Enjoying children’s books and stories is extremely popular during the holidays and has been since the 19th century with the Christmas stories of Charles Dickens and Louisa May Alcott. Longer evenings and more time indoors make reading a natural choice. But diversifying the stories for the kids in your life can require a bit more effort.
Suzan Alteri, the librarian for the Arne Nixon Center for the Study of Children’s Literature (ANC), says it is getting easier to find a wide variety of stories that show many different holidays, cultures, and points of view on the world.
“I think a lot of people are looking for diverse books and things that separate Christmas from other celebrations at this time of year,” says Alteri. “Using this time of year to read and spend time with the children in our lives and exposing them to other ways of celebrating can have a great impact on how children see themselves and others.”
ANC student assistant Hunter Tunac, whose pronouns are they/them, says they might have read more as a child if they had seen books geared toward their interests and culture. “I am a mix of Lao and Filipino, so I have multiple traditions. There’s the case of being a mix of two diverse cultures and neither is the dominant culture. Seeing someone who looked like me would have been important.”
Diversifying for meaning, relevance, and belonging
Books that use different holidays to tell the stories of diverse children can help a kid who is not from the dominant culture feel a sense of belonging while helping children from the mainstream see that other cultures have meaning and relevance.
There are myriad books about holidays like Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and solstice celebrations to share with children during this season which inform families about the different meanings and purposes of these holidays. But don’t feel like you have to limit the diversity to the midwinter holidays. Families can also source books about holidays like Diwali, Chinese New Year, Dia de los Muertos, and Ramadan that happen throughout the year. Reading about these holidays during the Yuletide season can plant seeds for learning and discussion about other cultures year-round, says Alteri.
And don’t think that diverse holiday stories leave Christmas out in the cold. More and more children’s books are centering the experiences of BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ children and families at Christmastime.
One of the best ways to source such books for the children in your life is to consult with a librarian at your local public library. They can help you search for titles in their branch or even borrow more from their interlibrary loan systems. Consider taking the kids you love with you for some cost-free bonding time.
Some other ideas for spending time with kids over holiday reading:
- Countdown to the Holiday Read-a-Thon: Select a wide variety of children’s books at your public library and read one a night, counting down to Christmas or New Year’s Day.
- Take a pile of books and spend Christmas Eve or Winter Solstice reading the whole night long. This is a longstanding Icelandic tradition called Jolabokaflod, or “Christmas Book Flood” and includes books, cozy pajamas, and hot beverages all night.
- Organize an informal book drive with your child, asking friends and relatives to contribute two copies of a favorite or new holiday book. Keep one for your collection and donate the other to a shelter or school library.
If you’re looking to give a book as a gift for a child:
- Look for interest-based holiday books for non-religious children that go beyond the obvious holiday theme. The story of The Real Santa, Ninja Claus or Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas book can bring children into a world of Yuletide delights without religion.
- Or search book titles based on favorite Christmas songs or hymns (like “Silent Night”) if you’re looking to bring readers closer to the spiritual aspects of the holiday.
Here is a collection of recommended diverse titles from the Arne Nixon Center that are still in print and available for your child’s home library. (On mobile, click on the “i” icon to get full information on each title.)