From Black Santa to Kwanzaa: 10 kids books to read or gift this holiday season

Boost a child's reading skills, imagination, sense of humanity and even their belief in Black Santa with these holiday-themed kids books.

The holiday season is here, and the end of the year is approaching. Decorations for upcoming festivities are being put up, and holiday cheer is spreading. For children, it truly is the best time of year, as they anticipate days off from school and getting presents. But while these are always welcome aspects of the season, it is important that kids also learn the meanings behind each of these big celebrations—after all, there is so much more to the holidays than gifts and free time! 

Winter break poses an opportunity for kids to learn more about the true meaning behind holiday celebrations, and one fun and interactive way to share those lessons with children is through the magical world of books. 

Images (l-r): HarperCollins, Dial Books, Katherine Tegen Books

Year-round, books allow children to immerse themselves in new worlds—and the holidays are no exception. There are so many holiday books about celebrations in every culture that it might be hard to know where to start. As always, we’re here to help, with a list of 10 books to read or gift a child in your life this holiday season.

The Real Santa‘ by Nancy Redd (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2021)

Image: Random House Books for Young Readers

The Real Santa” by Nancy Redd follows one Black boy’s journey to meet the “real” Santa. After seeing Black Santa decorations all around his house for years, he decides he will try to stay awake and meet Santa to see if he really looks like him. This joyous Christmas tale, illustrated by Charnelle Pinkney Barlow and geared for children ages 4 to 8, is a celebration of family, identity, and representation. 

Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa‘ by Donna L. Washington (Katherine Tegen Books, 2020)

Image: Katherine Tegen Books

This children’s picture book details the true meaning of Kwanzaa. Geared toward children ages 4 to 8, “Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa,” written by Donna L. Washington with illustrations by Shane W. Evans follows the story of Li’l Rabbit, who is not having a great Kwanzaa because his grandmother, Granna Rabbit, is sick. When his family decides that they won’t celebrate his favorite Kwanzaa celebration Karamu, he decides to take matters into his own hands and celebrate with a special treat. The book is the perfect introduction to Kwanzaa and reinforces the importance of coming together to help others. 

Santa in the City‘ by Tiffany D. Jackson (Dial Books, 2021)

Image: Dial Books

In “Santa in the City,” Tiffany D. Jackson and illustrator Reggie Brown explore the Christmas experience through the eyes of Deja, a young girl who lives in the city and is struggling with her belief in Santa Claus. Written for children between 4 and 8 years old, the story begins two weeks before Christmas Day as doubts begin to swirl in Deja’s mind about Santa’s existence. Through the help of her family, community and others, she discovers that the spirit of Christmas is magical and alive.

Thanks a Million‘ by Nikki Grimes (Greenwillow Books, 2021)

Image: Greenwillow Books

Through the use of rhythmic poetry styles and detailed illustrations, “Thanks a Million” is a children’s book that celebrates family, friends, and thankfulness. Written by poet Nikki Grimes and illustrated by Cozbi Cabrera, combines an assortment of lyrical formats, such as letter poems and haikus, to inspire the next generation. Geared toward children between the ages of 4 and 8, this book is the perfect holiday pick for any family.

The Nutcracker in Harlem‘ by T. E. McMorrow (HarperCollins, 2017)

Image: HarperCollins

Debut author T.E. McMorrow retells the classic story of The Nutcracker with a jazz-inspired twist. Illustrated by James Ransome, “The Nutcracker in Harlem” follows a young girl as she embarks on enchanting adventures with a magical toy. Through it all, she finds her voice as a musician in New York City at the height of the Harlem Renaissance. Geared toward children between the ages of 2 and 8, this story celebrates the magic of Christmas and discovering the power of one’s voice. 

Together for Kwanzaa‘ by Juwanda G. Ford (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2000)

Image: Random House Books for Young Readers

Together for Kwanzaa” by Juwanda G. Ford follows the story of a young girl named Kayla who loves Kwanzaa. But trouble arises when a heavy snowstorm threatens to keep her and her brother Khari separated for the holiday. The book, illustrated by Shelly Hehenberger and written for children ages 2 through 8, details the traditions and practices of Kwanzaa and introduces young readers to all that makes it a special winter holiday. 

Freedom Soup‘ by Tami Charles (Candlewick, 2021)

Image: Candlewick

Two important aspects of any culture are the food and the traditions, and this book touches on both. Illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara, the story follows a young Haitian girl named Belle as she learns how to make freedom soup from her Ti Gran. While in the kitchen, Belle learns more about her family’s history, her culture, and the history of Haiti. Geared toward children aged 5 to 9, “Freedom Soup” tells the story of how Haitian independence happened and will keep young readers engaged from the beginning to the end. 

Gratitude is My Superpower by Alicia Ortego (2021)

Image: Alicia Ortego

Gratitude is My Superpower: A children’s book about Giving Thanks and Practicing Positivity” by Alicia Ortego is a children’s book written to teach children how to be grateful for all that they have. As the fourth release in Ortego’s “My Superpower” book series, this book follows Little Betsy as she learns the key to being grateful for both the big and small things in life is in her heart. The story focuses on helping kids acknowledge their daily blessings, appreciate the actions of others, and find true happiness in their lives. 

What Do You Celebrate?: Holidays and Festivals Around the World‘ by Whitney Stewart (Union Square Kids, 2019)

Image: Union Square Kids

In “What Do You Celebrate?: Holidays and Festivals Around the World,” Whitney Stewart introduces children between the ages of 5 and 9 to fourteen different holidays celebrated around the world. Covering holidays,such as Eid al-Fitr and Guy Fawkes Day, kids get to travel the world and learn about a variety of cultures. Each spread consists of a background and cultural context, vocabulary words, photographs and interactive projects, making this the perfect way to teach kids about other cultures this holiday season. 

Kayla Grant

Kayla Grant is a multimedia journalist with bylines in Business Insider, Shondaland, Oz Magazine, Prism, Rolling Out and more. She writes about culture, books and entertainment news. Follow her on Twitter: @TheKaylaGrant.

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