¡Buenos días! I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season! This month I’ve compiled a list of children’s books about winter festivities celebrated in Latin America and Latino communities in the United States. Here at Vamos a Leer we have tons of resources for teaching Latin American and Latino holiday traditions in the classroom. Many of them have been compiled under the heading “Las Posadas,” given that we’ve found many search engines that bring people here just for that topic. Below I’ve compiled a list of ten exemplary books that can help you explore the topic further with your students. I hope you enjoy reading these books as much as I did!
Saludos y felices fiestas,
The Night of Las Posadas
Written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola
Published by Puffin Books
Age Level: 4-8
Tomie dePaola’s glorious paintings are as luminous as the farolitos that light up on the Plaza in Santa Fe for the procession of Las Posadas, the tradition in which Mary and Joseph go from door to door seeking shelter at the inn on Christmas Eve. This year Sister Angie, who is always in charge of the celebration, has to stay home with the flu, and Lupe and Roberto, who are to play Mary and Joseph, get caught in a snowstorm. But a man and a woman no one knows arrive in time to take their place in the procession and then mysteriously disappear at the end before they can be thanked. That night we witness a Christian miracle, for when Sister Angie goes to the cathedral and kneels before the statue of Mary and Joseph, wet footprints from the snow lead up to the statue.
One thing that I really enjoyed about this book is that it portrays the multicultural traditions in the United States. The book is set in the small town of Santa Cruz, outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Before dePaola begins telling the story, he explains the history of Las Posadas, from Spain, to Mexico, and then to the American Southwest. At the end of the story, he goes on to tell how the Las Posadas tradition differs in different cities and countries. I highly recommend this lovely story. Mommy Maestra has lesson plans, crafts, activities and music on their website related to Las Posadas that would be great for the classroom. In addition, Katrina has posted a number of resources related to the holiday, including a lesson plan for this particular book.
Written by Hugo C. Martín
Illustrations by Lee Chapman
Published by Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.
Age Level: 4-7
Coyotes in the henhouse, the fear of a mystical queen, and no money for Christmas presents are just a few of the problems young Pablo must face. Now that Mama is expecting a baby, Papa has gone to earn money in America, and Pablo has become the new man of the house. He tries to make life as joyful as possible for his mother and sisters, but as Christmas nears, Pablo will have to summon all of his courage – and use a spark of his creativity – to fill his father’s shoes.
A moving and ultimately uplifting story of one boy’s joys and heartaches growing up on a small farm in Mexico, Pablo’s Christmas is sure to become a family favorite.
This beautiful story teaches us about the difficulties of immigration from the point of view of children left behind. It follows Pablo’s coming of age, which was quickened by his father’s need to cross the US-Mexican border in order to provide for his family. Through this story, we see the importance of family, and although it touches on difficult subjects, it has a lighthearted ending. The colorful depictions of farm life brighten the story and give us a picturesque view of rural Mexico. I highly recommend this book.
Feliz Navidad: Two Stories Celebrating Christmas
Written by José Feliciano
Illustrations by David Diaz
Published by Scholastic Inc., Cartwheel Books
Age Level: 4-8
Set to the lyrics of Puerto Rican musician José Feliciano’s song “Feliz Navidad” and illustrated by Caldecott Medal winner David Diaz, this unique flip book features two different, yet traditional, Christmas celebrations!
Feliz Navidad, la canción bilingüe compuesta por José Feliciano, es la acompañante perfecta de este libro que le enseña a los niños, de una manera divertida, lo que es una parranda caribeña y una fiesta navideña tradicional. Únete a una parranda llena de canciones navideñas tradicionales, instrumentos musicales y mucha comida. Los niños aprenderán acerca de esta típica celebración caribeña donde familiares, amigos y músicos sorprenden a sus vecinos cantándoles canciones a medida que se les une todo el vecindario, hasta terminar la celebración en una fiesta con comida para todos.
This delightful book first tells about how Christmas is celebrated in Puerto Rico, including the Christmas tradition called la parranda. We see José Feliciano’s lyrics paired with David Diaz’s beautiful illustrations – and together they bring Puerto Rico’s Christmas traditions to life. One of the things I like most about this book is that it draws attention to the original artist of the song “Feliz Navidad,” which has been rendered numerous times by various artists. I also like that it depicts a tropical Christmas, which differs from the United States’ typical portrayal of the holiday. This story will be fun for young kids to read and sing along to. Here is a video of José Feliciano performing his famous song. Also, to learn more you can check out Alice’s detailed book review of this work.
Written by Roseanne Greenfield Thong
Illustrations by Sara Palacios
Published by Viking Books
Age Level: 3-5
’Twas Nochebuena and all through our casa, every creature was kneading tamale masa…
It’s Christmas Eve, and you’re invited to a Nochebuena celebration! Follow a family as they prepare to host a night filled with laughter, love, and Latino tradition. Make tasty tamales and hang colorful adornos (decorations) on the walls. Gather to sing festive canciones (songs) while sipping champurrado (hot chocolate). After the midnight feast has been served and the last gifts have been unwrapped, it’s time to cheer, “Feliz Navidad and to all a good night!”
Savor the magic of Nochebuena with a holiday tale you’ll want to read again and again.
This fun, rhyming, bilingual story of Christmas Eve shows us the beautiful holiday traditions in Mexico. It is a story that kids will not want to put down, and it is great for learning Spanish vocabulary. The Spanish words are italicized and translated in a glossary at the end of the book. This book is great for learning about different cultural traditions, such as las posadas, which originates in Spain but is also practiced in Mexico. The illustrations complement the story well, giving a warm, hopeful, and inclusive representation of the holiday. I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did! Also, Katrina wrote an En la Clase post about this book, where she gives helpful hints for teaching it in the classroom.
A Piñata in a Pine Tree: A Latino Twelve Days of Christmas
Written by Pat Mora
Illustrations by Magaly Morales
Published by Clarion Books
Age Level: 4-7
An award-winning author and a rising star artist have put a festive Latino twist on “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” populating it with piñatas in place of partridges, plus burritos bailando (dancing donkeys), lunitas cantando (singing moons), and much more, all displayed in the most vivid colors imaginable. In this version a little girl receives gifts from a secret amiga, whose identity is a sweet surprise at the book’s conclusion. There are things to find and count in Spanish on every page, with pronunciations provided right in the pictures and a glossary and music following the story. This joyous fiesta will warm even the coldest of hearts.
This cheerful book offers a great way to celebrate Latino holiday traditions and learn Spanish simultaneously. The pronunciations provided on each page are really helpful. I personally loved the inclusion of different holiday foods from Latin America. The narrative is a merry mixing of traditions, and at the end it teaches that the twelve days of Christmas begin on December 25th and end on the night of January 5th, just before the Three Kings Feast. Katrina wrote a detailed post about this book and how to use it in the classroom, which I think you’ll find really helpful.
The Christmas Gift/El regalo de Navidad
Written by Francisco Jiménez
Illustrations by Claire B. Cotts
Published by Sandpiper: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Age Level: 4-7
With honesty and rare grace, award-winning author Francisco Jiménez shares his most poignant Christmas memory in this remarkable book. Illustrated with paintings full of strength and warmth, written in spare bilingual text, this simple story celebrates the true spirit of Christmas, and illuminates how children do indeed draw strength from the bonds of their families.
In this book, Francisco Jiménez tells his heartfelt memory of how he experienced Christmas while growing up in a migrant farmworker family. His story brings out important values related to the holiday and places love and family above material gifts. This story presents an alternative yet truthful Christmas story which is important to tell, and shows how the idealization of Christmas with presents, warmth and extravagant meals is not the reality of all children. I also liked that the story tells about migrant farmworkers, an important yet underrepresented sector of our population. Although Jiménez’s memory is heavy, he tells it in a way that is uplifting, emphasizing the love within his family. Katrina reviewed this book along with other bilingual books perfect for December.
La Noche Buena: A Christmas Story
Written by Antonio Sacre
Illustrations by Angela Dominguez
Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers
Age Level: 5-7
Nina is visiting her grandmother in Miami for Christmas. Usually she spends it in snowy New England with her mother and her family, but this year is different. She isn’t certain what to make of a hot and humid holiday, until she learns the traditions of her father’s side of the family from her Cuban grandmother. She helps prepare for the evening and takes part in all their traditions—the intricate cooking for the feast, the dancing, the music, and the gathering of relatives and neighbors. It all comes together for a Noche Buena that Nina will never forget.
Antonio Sacre and Angela Dominguez have created a wonderful story that everyone who celebrates Christmas will enjoy. The book includes a glossary of Spanish words.
This is the beautiful story of a child getting to know her family’s traditions. Although Nina is hesitant to spend Christmas away from her family in New England, she quickly becomes excited about spending la Nochebuena with her Cuban side of the family in Miami. Her day is filled with food, preparations, family, neighbors, friends, love and fun. In this book we get to see Cuban food and Christmas traditions, which are also celebrated in the United States. I personally loved the book’s representation of community and its lighthearted spirit. This book would be wonderful for teaching about different Christmas traditions celebrated in the US and abroad.
The Miracle of the First Poinsettia: A Mexican Christmas Story
Written by Joanne Oppenheim
Illustrations by Fabian Negrin
Published by Barefoot Books
Age Level: 5-8
Native to Mexico, beautiful poinsettia plants decorate homes around the world every Christmas. But few people who love the plant’s deep red tones know the traditional Mexican tale about how the poinsettia first came to be. In this extraordinary collaboration, Fabian Negrin brings his warm, glowing scenes to Joanne Oppenheim’s thoughtful narrative, transporting readers to Old-World Mexico and into the arms of a young girl as her trust leads her straight into a miracle. A beautiful alternative to the traditional nativity story, this book is a wonderful evocation of Mexican customs and culture.
This wonderful book tells a version of the Mexican folktale of the first poinsettia. I think that kids will find it interesting because during the holidays, poinsettias are everywhere, yet their origin is hardly ever explained. The story also brings attention to the importance of love and caring rather than material gifts. Alice recently posted a detailed review of this book, so I’ll leave it to her to go into more and detail and share resources for using this book in the classroom.
The Farolitos of Christmas
Written by Rudolfo Anaya
Illustrations by Edward Gonzales
Published by Hyperion
Age Level: 5 and up
It’s Christmas in San Juan, New Mexico, and young Luz worries that with her grandfather sick and her father in the hospital, wounded from the war, their usual Christmas celebration will not be. Then Luz decides to make her own little lanterns or farolitos to light the path for the oncoming celebration, and for her father, who returns home in time for the holiday.
This story gives a wonderful description of New Mexican traditions. It shows the mixture of traditions and interactions between the Puebloan and Spanish-descended communities, which is the reality of northern New Mexico. Anaya writes about the tradition of Las Posadas, and he also mentions Puebloan customs, like the Deer Dance, which takes place on Christmas morning. Luz and her best friend Reina seamlessly share traditions with each other. Luz’s name was chosen well, since in the end it is she who discovers the idea of making little lights, or farolitos, to guide the pastores during Las Posadas. As I myself am living in New Mexico, I was mesmerized by Edward Gonzales’ breathtaking illustrations of the state’s northern region. They were accurate to the actual landscape, warm and colorful. His use of light and color are incredible. De Colores highlights this book’s representation of indigenous traditions and their mixture with Christian customs in Judy Zalazar Drummond’s review of it.
Too Many Tamales/Qué montón de tamales
Written by Gary Soto
Illustrations by Ed Martinez
Published by Puffin Books
Age Level: 4-8
Christmas Eve started out so perfectly for Maria. Snow had fallen and the streets glittered. Maria’s favorite cousins were coming over and she got to help make the tamales for Christmas dinner. It was almost too good to be true when her mother left the kitchen for a moment and Maria got to try on her beautiful diamond ring . . .
This is the story of a treasure thought to be lost in a batch of tamales; of a desperate and funny attempt by Maria and her cousins to eat their way out of trouble; and the warm way a family pulls together to make it a perfect Christmas after all.
This is a heartwarming story of a funny situation – and Soto’s depiction of the children’s reactions makes it even more funny. When Maria loses her mother’s wedding ring while making tamales, rather than telling her parents about her situation, she and her cousins proceed to eat all twenty-four tamales…you can imagine something of the ending here. Amid the laughter this book evokes, it also brings to mind heartwarming observations about the importance of family and the cheer that comes with celebrating holidays together. The warm colors in this book match well with its humorous story and effortlessly depict a warm, inviting kitchen filled with good food. The expressions on the children’s faces are also priceless. In a post by Katrina, she lists different resources, including a reading comprehension strategy resource and a discussion guide.