introduces young readers to the practices and traditions that make Kwanzaa a special December holiday.
10) Hanukkah Bear, by Eric Kimmel and illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka: This story never disappoints and is one of my absolute favorite Hanukkah tales. A retelling of The Hanukkah Guest, Hanukkah Bear tells of an old woman, nearly blind and deaf, who is known throughout her village for her fabulous latkes. When Hanukkah arrives, the woman invites the rabbi to dinner to celebrate Hanukkah and feast on latkes, but the aroma from her kitchen awakens an old bear who arrives at her home before the rabbi. Due to her failing eyes and ears, the story never fails to elicit giggles as the old lady mistakes the bear’s furry coat and happy growls for the rabbi’s beard and blessings.
11) Maccabee!: The Story of Hanukkah by Tilda Balsley and illustrated by David Harrington: Judah and his team of super-hero like Macabees fight to free Jerusalem from the cruel King Antiochus in this rhythmic, rhyming story that is perfect for reading aloud. The book tells of the miraculous oil that lasted for eight days and the Macabee’s determination to stand up for what they believed in, making this a perfect read to share with little ones curious about the real story behind the holiday.
12) Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa by Donna L. Washington and illustrated by Shane Evans: When Li’l Rabbit’s grandma falls ill and is forced to miss out on the Kwanzaa feast, he seeks to find something else for his Grandma to enjoy. This story perfectly captures and celebrates several of the principles of Kwanzaa and illuminates the true meaning of the holiday – working together to help others.
13) The Dreidel that Wouldn’t Spin: A Toyshop Tale of Hanukkah, by Martha Seif Simpson and illustrated by Durga Yael Bernhard: Oh, how I love this wonderful spin on Hanukkah miracles! What happens when a peddler gifts a toy-shop owner an exquisite dreidel? The owner sells it at a hefty-price, of course. But the wealthy purchaser and his daughter are distraught that the dreidel doesn’t spin, so they demand their money back. On and on it goes, with each spoiled customer returning the defective dreidel, until a poor man and his son enter the shop, content to simply peruse all the wonderful toys. And so it is that these two, the only patrons carrying the true spirit of Hanukkah within their hearts, are able to witness the small miracle of the dazzling dreidel.
14) The 12 Sleighs of Christmas, by Sherri Duskey Rinker and illustrated by Jake Parker: If your kids love Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site, don’t walk, but run out to buy them The 12 Sleighs of Christmas. When Santa’s elves discover Santa’s sleigh is totaled just before Christmas, the elves split into a dozen teams and set out to build Santa Claus a cool new sleigh — and Santa himself will decide which one to use for his special day. A fun new read aloud that will have kids marveling at the coolest sleighs imaginable, inspired by big rigs, motorcycles and zeppelins, too! And make sure to check out their newest Christmas themed read, Construction Site on Christmas Night! Another gem!
15) Plum: How the Sugar Plum Fairy Got Her Wings: by Sean Hayes & Scott Icenogle, illustrated by Robin Thompson: Did you ever wonder how the Nutcracker’s Sugar Plum Fairy got her wings? Look no further than Plum, an utterly charming new story about one orphan whose sweet and pure heart earns her the most unexpected rewards. A sweet book featuring magic, fairies, and even two kings. What a joy!
What are your favorite holiday books? Let us know on our Facebook page! And don’t forget — if you liked this page, we think you will love these too: Favorite Books About Hanukkah, Favorite Books About Gratitude, Favorite Books About Love.
Oh my goodness. This book. These characters. Refugee by Alan Gratz is middle grade literature at its finest, and once again, my mind is blown by the quality and richness of the stories that are available to our children. Kid lit has come such a long way since I was little, and I love it so much! I’d heard huge accolades about Refugee, and I’m always a bit nervous to read something when my expectations are set so high. But this book didn't let me down. To the contrary, Refugee exceeded my expectations. Simply put: it was absolutely phenomenal.
Refugee tells three seemingly separate stories that all merge in beautiful ways at the end. Josef is a young Jewish boy living in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. With the horrific threat of concentration camps on the near horizon, he boards the St. Louis with his family, seeking refuge on the other side of the world. Isabel is a Cuban girl, and her story is set in 1994 as riots and unrest plague her community and her country. She and her family set out on a scrappy raft for Miami, hoping for freedom and safety. Mahmoud is a Syrian boy in 2015. When a bomb strikes his home and his entire world is torn apart by violence, he and his family begin a harrowing journey to Europe. All three kids are driven from their homes due to extreme danger, and all embark on unimaginable voyages towards refuge and freedom.
I cannot get over this book. The characterization was stellar. The settings were vivid and authentic, and though the stories shared many similarities, the uniqueness of each journey was made evident through the authors meticulously researched details. The pacing was terrific, the pages begged to be read, and the suspense left me with my heart in my throat. This is a must read -- for learning about world history, for providing windows into the harrowing experiences so many children face on a regular basis, and for recognizing that, despite our differences, we all long for the same things: safety, security, and a welcoming homeland in which to establish our roots. Two trunks up.
Want the book? Get it here! Refugee, by Alan Gratz. *This is an affiliate link.
Do you have an advanced second grade reader at home or in your classroom? This is the book for you!
Wishtree, the latest novel by Katherine Applegate, got a lot of hype. A LOT. And I’m always hesitant to pick up books like this because I pick them up with extremely high expectations. But this one- with its quiet, piercing beauty- absolutely blew me away. Wishtree lived up to the hype and then some, and I continuously find myself trying to get it into as many hands as I possibly can.
"Trees can't tell jokes, but they can certainly tell stories..." And so it is with Red, a majestic oak tree that is nearly two hundred and sixteen "rings" old, harboring secrets and stories that have been nearly forgotten by the people in the community in which it lives. Red is a wishtree who watches over the neighborhood, keeping mostly to himself. When a Muslim family moves onto the street, however, Red witnesses firsthand that all neighbors aren't so welcoming, and even children are forced to undergo hateful messages. It is then that Red realizes his status as a wishtree is more important than ever, and it might be just the time to break with tradition and intervene.
Descriptive language? Check. Incredible characterization? Check. Depth? Check. Real world issues? Check. Sensitive for even younger readers? Check. My goodness, how I love this book. Applegate writes with such a light, unadorned touch, yet her words move deeply and speak volumes. She tackles tough, mature topics in an accessible, easy to understand manner, allowing even young readers to grasp the enormity and import of these issues. I am so frequently asked for great books for advanced second graders, and I finally found a modern, perfect one. Wishtree is an absolute beauty. It is a timeless story that soars, with words that stir your soul. It is a treasure, and it will undoubtedly be devoured and loved by children and adults for generations to come.
Want the book? Get it here: Wishtree, by Katherine Applegate. *This is an affiliate link.
As you know, I'm an avid reader and I adore children's books. What you may not know is that when it comes to reading adult novels, I am a lover of historical fiction, especially books set during World War II. You can imagine how excited I get, then, when a middle grade book comes out that takes place during this time period. Especially when that book is pitch perfect, appropriately conveying the tumultuous and terrifying years that were the Holocaust in a manner suitable for young children. Enter Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz, written by the dynamic father/daughter duo, Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat.
Michael was one of the youngest survivors of Auschwitz, liberated from the camp when he was just four years old. A lifetime later - during the 1980s - Michael was living in the US and went with his wife to see a movie set in Brooklyn in the 1940s. During the film, the main characters watched a newsreel showing children liberated from Auschwitz. The director of the movie had utilized real photographs, and Michael was stunned to recognize his face in the footage. Michael had always stayed relatively quiet about his childhood; however, after seeing the film, and upon realizing that history was at risk of being forgotten, he decided to speak.
What follows is Survivors Club, the remarkable collaboration between Michael and his daughter Debbie, who painstakingly pieced together Michael's childhood wartime memories with photographs, essays and other documentary evidence to reconstruct his family's history. The result is a moving and harrowing piece of narrative non-fiction about Michael's life as a toddler in Zarki, Poland during the German invasion, his subsequent internment in Auschwitz, and the horrors and antisemitism he returned to after the war. Suitable for late elementary and middle grade readers, Survivors Club is an exceptional and important work that will undoubtedly have a place on shelves with The Diary of Anne Frank and Number the Stars. A must read for children and adults alike.
Want the book? Get it here! Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz, by Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received an advanced review copy of this book from the publisher, but all opinions contained herein are our own.