Over the winter holidays many families get together to decorate trees, light candles, and eat yummy foods. While many of us do the same thing, we each tend to put our own family spin on it that makes it uniquely ours. And this holiday season, in the midst of a pandemic, celebrations are bound to be even more unique than ever.
Whatever you intend to do this break, the winter holidays are a great time to live out family traditions or create some new ones. Here are some books that share the author’s or character’s favourite traditions, maybe one or two of them will make it into the books you read every year around this time.
The first book is The Shortest Day (Candlewick Press, 2019). This is a poem by Susan Cooper that is already part of many people’s holiday traditions. Every year, this poem is preformed live in nine different cities across the United States as part of the Christmas Revels. But now, Cooper has teamed up with Carson Ellis to illustrate the poem and share it with even more people.
As you can probably guess from the title, The Shortest Day celebrates the shortest day of the year. Ellis’s illustrations beautifully bring this poem to life as you watch the tired, old sun lay down to sleep while the villagers gather candles and logs to create light the whole night through until the sun is able to step forth renewed and refreshed. Maybe when you read it with your family you can all join into shout “Welcome Yule” like all the Christmas Revels audience members. For all ages.
Another book that encourages us to take a moment this winter to pause and reflect on the changing seasons around us is Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter which is written and illustrated by Kenard Pak (Henry Holt and Co., 2017). This gorgeous book follows two children as they walk through the woods and their town to say hello to the animals, the pines, and the quiet night skies of winter and to say goodbye to the creatures, plants, and sounds of autumn. For ages 3 to 5.
What Grandma Built by Michelle Gilman and illustrated Jazmin Sasky (Harbour, 2013) is a book about families building their own traditions one year at a time, all because their grandma had a dream. She wanted to create a magical place for her family to enjoy for generations to come. The bright images help transform the mundane home into a castle where you can see the magic the Grandma’s children and grandchildren can see. As you read it, maybe you’ll see who you too are building your own castles without even realizing it. For ages 3 to 5.
The fourth book is Houndsley and Catina Through the Seasons by James Howe and illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay (Candlewick Sparks, 2018). This collection of four books looks at the different traditions Houndsley and Catina have throughout the different seasons: canoeing in the spring, listening to the quiet of the winter, watching fireflies in the summer, and celebrating their birthdays in the fall. For ages 5 to 9.
Another thing many of us do as the year changes from one to the next is we look back at the previous year and celebrate all we have accomplished. While some of our accomplishments are big, they don’t have to be big to be celebrated as Teddy Bear of the Year by Vikki VanSickle and illustrated by Sydney Hanson (Tundra, 2020) demonstrates. This beautifully illustrated story is about a teddy bear named Ollie. Ollie loves being a teddy bear because he gets to listen to his girl Amena’s stories, cuddle with her at bedtime, and be there for her when she falls off her bike and scrapes her knee. None of what he does is truly heroic, but he doesn’t realize that until he’s invited to the Teddy Bear Picnic and bear after bear is given awards for hospital stays, surviving dog-nappings, and other brave adventures. And he wonders if he will even do anything worthy of celebration. For ages 3 to 5.
As we come to the close of this year and the beginning of the new one, I hope you and your family are able to spend some time living out the traditions you have created over the years. But if that isn’t possible, I hope you’re able to find a new way to honour those traditions a different way in our weird and mixed-up pandemic world.