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Thursday, December 11th, 2014

11 African-American Children’s Books for Christmas and Kwanzaa

11 African-American Children’s Books for Christmas and Kwanzaa

Habari Gani!


While African-Americans practice diverse religions and spiritualities, many will celebrate the joys of Christmas during this holiday season.  One wonderful joy to share includes reading with children.  Although we live in a technology-rich world, to me very little is more endearing and, I hope, enduring, than creating that experience, especially at a time that honors, encourages and promotes hope, charity, forgiveness, and best of all, love.


During this season, many throughout the United States also celebrate the first African-American holiday, Kwanzaa!  “Kwanzaa”, which is Swahili for “first”, was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga and launched initially in December 1966.  Kwanzaa honors the Nguzo Saba, the seven principles of African heritage that Dr. Karenga best felt represented the greatest of African wisdom and practices.  Kwanzaa lasts seven days, beginning December 26 and culminating with a feast and giving of gifts on January 1.  For each of the seven days of Kwanzaa, a kawaida principle of tradition and its accompanying purpose is dedicated.  In accordance with Dr. Karenga’s teachings, each day, families light one of the seven candles (three red, three green and one black) on a kinara, a wooden candleholder designed for Kwanzaa, which represents that day’s principle:


Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race: December 26, Red Candle;


Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves: December 27, Red Candle;


Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems, and to solve them together: December 28, Red Candle;


Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together: December 29, Green Candle;


Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness: December 30, Green Candle;


Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it: December 31, Green Candle; and


Imani (Faith): To believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle: January 1, Black Candle.


Other items accompanying Kwanzaa could be a mkeka, a mat; mazao, or fruits and vegetables; kikombe cha umoja, a unity cup; muhindi or corn; and zawadi, or gifts.  For more detailed information about Kwanzaa from the creator himself, please read Dr. Karenga’s, Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community & Culture.


There are many books written about the reasons for remembrance and celebration of Christmas and Kwanzaa.  To honor these holidays, I have comprised a brief list of Christmas & Kwanzaa books that I hope you find as awesome in sharing with your loved ones as I do with mine…Have a blessed holiday season!!


The All-I’ll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll

Written by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

A touching story about the importance of real family, this is a tale set in the American South during the Depression. Seven year-old Nella receives the doll of her dreams, a Baby Betty doll for Christmas, but will it replace the affection she holds for her sisters?


Mim’s Christmas Jam

Written by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney

When Pap is called away from his family and home in Wildroot, Pennsylvania to New York City in order to dig “a long, wide hole for something called a ’subway'”, everyone is miserable.  Saraleen and Royce’s Christmas gift of Mim’s “belly-hum” jam melts Pap’s heart…could it even warm the cold hearts of his bosses, Mr. Mead and Mr. Evans a.k.a. “Mean and Evil”?


The Little Match Girl (Picture Puffin Books)

Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

Taking place in the early 20th century, Mr. Pinkney (who also illustrated The All-I’ll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll) has transformed the 19th century tale of Andersen’s Danish girl, making her of an international culture, thus making her of everyone, for everyone.  This classic story reminds us of the true meanings of Christmas—acceptance and love, for all.


Hallelujah: A Christmas Celebration

Written by W. Nikola-Lisa, illustrated by Synthia Saint James

This simply told, beautifully illustrated book tells the traditional story of the birth of baby Jesus, featuring an all-Black Nativity. Those fans of Saint James’ art work will surely wish to add this to their collection.


Christmas Soul: African American Holiday Stories

As told to Allison Samuels, illustrated by Michele Wood

In this poignant book, Black celebrities, including Mary J. Blige, Jamie Foxx, Monica, Grant Hill, Patti LaBelle, and Denzel Washington, reminisce on their favorite childhood memories of Christmas. Heartwarming and funny (it also includes Shaquille O’Neal and Chris Tucker!), I hope these stories invite you and your loved ones to share your favorite Christmas stories!


K Is For Kwanzaa

Written by Juwanda G. Ford, illustrated by Ken Wilson-Max

The text and artwork are so inviting in this book that I really can’t exclaim enough about them if you wish to educate young children on Kwanzaa.  An exciting exercise to undertake after reading and discussing this book would be to create your own Kwanzaa alphabet book!


Together for Kwanzaa (Pictureback(R))

Written by Juwanda G. Ford, illustrated by Shelly Hehenberger

Another piece written by Ford, this fictional work describes Kayla’s apprehension about celebrating Kwanzaa, her favorite holiday of the year, without her brother, Khari, whose return home from school has been blocked by a snowstorm.  Will Khari be able to make it home it time to share in Kayla and his family’s festivities before the seven days of Kwanzaa are over?


Kwanzaa: Seven Days of African-American Pride (Finding Out about Holidays)

Written by Carol Gnojewski

This book is filled with wonderful photographs to further emphasize the development and celebrations of Kwanzaa by Dr. Maulana Karenga.  Containing a glossary, a craft project and links to various internet sites for greater research to help the reader learn more about the customs and practices of Kwanzaa, this book is a must-have for parents and educators!


Kwanzaa Kids (Lift-the-Flap, Puffin)

Written by Joan Holub, illustrated by Ken Wilson-Max

If the artwork looks familiar, it’s because the artist illustrated K is for Kwanzaa: A Kwanzaa Alphabet Book. What makes this really cool is that this is a “lift-the-flap” book, encouraging little ones to learn and explore the principles, via the seven days, of Kwanzaa at a very young age!


A Kwanzaa Holiday Cookbook (Festive Foods for the Holidays)

Written by Emily Raabe

While this discusses Kwanzaa, this concise book details the importance of food to Kwanzaa celebrations and includes four recipes: Benne Cakes, Kwanzaa Cornbread, Sweet Potato Fritters and Coconut Chicken Chews.  It also includes a discussion about the ceremony of Karamu, suggestions on how to celebrate Kwanzaa, a glossary and websites for further research.


Santa’s Kwanzaa

Written by Garen Eileen Thomas, illustrated by Guy Francis

This colorful and imaginative children’s story combines themes of Christmas and Kwanzaa. In this hilarious and moving twist, Santa Claus, finally resting at home from his hectic Christmas Eve activities, is the recipient of gifts from his seven elves, in honor of Kwanzaa.  However, as January 1 appears, Santa has more Kwanzaa spirit than he needs. What will he gift the world in honor of Christmas and Kwanzaa?!


11 african american children's books for kwanzaa and Christmas

© 2014, Karen D. Brame El-Amin. All rights reserved.

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Karen D. Brame El-Amin, an adjunct professor of education and history, is an alumna of the University of Dayton; Phillips Academy, Institute for the Recruitment of Teachers; University of Michigan; and Columbia University in the City of New York. She recently completed a children’s story on the Orisa of the Yoruba culture; developed the curriculum, James Pate’s KKK Series-“Kin Killin’ Kin” in an Educational Setting, which is currently being utilized in various learning environments throughout the United States; and her image composition, Kohl-eidoscope, was exhibited in the international “Footprints in the Sand” 2013 exhibition in John F. Kennedy Platz (City Hall) in Berlin, Germany. She is currently developing a project on African American funk music and co-designing a community-based social justice project centered on peace education and urban conservation. Brame El-Amin's goals are to preserve and educate others about the various histories and struggles of persons of African descent and their considerable contributions to the United States and abroad. She especially wants to utilize her professional skills and educational experience to improve the quality of life for others, domestically and internationally.

Leave us a comment!

  1. CommentsRhonda Salone   |  Tuesday, 24 December 2013 at 6:40 pm

    Thank you for the recommendations. I will definitely purchase a few of these books!

  2. CommentsLarry F. Crowe   |  Wednesday, 25 December 2013 at 3:35 am

    Thanks for bringing these books to my attention. There are so many good books with positive educational messages that fly by because we don’t see them reviewed.

  3. CommentsCheryl L. Dixon   |  Tuesday, 31 December 2013 at 10:02 am

    Outstanding information on Kwanzaa! Also, on the importance of learning and quality time with our children and youth! We must unite to strive, to uplift and encourage one another! May your vision continue to thrive, strive, encourage and enlighten others to excel and help our fellowman! Thank you for sharing!

  4. CommentsTim Nash   |  Tuesday, 31 December 2013 at 4:11 pm

    Really great article! Especially for those of us that aren’t up to speed on Kwanzaa and it’s beautiful meaning. Thanks for sharing!

  5. CommentsInCultureParent | The History of Juneteenth   |  Wednesday, 18 June 2014 at 11:16 am

    […] and games such as baseball. In some Texas festivals, rodeos are still held. Like Kwanzaa (see my previous article), integral to the celebration of Juneteenth is its focus on education, self-improvement and the […]

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