The seven days of the African-American holiday, Kwanzaa, begin on Dec. 26. And if you're looking for a book to give a child in your life, it's best to find one that will talk directly to that young person.
"It has to speak to where the child is at, whether it be urban or rural," said Jah Jah of Sisters Uptown Bookstore in Harlem. "It has to be something they can relate to and convey the principles of Kwanzaa."
Kwanzaa was founded 45 years ago by Dr. Maulana Karenga as a holiday to express black pride and as an affirmation of the black American experience. The seven days of Kwanzaa convey seven themes for conducting one's life in a positive way. They are: Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity and Faith.
The holiday is "an ancient and living cultural tradition which reflects the best of African thought and practice in its reaffirmation of the dignity of the human person in community and culture, the well-being of family and community, the integrity of the environment and our kinship with it, and the rich resource and meaning of a people's culture," says founder Karenga on the official Kwanzaa website.
So the challenge to the authors of Kwanzaa children's books is how to convey these important principles in a relatable and engaging way.
"I started writing children's books because I wanted children, particularly African-American children, to see a positive reflection of the African and African-American experience, our families, community and our history, in the books that they read," said noted author and food expert Angela Shelf Medearis via email. "I wrote (the children's Kwanzaa book) Seven Spools of Thread because I wanted to use the common sense principles of Kwanzaa as a foundation of an original African folktale."
Below are seven Kwanzaa children's books that will inform as well as entertain.
By Deborah Chocolate and Cal Massey. This engaging, easy-to-understand picture book provides a clear understanding of the holiday. It's become the standard of Kwanzaa children's books.
By Karen Katz. A playful and delightful Kwanzaa book with big, fun images. It informs, too.
By Donna L. Washington and Shane W. Evans. The authors use Kwanzaa as a backdrop to tell the story of a Li'l Rabbit as he searches for his grandmother, Granna Rabbit, to celebrate Kwanzaa with. Readers, in turn, will learn a lesson about the holiday, too.
By Amanda Doering Tourville. Perhaps a bit of a more sophisticated look at the holiday for older kids, 6 and up.
By Sundaira Morninghouse and Jody Kim. 7-year-old Kia learns that her family will be celebrating Kwanzaa along with Christmas this year, and a story of learning unfolds. This highly regarded book is sure to please older kids.
By Garen Eileen Thomas and Guy Francis. "Merry Christmas, Santa Kwaz!" This playful and merry book looks at the Kwanzaa and Christmas connection by envisioning a black Santa who goes back to the North Pole each year to celebrate Kwanzaa.
By Angela Shelf Medearis and Daniel Minter. Seven brothers have spent their lives bickering, but when their father passes, he instructs them via his will to turn seven spools of thread into gold, or be turned out as beggars. Can the brothers discover the seven principles of Kwanzaa in time to save them and their village from ruin?
Image credit: Angela Shelf Medearis and Amazon