Great Children’s Books for the Holidays: Celebrate the Gift of Caring

By Barbara Gruener

The year-end holiday celebration offers such a wonderful chance to celebrate, reflect and dream. What are some of your family traditions that help you fully experience the magic of the holidays? At our home and in our school, it often starts with vicarious experiences through literature and films, so this month I’m focusing on six of our festive literary favorites.

1. My Penguin Osbert by Cody Kimmel. This delightful winter tale actually begins before the holidays, when Joe decides that he has a better shot of getting what he wants from Santa if he lets him know early enough and is very specific with his request. What he wants is a penguin, a living, breathing penguin, but is he ready for the care and responsibility that a real penguin requires? This tale is emotionally engaging because it’s rather humorous and slightly sad all at once. Find out from your students what they would do in Joe’s situation and see how they would problem solve with compassion and caring.

2. The Only One Club by Jane Naliboff. This cultural treasure makes me happy, because it ties in the gift of caring with an opportunity to look at the traditions of the Jewish holiday Hanukkah. When young Jennifer Jacobs realizes that she’s the only Jewish student in her class, she celebrates that uniqueness by creating an Only One Club, but will her Club spread good will and promote caring with the other children who want to join her? My friends at Flashlight Press tell me that it’s currently sold out, so put it on your wishlist; in the meantime, your 21st century learners can enjoy it electronically on a Kindle or a Nook.

3. The Little Fir Tree by Margaret Wise Brown. In this tender treat, a father shows his love for his homebound son with a lame leg by going to the woods each winter and digging up a little tree to bring the holiday joy to him. They decorate the little fir and celebrate the spirit of the season, then the father takes the tree back to the forest until next December. Use this winter wonder to talk about all of the stakeholders (the people who care about the little boy) in the story and how each of them cares not only for the boy but for each other and for the tree. It’s one that you won’t want to miss.

4. The Mitten Tree by Candace Christiansen. Another stellar example of thinking with your heart, this story showcases an elderly lady, Sarah, who notices a need and secretly fills it with her craft-knitting. Using a pair of knitting needles and some yarn she has on hand, she makes a pair of mittens for the boy who doesn’t have any and she anonymously hangs them on the blue spruce tree near the bus stop. This classic “‘it’s better to give than to receive” tale unravels to find Sarah’s tree filled with mittens while her heart fills with love. And in a twist toward the end, it’s Sarah’s empty yarn basket that is anonymously filled so that she can continue to pay it forward, one stitch at a time.

5. Shall I Knit You A Hat? by Kate Klise. Another knitting book, you might be asking? And to that I answer yes, because this little tale will cap off your holiday collection. It’s nearly Christmas and a blizzard is coming, so Mother offers to knit little Rabbit a hat. And when he decides that he’d like his friends to have new hats, too, Mother and he work together to get the ball rolling, so to speak, and make that happen. How will Mother Rabbit respond when Little Rabbit forgets to get her a present? This book is a gift because it’ll be the perfect springboard for a random acts of kindness campaign. Find out from your students what they can give that costs little or nothing to their parents this year.

6. Annika’s Secret Wish by Beverly Lewis. In one of the Swedish traditions, there’s an almond hidden in the rice pudding and whoever finds the almost gets to make a wish. For as long as she can remember, Annika has dreamed that the almond might be in her service of the pudding, but alas, so far that hasn’t happened. Is it possible that maybe this year it’ll be her turn? Yes, and no actually. Bowls get switched and Annika’s secret wish might just come true… for someone else. Find out how in this joyful tale of longing and love. (Note: This book does have a Christianity slant as in this script, Annika is guided by the question, “What would Jesus do?”)

My other holiday picks with an embedded character theme include:  The Soldiers’ Night Before Christmas by Christine Ford, Auntie Claus by Elise Primavera,The Happy Elf by Harry Connick, Jr. and Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo.

Check out more of Barbara Gruener’s book reviews on her blog here