The holiday season is here, which means most kids have some extra time off from school for winter break. One of my favorite holiday traditions, that my family continues today with my cousins, is buying a new holiday book every year. We cherish these books, returning to them year after year, for recipes, nostalgia, and to read to the younger kids. I spent entire afternoons under the tree with my childhood cat, Buddy, reading through these books, memorizing the artwork. There are Christmas picture books on my parents’ shelf that I’ve been paging through my entire life. My favorite is The Nutcracker, featuring full color photographs from the New York City Ballet. During the holiday season, my brothers and I would paint salt dough ornaments or roll out sticky cinnamon dough while my mom read chapter books to us, like The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.
Do you have a special bookish holiday memory? Why not start one with your family or classroom? This year, start a new tradition by incorporating book-inspired activities. Stave off that winter break boredom with crafts, decorations, and trying new recipes together. Each activity I’ve listed should be completed with adult supervision and some fun holiday music on Spotify.
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
This holiday classic is filled with images of snow and ice, making it perfect for an indoor sensory play bin. Simply crush up ice in a blender to create snow and place inside a plastic bin. Use simple toys and decorations that you already have at home, like jingle bells, blocks, arctic animals, and train cars to fill the landscape. Add a few different scoops, cups, or spoons for little ones to move the snow around. Note that children should wear protective gloves to play in this sensory bin. Once the snow melts, serve up a batch of the Polar Express Hot Chocolate and read The Polar Express together.
Hanukkah: A Counting Book in English, Hebrew and Yiddish by Emily Sper
This delightful book features iconic Hanukkah imagery, with vocabulary in English, Hebrew, and Yiddish. Count together as you turn the pages, sharing the Hanukkah story. Afterwards, reinforce counting skills with printable mats and play-dough candles and dreidels in festive Hanukah colors.
If You Take A Mouse to the Movies by Lauren Joffe Numeroff and Felicia Bond
This circular story is perfect for preschoolers and family reading time! First, learn about some holiday activities together, with a paper snowball fight, or singing along to some traditional carols in silly voices. The Mouse wants to turn his movie popcorn into a garland for the Christmas tree, so you can too! Then, pop some plain popcorn and thread a needle. Make sure there are enough adults available to help kids with stringing their popcorn and cranberries. Maybe pop some buttered popcorn to snack on, too.
The Mitten by Jan Brett
Brett’s version of the Ukrainian folktale is pure, wintry goodness with beautiful, detailed illustrations and warm humor. After sharing this book together, create your own version of the iconic red mitten in ornament form. Make it your own with collected buttons, beads, or fabric scraps.
Bringing in the New Year by Grace Lin
Get everyone ready for the New Year with this exciting book that invites readers to join the fun of sweeping out the old dust, eating delicious dumplings, and enjoying the fireworks. For New Year’s Day, make these beautiful paper lanterns to catch the winter sunlight.
The Christmas Coat by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve and Ellen Beir
This book is an emotional, beautiful historical picture book, making it a great starting point for deeper conversations. At Virginia’s Christmas pageant, the Christmas tree is decorated with vibrant paper chains and handkerchiefs. Put on some vintage Christmas tunes and get to crafting.
The Sound of Kwanzaa by Dimitrea Tokunbo and Lisa Cohen
Bright and lyrical, this book is a fun way to learn about Kwanzaa traditions. Tokunbo’s favorite recipe for no-bake brownies is also included for a fun treat to make together. Celebrate the joy of Kwanzaa by making drums with empty oatmeal containers and dance to the beat of the music you make.
Pick a Pine Tree by Patricia Toht and Jarvis
The holiday season wouldn’t be complete without some whimsy and greenery. After reading through this charming story, set up a table with newspaper for easy clean up. Then, it’s time to pick a pine tree of your own, or at some pretty branches. This craft is great for all ages and adds instant festivity to your home.
Shante Keys and the New Year’s Peas by Gail Piernas Davenport and Marion Eldridge
Carla and the Christmas Cornbread by Carla Hall and Cherise Harris
In this tale inspired by her own childhood Christmases, TV chef Carla Hall shares family tradition, Christmas magic, and her favorite cornbread recipe that saves the day. Hall’s sweet cornbread recipe is just right for baking on a cold winter day.
Shubh Diwali! by Chitra Soundar and Charlene Chua
Joyful and illuminating, Shubh Diwali! is the perfect introduction to Diwali. As a family prepares to celebrate, they remind each other of the significance of the traditions, decorations, and stories. For this festival of lights, create beautiful paper diyas to light the way.
Charlotte and the Nutcracker by Charlotte Nebres and Alea Marley
If your family is familiar with the story of The Nutcracker, this book about one special dancer is perfect. When Charlotte is chosen as New York City Ballet’s first Black Marie in the Nutcracker, she’s so excited! With help of her friends, family, and training, Charlotte is ready to take the stage. Use these cute repurposed toilet paper tubes to tell the story, and talk about Charlotte’s journey as a dancer.
Binny’s Diwali by Thrity Umrigar and Nidhi Chanani
During the festival of lights, families share delicious sweets while enjoying the sights and sounds. With the help of her teacher, Binny is able to share her favorite holiday with her classmates. Celebrate the sweetness of Diwali with fragrant cardamom play-dough. Transform the simple dough into (decoration only!) a tray of Diwali sweets.
Arturo and the Navidad Birds by Anne Broyles and KE Lewis
Share family stories just like Arturo and his grandma and you work on these cute pinecone animals together. This bilingual book explores the precious relationship between grandmother and grandchild as they work together and talk through difficult things. Find more discussion topics and activities on Broyles’s website.
All-Of-A-Kind Family Hanukkah by Emily Jenkins and Paul O. Zelinsky
Preparing for Hanukkah can mean a lot of things. For the All-of-a-Kind Family, it means making their favorite latkes together while their neighbors set up their menorahs. This cozy book is full of family traditions and warm feelings. Learn how to make latkes to share while you talk about your own holiday traditions.
Rachel’s Christmas Boat by Sophie Labelle
When Lulu’s dad tells her the big news, Rachel is worried that all Dad’s gifts have the wrong gift tags on them. Just like Lulu, get creative with some easy watercolor gift tags that are adaptable to everyone in your family.
The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper and Carson Ellis
This timeless poem in book form celebrates the darkness and change of Winter Solstice, with joy and beauty. Bring that winter beauty into your home with a winter solstice sun catcher.
Make your craft supply list and check it twice! Then, visit our holiday archives for reading inspiration, quizzes, and more!