Article, Book Resources

Bookshelf Bests: Holiday and Winter Themes (Grades K–5)

  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5

With visions of holidays and vacation fun dancing in everyone's head, you'll have an easier time keeping your students focused on learning if you choose read-alouds and literature circle books that revolve around December celebrations and winter activities. These books fit right in. Many of them also offer opportunities to discuss overarching themes of kindness, compassion, and generosity.

Grades K–2

 
Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett
In this enchanting reworking of The Gingerbread Man, a clever and thoughtful boy catches a quick-on-his-feet gingerbread baby by baking him a cozy gingerbread house of his own. The happily-ever-after fun continues in the recently published sequel, Gingerbread Friends. Jan Brett's exquisitely detailed illustrations enhance the charm of this well-told tale. For more winter stories written and illustrated by this award-winning author, check out The Mitten, The Hat, and The Wild Christmas Reindeer. You'll also find this math-related lesson plan and guide to Teaching With Favorite Jan Brett Books helpful.   

 
The Trees of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polacco
Get set for a holiday journey back to the author's childhood in rural Michigan, where her multigenerational family is preparing for Hanukkah. Babushka makes candles, Grampa carves small wooden animals, Momma cooks, and Trisha shines the menorah. When the family learns their Christian neighbors are too ill to prepare for Christmas, they are inspired to help. They extend holiday cheer by delivering small trees adorned with Grampa's carved toys to their sick friends, along with baskets packed with potato latkes and roast chicken. Use this teaching plan to trigger discussions about multicultural celebrations and the gift of friendship.

The Baker's Dozen: A Saint Nicholas Tale by Aaron Shepard
Written by a professional storyteller, this captivating colonial tale begs to be read aloud. The plot revolves around an honest but stingy baker who prides himself on giving his customers "exactly what they paid for — not more and not less." When an old woman wrapped in a long black shawl comes in for a dozen of his famous Saint Nicholas cookies, he flat-out refuses to give her the one extra cookie she requests. Her mysterious response, "Fall again, mount again, learn how to count again!" leads to hard times for the baker. "His bread rose too high or not at all. His pies were sour or too sweet. His cakes crumbled or were chewy. His cookies were burnt or doughy." A yuletide dream helps him to realize that, perhaps, generosity has its rewards. He returns to his shop and begins a custom of doling out an extra cookie with each dozen, which explains how 13 became a baker's dozen. Upper elementary students will enjoy performing the Reader's Theater edition available at the author's Web site.

 
Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story by Angela Shelf Medearis
Seven quarrelsome Ashanti brothers must learn to work together or lose their inheritance. The challenge in their father's will: turn seven spools of thread into gold by morning. Wondrously, they do just that by weaving a beautiful multicolored cloth that catches the eye of the king's treasurer. The brothers spread the wealth by teaching villagers their special weaving techniques, and everyone prospers and lives in harmony. The seven principles of Kwanzaa — unity, self-determination, collective work/responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith — are carefully woven through the story.

Grades 3–5

Josefina's Surprise: A Christmas Story by Valerie Tripp
As Christmas approaches, 9-year-old Josefina is still coping with the death of her Mamá. She finds comfort in the companionship of her aunt and sisters, the restoration of a tattered altar cloth, and her village's Las Posadas parade. Set in New Mexico during the 1820s, Josefina's Surprise opens the door for classroom conversations about Hispanic culture, customs, and history. Of course, devoted fans of the American Girls Collections will enjoy reading this and other Josefina stories independently. Other books in the American Girls Collection that focus on holidays and winter months include Kirsten's Surprise by Janet Shaw, Changes for Molly and Changes for Kit, both by Valerie Tripp, and Changes for Addy by Connie Porter. These American Girl selections also connect to social studies lessons on the frontier, World War II, the Depression, and the Civil War era.

 
The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson
Although this Newbery Honor book was published in 1958 and takes place in Paris, there are many ways to connect this tale of growing friendship between a homeless man and a fatherless family to contemporary life in the United States. When the book opens, Armand, a "cranky old tramp" who disdains children, finds three impoverished siblings have invaded his living space under a bridge. They were evicted by the landlady because their working mother was unable to keep up with the rent. Upon hearing their plight, Armand responds: "You've put me out of my home just like that landlady did to you." Suzy, the oldest, apologetically suggests a way to share the space and a begrudging, grandfatherly friendship develops. On a visit to Father Christmas, the children ask for a real home, which even Father Christmas doesn't think he can deliver. Armand, however, finds a way to make that wish come true and a nontraditional family forms. Discussion guide available.

 
The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes
Another classic that still rings true today if you substitute mean girls and cyber bullies for the classmates who tease Wanda Petronski, a poor immigrant Polish girl who wears the same blue dress to school every day. In a bid for acceptance, Wanda announces she has 100 colorful dresses lined up in her closet. No one believes her, and her announcement only serves to fuel the taunting and increase her isolation. As the holidays near, the girls come to realize Wanda was telling the truth — she's a gifted artist who has designed 100 dresses on paper. But by then they have missed the opportunity for friendship, and Wanda's family has moved to a more tolerant community. The storyline offers numerous opportunities to discuss bullying, bystanders, and forgiveness. A Newbery Honor fiction title based on experiences in the author's childhood.

The Last Holiday Concert by Andrew Clements
Roles have been reversed in Mr. Meinert's 6th-grade music class. In a moment of frustration due to unruly students and his impending layoff, Mr. Meinert delegates responsibility for the holiday concert to the class. Hart Evans, a popular mischief-maker, has been chosen chorus director in an election that takes him completely by surprise. At first, he does an admirable job, leading classmates to create an event that's uniquely their own. However, factions soon emerge, and the concert seems doomed until a theme of peace and hope brings unity. An entertaining and, at times, touching story with a bittersweet ending, The Last Holiday Concert is a timely and topical holiday choice.

  • Subjects:
    Curriculum Development, Literature, Literature Appreciation, Kindness and Compassion, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Themes, New Teacher Resources, Teacher Tips and Strategies
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