Excuse the clickbait-y title. This is not a list of books against Christmas. Or book recommendations for kids who hate Christmas.
I’m no Bad Santa. In fact, I just finished a Christmas-themed reading list post. It’s just that ’tis the season, in North America at least, when we get inundated with so much of it, sometimes it’s nice to focus on books for the holiday season that aren’t Christmas-y.
The origin of this anti-Christmas kids’ list comes from me wanting to introduce my kids to concepts outside of Christmas. This isn’t motivated by some cultural altruism. I mainly want them bugging me less for presents! But in searching for good winter holiday kids’ books that aren’t about Christmas, I did end up finding diverse writing that taps into cultural traditions outside of the Christmas norm. In keeping with this blog, I chose ones that have an emphasis on history.
I haven’t read any of these books but I’ll definitely be searching them out for my own kids, especially as they get older. I look forward to being ignored as they clamour for the latest Lego set.
If you’ve read these books or have your own recommendations, please let everyone know in the comments!
Histories Unfolding presents, the Anti-Christmas Kids’ Reading List
Herschel and the Hannukah Goblins by Eric Kimmel
The setting for this fable appears to be a Jewish village in Eastern Europe of a bygone age, resembling the one from Fiddler on the Roof. A traveller named Hershel comes to the village after goblins have stolen Hanukkah. He then proceeds to outwit each goblin in turn to get it back. The tone and illustrations seem like they might frighten younger children. But it does sound like a fun, indirect way to introduce non-Jewish kids to Hanukkah.
The Shortest Day by Wendy Pfeffer
We often forget that the timing of Christmas has pagan origins, rooted in the winter solstice. The shortest day of the year has had deep significance for many cultures across the world. This children’s non-fiction explains these traditions, and how some of them have echoes in modern day holidays. Suggestions for activities are also included in the back of the book.
The Story of Kwanzaa by Donna L. Washington
Because of its relative youth (it was first celebrated in 1966) and also, I’m going out on a limb here, racism, Kwanzaa often gets short shrift in popular culture. Thankfully, there are numerous children’s books available that give it the attention it deserves. Because this is a historical blog, I went with a non-fiction book for my pick. Kwanzaa was explicit established as a celebration of African-American history. The Story of Kwanzaa explains how the holiday’s customs are connected to the historical struggles and achievements of African-Americans. Like the previous pick, there are also suggested activities at the back of this one.
Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin
Since so much of my writing is currently focused on the Soviet Union, it’s inevitable that I would gravitate toward a book set in Stalinist Russia. This novel is meant more for middle graders than small children.
The Soviet Union was an officially atheist state. Winter celebrations centred on New Year’s Day. Still, I thought with its snowbound illustrations and setting on a winter evening in Moscow, it counts for holiday reading. Ten-year-old Sasha is worried after breaking the nose off a bust of Stalin at school. But things get much worse when he learns his father has been taken away by the authorities. This is a story that deals with a boy’s disillusionment with the Communist system he grew up with. This is aimed at children a few years older than my own kids. But given my current Soviet-centric reading habits, I might well pick this one up myself!
Whale Snow by Debby Dale Edwardson
I’m stretching the holiday theme a bit with this one. But since we have a tendency to conflate all things wintry with the holiday season (in the northern hemisphere at least) I’ll let it slide. The Inuit peoples have unfortunately been the subject of much winter kitsch imagery in the past, with little regard for their culture. This book, happily, is told from the point of view of Amiqqaq, an Iñupiaq boy in Alaska. The story is about the traditions and celebrations that take place after a whale has “given itself to the People.” To meet my blog’s stringent historical content requirements, the book includes an Iñupiaq glossary and history at the back.
After looking over this list, I realize there really is a wide variety of holidays to celebrate at this time of year. Whatever you might celebrate, here’s wishing you a happy reading season!