Holiday Children’s Books: Part I

One thing that I always find interesting are children’s books. I find that more often than not, the stories have morals/lessons to them, for the youngsters who read them to actually learn something from reading them (or having the books read to them). So I find children’s books something to sort of research a little. About a year ago I went on a kick and started reading a bunch of collections of stories for children of fairy tales and whatnot from around the world. I read some favorites such as The Little Mermaid and The Twelve Dancing Princesses, but I also read books such as Land of the Long White Cloud: Maori Myths, Tales, and Legends and Japanese Children’s Favorite Stores (Books 1 & 2) and Chinese Children’s Favorite Stories.

I don’t yet have children, but I go through bursts of looking through children’s books to make lists of what I want to have for my future children to read.

So I’ve got a few Holiday Books (can’t say Christmas, as they’re not all about Christmas) from the library and many more requested. I plan on trying to bring a multi-cultural approach to the future library of children’s books I’m going to have. But here are my thoughts on some of this first batch of Holiday Books.

The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming by Lemony Snicket

I found this story to be very funny 🙂 It was also slightly educational about the holiday of Hanukah. After the latke escaped the house in which it was fried, it ran into some Christmas lights adorning a nearby house, who thought he was just hash browns. Then he ran into a candy cane, who thought the Jews who hid in caves to study the Talmud were like Joseph and Mary hiding (never heard of them as “hiding”) in the manger. And finally the latke ran into a pine tree in the forest who thought he was like a Christmas present. The whole while the latke is screaming that he’s NOT A PART OF CHRISTMAS! The story ends “It is very frustrating not to be understood in this world. If you say one thing and keep being told that you mean something else, it can make you want to scream.” I think this is an excellent way to point out to children that Christmas and Hanukah are different holidays.

Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto

This one doesn’t exactly need to be considered a Holiday Book, in my opinion. I don’t know much about the Hispanic celebration of Christmas and how it differs from my experience with “white” Christmases.  Are tamales a big part of Christmas in the Hispanic culture? Nevertheless, there is a moral/lesson to this story. Maria, without asking, put on her mother’s wedding/engagement ring and lost it in the masa of the tamales. She and her cousins ate all 24 tamales searching for it. Only when she went to confess to her mother did she find her mother already had it, having found it when she put the tamales together. So, the moral of the story: don’t take something that doesn’t belong to you.

Seven Spools of Thread by Angela Shelf Medearis

I love this book! First of all, the illustrations (by Daniel Minter) are just amazing–I really love them.
Secondly, I like how there is an explanation about the history of Kwanzaa in the very beginning, including a list of the “Seven Principles” (Nguzo Saba) of the holiday: Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Co-Operative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith. This story would be a good tool to teach all of these principles to any child, whether or not they are of African descent. But each of the seven principles are included in the story somewhere, so the story is a good tool to see if children can find those principles–which teaches them to look beyond the story itself and at the meaning of the story.

Festival of Lights: The Story of Hanukkah by Maida Silverman

This story is, as the title says, the story of Hanukah. I think, therefore, that the story is meant to be educational. But keep in mind that this story sounds like a fairy tale to a small child. If you wanted to present the legend of Hanukah but didn’t want to bring up the concept of Judaism, it’s all about how you present the book to a child. This is how I would present it to my future children, as I hope they will, by learning these tales at a young age, accept everyone. Oh, but I love how the back of the book has instructions for making your own dreidle and the directions for playing the game. It brought back memories as to how I played the game in my music class in elementary school–to go along with the song “Dreidle, Dreidle, Dreidle”.

The Miracle of the First Poinsettia: A Mexican Christmas Story by Joanne Oppenheim

Another book with amazingly beautiful illustrations (by Fabian Negrin). Juanita, a young girl, has no money to spend or gifts to give her family or Baby Jesus on Christmas. She worries so much about how she mustn’t be seen in church because she has nothing to give to Baby Jesus. But what can only be assumed is an angel tells her to gather some weeds from a statue’s wings and take them into the church. As she takes them to the altar they transform into beautiful star shaped flowers, what we now call poinsettias. It’s a lovely story and I love poinsettias. (Did you know they’re poisonous to ingest though? 🙂 ) Anyways, this is a beautiful story.

Moishe’s Miracle by Laura Krauss Melmed

This one is my favorite of the night. It’s just a funny tale, and it also has the moral/lesson of obedience and also to not be greedy. Moishe receives a special pan that forever makes latkes–but only Moishe is allowed to use it. His wife, Baila, being somewhat greedy, tries to use it one day to earn some extra money. But the pan no longer works for anyone, not even Moishe. The legend of the pan, however, spread far and wide, bringing tourists to see it. The little town Moishe lives in gains from this tourist population. (I must admit when I started the story and heard of a poor milkman I thought immediately of Fiddler on the Roof 😀 )

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