Remember when it seemed to take forever for the holidays to get here? The weeks before Christmas seemed to drag on, but part of what made the wait bearable for me was all of the stories. Of course some of them were on TV…Charlie Brown and The Grinch, for example. But I also remember reading lots of holiday stories. I have continued that with my kids by sharing Christmas stories from Dr. Seuss and Charles M. Schultz as well as from Matthew and Luke. I love how kids’ stories get right to the heart of what’s important about holidays and their traditions. (I’m into the pictures, too.)

This year I decided to branch out to other holiday stories, as well. My kids are older and have learned a bit about other religious and cultural traditions, but at home we’ve mostly talked about Christmas. I felt ignorant, really, and I figured the best way to get a crash course in anything is to get the picture book. Enter Moishe’s Miracle: A Hanukkah Story and Seven Spools of Thread.

Moishe’s Miracle is the story of Moishe the milkman, a generous, kind man; his scolding, greedy wife Baila; and a magical latke pan that only Moishe may use. What happens when Baila can’t resist trying the pan for herself? This book, by Laura Krauss Melmed and illustrated by David Slonim, was a New York Times Top Ten Picture Book of the Year and the winner of the National Jewish Book Award. The illustrations are magical; you will be amazed by how dabs of paint become such expressive characters. The book also includes a brief description of Hanukkah and a glossary of Yiddish and Hebrew words used in the story.

Seven Spools of Thread was the book I chose to read about Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday celebrated by people of African descent from December 26 to January 1. For each of those seven days a candle is lit to represent one of the seven principles, or Nguzo Saba. Seven Spools of Thread uses the story of seven quarreling brothers to teach the seven principles. The brothers must learn to work together in order to gain their inheritance; the lesson is enough to transform their whole village. The story is by Angela Shelf Medearis, with gorgeous linoleum block prints by Daniel Minter. Need more encouragement to check this out? A 2001 ALA Notable Book for Children and a Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People for 2001, this book concludes with a section describing the woven cloth of the people of Ghana, and a project detailing how to weave your own cloth to make a belt.

Moishe’s Miracle is recommended for kids 5 – 8, and Seven Spools of Thread for kids 9 – 12. My favorite ever Christmas book is recommended for kids 8 and up, but I still laugh out loud when I read it. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is about what happens when the meanest, loudest, “baddest” kids take over the church Christmas pageant. They aren’t familiar with the Christmas story at all, so of course they ask the most appalling questions. Introducing the Herdmans to the Christmas story transforms not just them but many of their neighbors, who see the story in a whole new light.

I ordered all three of these books for my kids a few weeks ago, and got an extra copy of Barbara Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I’d love to give it away this week! Please share your favorite holiday books in the comments below for a chance to win this book. I’ll be randomly selecting a winner from the comments at midnight EST this Friday, December 17.

What holiday stories do you share every year? Do you read about other religious and cultural traditions as well as your own? Please share your thoughts!