Our favorite spring books for children are here! The weather is getting warmer, which means you’ve got the perfect weather to grab some of these children’s books to read in the glorious weather. Enjoy!Read More
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.
It's been a while since I've written about a wordless picture book. And now that we are heading into December, it's time to settle on the couch with your kids and Wolf In the Snow to get you dreaming of those white, wintry days. Oh my goodness. This nearly wordless picture book is such a beauty, and I can't get over the emotion that is conveyed in every one of Matthew Cordell's stunning illustrations.
In Wolf in the Snow, a girl in a red coat braves a harsh snowy day on her way home from school. But as she walks, she comes across a lost and scared wolf pup. The girl befriends the pup and what follows is her journey through the sting of winter to return the pup to its family. She travels long and far thought. So long and so far, in fact, that she loses her way. How will she ever get home?
Wordless books. I know- just the sound of them is intimidating to most. But the beauty of a wordless story is that the book comes alive in your child's hands. It's almost like witnessing magic happen, watching as your little one analyzes the illustrations, decodes their meaning, and puts words to the pictures before her. And Wolf in the Snow is the perfect hero's journey for those of you new to wordless stories. It is easy to interpret yet so richly evocative. You will be amazed at the way Cordell's simplistic drawings - done in pen and ink with a bit of watercolor- tug at your heart strings and stay with you long after the final page. Cordell is one to watch, and we here at HEE cannot wait to see what he tackles next. Wolf in the Snow is an absolute beauty, full of heart, and gets two trunks up from our team.
Want the book? Get it here! Wolf in the Snow, by Matt Cordell. *This is an affiliate link.
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What better way to celebrate the onset of summer than with a beautiful wordless book about the pool? In Pool, an underwater masterpiece written and illustrated by JiHyeon Lee, two timid kids meet under the water, where they discover a vast new world, one to which no one else wading in the pool is invited.
The story begins with a young boy standing hesitantly on the edge of the pool. All at once, he experiences a sudden invasion of swimmers, a boisterous crowd with no qualms about jumping right into the water. The boy eventually dives in, swimming far beneath the crowd who frolics on the surface, and it is in the depths of the water that he meets his counterpart. The two kids swim deeper and deeper, where they suddenly encounter a magical world of underwater creatures and glorious experiences, including a giant mythical-like creature who they gaze upon with affection. When the two eventually venture back to the surface of the water, transformed, they exit at the opposite end of the pool. And when they pull off their goggles and look each other in the eyes for the first time, the connection between the two is palpable.
Reading Pool is almost like watching a silent movie. No words are necessary to convey the childrens' emotions, the whispery environment, and the quiet connection between the kids. The exquisite artwork imparts all we need to know. And let's not forget the illustrative techniques: the loud crowd, together with their blow up rafts and toys, is depicted in black and gray line drawings, which is a stark contrast to the colorful and enchanting underworld. This is a beautiful book with illustrations Pickle loved poring over, conveying that even the seemingly ordinary can give way to something extraordinary.
Want the book? Get it here! Pool, by JiHyeon Lee
Chlorine clings to my hair, bug spray lingers on my skin, and wet bathing suits from days spent in the pool hang—drip! drip!—over the shower door to dry. It is camp and barbecues, fireworks and sunglasses, all rolled into one. It is freedom, friendship and fireflies; drizzly days wearing pajamas until sunset; mid-week sleepovers spent giggling until sunrise.
For me, though, summer was even more than that. Those wondrous days meant more than just adventures with friends and vacations with family and relay races with the sun searing down on my shoulders. I always thought the most extraordinary part of summer was having unlimited time in between activities to lose myself in a good book. The end of the school year meant the magic was just beginning.
Most kids longed for summer recess and the freedom that accompanied the end of required reading, science projects and those pesky math problems that always made me want to pull my hair out (decimals! I despised decimals!). But for me, summer was a turn toward reading, not away from it. It was a trip to A Likely Story, my favorite bookstore on Sunset Drive, where the bookish sales ladies always knew exactly what I had to read next—no requirements, no restrictions, just good stories. They filled my arms with book after glorious book until all that could be seen above the stack I held was the pink scrunchie holding my hair back and some fly away, frizzy ringlets. My smile may have been hidden behind the books, but my mom knew it was there. She could tell by the way I hugged these stories to my chest, the way my fingers danced along the colorful spines.
And then, just like that, my days were set, as certain as the bright Miami sun. I’d come home from camp and devour book after book on a chaise in our backyard. Sure, to the untrained eye, I was simply lounging under the swaying palms outside my bedroom window, but those who knew me knew I wasn’t just in the backyard. Those who knew—those who casually stated with the wave of a hand, “Oh, Lauren’s outside reading again”—they understood I was on a magical journey to some far away destination.
These were my summers: reading anything and everything, as much as I could get my hands on, books stacked so high they came nearly to the top of my dresser. Those summers were how I readied myself for the next year, how I learned to navigate my first crush, how I knew about the “cool” things to tape to the inside of my locker door, and how to conquer the bully who wanted to take me to town because I did better than she did in class. It was through my summer stories, even the “fluffiest” of reads, that I truly learned how to navigate my world.
This is what I want for my boys.
Granted, they are still young enough that “summer” doesn’t mean much to them. But I know that as they grow, it is my job to give them that gentle nudge, a nod toward books, and to keep reading with them even when the school doors are locked and the days are long and bright and full of promise. So much of summer’s palpable enchantment is inspired by the pages of the greatest stories, the ones that unlock imaginations with the simple turn of a phrase.
As my kids grow up, then, I have one goal and one goal alone when the last bell rings and my little ones come bounding out of their classrooms on that final day of the year. Just because the school year ends doesn’t mean the story does. After all, summer is a gift. So is reading. I’d say the two go hand in hand.