Diversity in December

December is a festive time of year. Many of us celebrate the holidays with friends and family. Navigating the holidays can be tricky in some school settings. I can remember working in a school where we were banned from saying “Merry Christmas” because it was a religious reference. Happy Holidays was the mandated greeting. Students benefit from being exposed to a variety of celebrations and having knowledge of both religious and nonreligious observations. The month of December is filled with a variety of customs and traditions. For purposes of this post I will focus on Kwanzaa and Hanukkah. What better place than the school library to encourage students of all ages to learn about these and other celebrations from cultures that may differ from their own.

Hanukkah is a Jewish festival that begins on Kislev 25 (in December, according to the Gregorian calendar) and is celebrated for eight days. Hanukkah reaffirms the ideals of Judaism and commemorates the re-dedication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem by the lighting of candles on each day of the festival. In Hebrew, the word Hanukkah means dedication. It may also be referred to as the Festival of Lights or the Feast of Dedication. It is celebrated for eight days. Hanukkah celebrates a military victory of the Jews over foreign rulers. Candles are lit on a branched candlestick called a menorah, starting with one candle and a new candle is lit each night (“Hanukkah” 2018).

Kwanzaa was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga and is a week-long celebration of African heritage and culture from December 26 – January 1. Kwanzaa is a Swahili word that means “first” and signifies the first fruits of the harvest. Kwanzaa has seven core principles (Nguzo Saba). Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one principle: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), Imani (Faith) (“Kwanzaa” 2018).

Did you know the United States Postal Service offers a stamp for both Kwanzaa and Hanukkah? More information is available at https://link.usps.com/2018/10/09/happy-kwanzaa/ and https://link.usps.com/2018/10/15/hanukkah-in-lights/.

Kwanzaa and Hanukkah are both observed in December. Books on these celebrations may serve as mirrors for some students and windows for others. A short list of suggested titles follows.


Meet the Latkes by Alan Silberberg
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Grades: Prekindergarten – kindergarten 

Happy Hanukkah, Corduroy by Don Freeman
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Grades:  Prekindergarten – 2

The Magic Dreidels by Eric Kimmel
Publisher: Holiday House
Grades:  Prekindergarten – 2

Clifford Celebrates Hanukkah by Norman Bridwell
Publisher: Scholastic
Grades:  Prekindergarten – 2

The Story of Hanukkah by David Adler
Publisher: Holiday House
Grades:  Prekindergarten – 2


A Year Full of Stories by Angela McAllister
Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Grades: 2 – 5

Kwanzaa by Lisa Herrington
Publisher: Children’s Press
Grades: Kindergarten – 2

Kwanzaa by Lisa Amstutz
Publisher: Capstone Press
Grades: 1 – 2

My First Kwanzaa by Karen Katz
Publisher: Square Fish
Grades: Prekindergarten – kindergarten

Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story by Angela Shelf Medearis and Daniel Minter
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Grades: 2 – 3

Conversations with Authors

Alan Silberberg

I recently chatted with Alan Silberberg, author of the wonderful new book Meet the Latkes, and Angela Medearis, author of the brilliant book Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story.

Alan Silberberg features the Latke family, an actual potato pancake family, in the book. When I asked Alan Silberberg why he wrote his new book about Hanukkah he answered, “I wrote the book because I wanted to create a Hanukkah story that would honor the holiday’s history. I also really like latkes.” He went on to say, “school libraries are the spine that runs through a child’s entire education. The libraries and those heroic guardians who steer the books help kids journey through time and space and imagination. I wouldn’t be an author today without all of the great school libraries I had the pleasure of getting lost inside.”

Learn more about Alan Silberberg’s new book at his website, www.silberbooks.com.

Angela Medearis

Interestingly many books about Kwanzaa are not written by African American authors. Angela Medearis happens to be an African American. When asked why she wrote the book she responded, “I initially approached an editor about writing a Kwanzaa book in 1994; she told me no, that won’t sell. The editor felt that the Kwanzaa book already in print was enough, so I set out to find another publisher and I did. I wanted to write a book to introduce children to the holiday. I went one to write many more books about Kwanzaa.”

Angela Medearis shared that 7 Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story is actually an original folk tale. She wanted students to know that Dr. Karenga created this holiday to celebrate, preserve, and educate people about African American culture and heritage. She felt it was important for students to understand how incredible it was that Dr. Karenga could successfully create a holiday.

As we wrapped up the conversation about Kwanzaa, Angela shared, “Had it not been for school libraries, I would not have been a writer. My dad was in the Air Force; as a result, we moved a lot. I went to different schools, but I always had friends. My friends were the books in the library.  I have learned that it only takes one passionate school librarian to create a school full of bookworms. I thank school librarians for all they have done and continue to do for students.”

Learn more about Angela Medearis’ books, Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story, Seven Days of KwanzaaToo Many Holidays, Kyle’s First Kwanzaa, The Kwanzaa Celebration: Festive Recipes and Homemade Gifts from an African-American Kitchen, and the author at www.medearis.com.

I would love to hear about December celebrations in your library. Share in the comments section.

Happy Kwanzaa! Happy Hanukkah!

Works Cited

“Hanukkah.” 2018. In Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from https://school-eb-com.proxygsu-sful.galileo.usg.edu/levels/middle/article/Hanukkah/353230

“Kwanzaa.” 2018. In Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from https://school-eb-com.proxygsu-sful.galileo.usg.edu/levels/middle/article/Kwanzaa/46553



Author: Michelle Easley

Michelle Easley is the author of How to Increase Diversity in School Library Collections and Programs. Michelle is a national presenter, diversity and library advocate, consultant and speaker. Michelle spends her free time volunteering with homeless youth.

Categories: Blog Topics, Collection Development

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1 reply

  1. Ms. Easley
    Your Hanukka description is spot-on. Throughout the years I have heard about Kwanzaa but did not know the meaning behind the festival. Thank you for your dedication in reaching out and educating the public. Your conversations with authors is informative and gives a powerful behind the scene insight that we would have not know otherwise, making it even more exciting to visit our libraries and read these books.
    Carlos/ Georgia

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