Happy Kwanzaa!

Kwanzaa has just begun! This holiday is often overshadowed by the swarm of Christmas carols and New Year’s festivities, so here are a few book recommendations to help put this historical African holiday in the spotlight it deserves. These books can be enjoyed at any age, and it can enlighten any reader about what Kwanzaa is about, its history, and what it stands for. Happy reading!

Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture by Maulana Karenga

Written by the creator of Kwanzaa, Dr. Maulana Karenga, Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture provides a thorough understanding of the views and values of Kwanzaa, its historic origins and cultural background, and its cultural meaning to millions of Africans who celebrate it through the worldwide African community.

Kwanzaa: Black Power and the Making of the African-American Holiday Tradition by Keith A. Mayes

Since 1966, Kwanzaa has been celebrated as a black holiday tradition—an annual recognition of cultural pride in the African-American community. But how did this holiday originate, and what is its broader cultural significance? Kwanzaa: Black Power and the Making of the African-American Holiday Tradition explores the political beginning and later expansion of Kwanzaa, from its start as a Black Power holiday to its current place as one of the most mainstream of the black holiday traditions.

Holidays Around the World: Celebrate Kwanzaa: With Candles, Community, and the Fruits of the Harvest by Carolyn B. Otto

Celebrate Kwanzaa continues the spectacular Holidays Around the World series by focusing on this African-American holiday, which falls during the festive, gift-giving season and is celebrated by families, communities, and schools throughout America. With succinct, lively text and beautiful photographs, the book celebrates African-American culture and helps us to understand and appreciate this special holiday. Over the course of seven days, families and friends come together to light the candles that symbolize their past and future—and their unity.

A Kwanzaa Fable by Eric V. Copage

In this surprising and heartwarming story, the owner of a street-corner snack shop teaches Jordan, a 13-year-old who recently lost his father how to apply the seven principles of Kwanzaa to the challenges of daily life. Readers of all ages will come to cherish this book, and will revisit its message that the strength and love that resides in the African-American holiday is ever present.

Kwanzaa Folktales by Gordon Lewis

This collection of original folktales illuminates the seven principles of Kwanzaa: faith, creativity, collective work and responsibility, purpose, unity, self-determination, and cooperative economics. In Kwanzaa Folktales, the various tales express the ageless value of Kwanzaa’s principles in captivating, meaningful stories for children and adults alike to enjoy and reminisce.

‘Tis the Season!

December has arrived, which means there’s a constant chill in the air, people are visiting their friends and family, and everyone’s electricity bills increase. Along with this, the promise of Hanukkah is just around the corner! What better way to prepare for this Jewish holiday than to snuggle up by the fireplace and crack open a book? Here a few book recommendations for people of all ages to read and enjoy this Hanukkah season and get into the spirit!

The Chosen by Chaim Potok

In 1940s Brooklyn, an accident throws Reuven Malther & Danny Saunders together. Despite their differences (Reuven is a modern Orthodox Jew with an intellectual, Zionist father; Danny is the brilliant son & rightful heir to a Hasidic rebbe), the young men form a deep, if unlikely, friendship. Together, they negotiate adolescence, family conflicts, loss and love, as the journey to adulthood creates a crisis of faith when Holocaust stories begin to emerge. The intellectual & spiritual clashes between fathers, between each son & his own father, & between the two young men, provide a unique backdrop for this exploration of fathers, sons, faith, loyalty &, ultimately, the power of love.

The Magic Menorah: A Modern Chanukah Tale by Jane Breskin Zalben

Twelve-year-old Stanley has had enough with Chanukah and just wants it over in order to get his home free from all the relatives, but a surprise encounter with Fishel the genie makes him understand the importance of the holiday and the joy of being with family.

Dreidels on the Brain by Joel Ben Izzy

One lousy miracle. Is that too much to ask? Evidently so for Joel, as he tries to survive Hannukah, 1971 in the suburbs of the suburbs of Los Angeles (or, as he calls it, “The Land of Shriveled Dreams”). That’s no small task when you’re a “seriously funny-looking” twelve-year-old magician who dreams of being his own superhero: Normalman. And Joel’s a long way from that as the only Jew at Bixby School, where his attempts to make himself disappear fail spectacularly. Home is no better, with a family that’s not just mortifyingly embarrassing but flat-out broke. That’s why Joel’s betting everything on these eight nights, to see whether it’s worth believing in God or miracles or anything at all. Armed with his favorite jokes, some choice Yiddish words, and a suitcase full of magic tricks, he’s scrambling to come to terms with the world he lives in—from hospitals to Houdini to the Holocaust—before the last of the candles burns out.

How to Spell Chanukah: And Other Holiday Dilemmas, Ed. Emily Franklin

These stories, by Adam Langer, Tova Mirvis, Steve Almond, Eric Orner, and others, range from the comedic to the snarky. It includes topics such as the jealousy experienced in December when the rest of America is celebrating Christmas, the problem parents have dampening their children’s desire for more presents, and the weight gain associated with eating 432 latkes in eight nights. Whether your Chanukahs were spent singing “I have a Little Dreidel” or playing the “Maoz Tzur” on the piano, whether your family tradition included a Christmas tree or a Chanukah bush, whether the fights among your siblings over who would light the menorah candles rivaled the battles of the Maccabees, or even if you haven’t a clue who the Maccabees were, this book proves there are as many ways to celebrate Chanukah as there are ways to spell it.

Hanukkah in America: A History by Dianne Ashton

For the past two hundred years, American Jews have been transforming the ancient holiday of Hanukkah from a simple occasion into something grand. Each year, as they retell its story and enact its customs, they bring their ever-changing perspectives and desires to its celebration. Providing an attractive alternative to the Christian dominated December, rabbis and lay people alike have fashioned an authentically Jewish festival that blossomed in the United States. By bringing together American Jews of all kinds, Hanukkah in America reveals how an almost forgotten festival became the most visible and celebrated of American Jewish holidays.