KIT 2023 Holiday Book List: Showcasing Diversity & Disability

As the holiday season approaches, KIT is thrilled to foster a sense of belonging and highlight the values of diversity and disability inclusion with our curated Holiday 2023 Book List.

This collection is tailored to benefit young readers, aiming to empower them with stories that mirror the vastness of our world and the diversity within it. We are eager for you to explore this literary treasure trove, finding tales that not only reflect a variety of experiences, but also underscore the significance of even the smallest gestures of kindness and acceptance.

From the reflective lights of Hanukkah and the vibrant traditions of Kwanzaa, Las Posadas and Diwali to the joyous celebrations of Christmas and Fall Festivals, our curated book list aims to illuminate the diverse ways we come together with family, friends, and loved ones to cherish these special times.

Join KIT in a literary journey that traverses cultures and traditions, offering stories that resonate with the universal themes of love, understanding, disability inclusion and community. 

Children’s Books (5 – 8 years old)

A festive illustrated book cover for "Daddy Christmas D& Hanukkah Mama" by Selina Alko. It has a light green background, featuring a male figure with orange hair, wearing an orange sweater and brown plaid pants next to some hanging Christmas ornaments. The first is blue circular with the letter D, then a pink oval ornament with the letter A, then a red round ornaments iwth white polka dots with the letter D, then a green oval ornament with the letter D, and a round, striped ornament with the letter Y. The ornaments spell out "Daddy." The Word Christmas is in script below the ornaments that spell Daddy. Then below that is 8 Hanukkah blue candles with each flame having a letter that spells out Hanukkah and below it spells Mama in script with a woman with brown hair, wearing a blue sweater and a brown skirt. In the lower left hand side is an illustrated little girl with curly brown hair and a pink sweater admiring the words and people in the illustration.

“Daddy Christmas & Hanukkah Mama” Written and Illustrated by Selina Alko

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“Daddy Christmas & Hanukkah Mama” is a heartwarming celebration of a blended family that honors both Christmas and Hanukkah traditions. 

In this delightful story, Sadie shares the joys of her unique holiday experience, where gelt glitters beneath the Christmas tree, candy canes adorn the menorah, and family songs blend stories of the Maccabees with the nativity. 

Alko’s vibrant illustrations and festive narrative beautifully capture the spirit of a household with diverse traditions, offering an ideal holiday read for families who embrace both of these joyous celebrations.

Red book cover with black binding. White center with black and white illustrated young reindeer with shining red nose. Title of book is "Rudolph th eRed-Nosed Reindeer"

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” by Robert L. May, Illustrated by Denver Gillen

Image Source: Good Reads

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is a cherished children’s holiday classic by Robert L. May, a copywriter working at Chicago’s Montgomery Ward & Co., who wrote a holiday story at the request of his employer. Almost two and a half million copies of the little tale about a reindeer with a shiny red nose were given away to all the children who visited Montgomery Ward stores that year. Originally written in 1939 and illustrated by Denver Gillen, this timeless story has been delighting both children and adults for more than 70 years and has been translated into several different languages boasting a worldwide audience.

Although the narrative is filled with enchanting holiday themes, it draws inspiration from May’s own life experiences. Rudolph’s journey, from being excluded to ultimately finding redemption and inclusion, echoes the storyline of “The Ugly Duckling,” a tale that profoundly resonated with May. 

In his later writings, May revealed how this story struck a chord with him as he had navigated similar challenges growing up as a “small” and “shy” boy who “had known what it was like to be an underdog.”

Festive bookcover with yellow background and an illustration of a loving mother and father embracing their daughter in front of a window. Outside the window is a snowy scene with footprints in the snow. Colorful book title is "Soulful Holidays" and written by Ciara L. Hill.

“Soulful Holidays: An Inclusive Rhyming Story Celebrating the Joys of Christmas and Kwanzaa” by Ciara Hill, Illustrated by Christian Krabbe

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“Soulful Holidays: An Inclusive Rhyming Story Celebrating the Joys of Christmas and Kwanzaa” intertwines the spirit of Christmas and Kwanzaa. This beautifully illustrated family book invites readers to snuggle up and enjoy its easy-to-follow, memorable rhymes. Hill’s story brings to life the festive traditions, foods, songs, and cultural decorations of both holidays, allowing children and families worldwide to immerse themselves in the magic of Christmas and the rich cultural essence of Kwanzaa. 

Book cover for "Carlos, Light the Farolito" by Jean Ciavonne and illustrated by Donna Clair. Illustration features a young boy with dark brown hair wearing a whilte long-sleeved shirt lighting a lantern.

“Carlos, Light the Farolito” by Jean Ciavonne, Illustrated by Donna Clair

Image Source: Reading Rockets

“Carlos, Light the Farolito” is set during the festive Christmas Eve celebration of Las Posadas. The young protagonist, Carlos, is faced with an unexpected challenge when he realizes that his parents and grandfather, who traditionally plays the Innkeeper, are not home as the procession of neighbors and friends arrives. Overwhelmed and shy, Carlos must find the courage to step into his grandfather’s role, a task that seems daunting to him.

This book is not just a tale for the Christmas season; it’s a universal story of personal growth, bravery, and the warmth of community. The vibrant illustrations complement the narrative, bringing to life the spirit and traditions of Las Posadas.

Illustrated book cover for "Deepak's Diwali" by Divya Karwal and Doreen Lang. Dark yellow background with young boy in white shirt holding a lantern and clouds of light.

“Deepak’s Diwali (Bilingual Diverse Children’s Book)” by Divya Karwal, Illustrated by Doreen Lang

Image Source: Language Lizard

“Deepak’s Diwali” is a children’s book that brings a modern twist to the traditional Diwali celebration. The story centers around Deepak, who is experiencing what he believes to be the worst Diwali ever, without sparklers or fairy lights. 

To add to his woes, he’s convinced that Ravana, the demon king, is after him. Part of the “Celebration” series, this book beautifully blends contemporary storytelling with elements of Hindu mythology. The warm and engaging narrative, accompanied by Doreen Lang’s beautiful illustrations, makes this book not just a story about Diwali but also an exploration of cultural traditions. Including recipes and activities, it offers a hands-on learning experience, making it a wonderful resource for children to learn about and celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights, in a fun and interactive way.

Books for Middle Graders (8 – 12 years old)

“My Basmati Bat Mitzvah” by Paula J. Freedman 

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“My Basmati Bat Mitzvah” is an excellent read for Hanukkah as it resonates with themes of faith, identity, and celebration that are central to the holiday. 

Tara Feinstein’s journey of preparing for her bat mitzvah while embracing her dual heritage of Indian and Jewish cultures mirrors the Hanukkah spirit of understanding and appreciating one’s heritage and faith. Her experiences of balancing diverse cultural traditions, just like the harmonious coexistence of different lights on a menorah, make this story a meaningful reflection on identity and belonging during the Festival of Lights.

“The Christmasaurus Series” by Tom Fletcher, Illustrated by Shane Devries

 Image Source: Good Reads

“The Christmasaurus” is a beloved children’s book series. The first book introduces readers to a magical world where Christmas spirit, adventure, and friendship take center stage. The story revolves around a young boy named William Trundle who uses a wheelchair, and loves two things: Christmas and dinosaurs. 

William’s world turns magical when he encounters the Christmasaurus, a lively and unique dinosaur with a heart full of holiday cheer. The Christmasaurus is not just any dinosaur, he is the only one of his kind, and he has a special connection to Santa Claus and the North Pole.

Together, William and the Christmasaurus embark on a thrilling and heartwarming adventure, discovering the true meaning of friendship and the magic of Christmas along the way. They face challenges, solve problems, and learn valuable life lessons, all while spreading joy and holiday cheer.

“Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah,” by Laurie Ann Thompson, Illustrated by Sean Qualls

Image Source: Social Justice Books

“Emmanuel’s Dream” is a powerful and inspiring picture book that beautifully aligns with the principles of Kwanzaa. It tells the story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, a Ghanaian athlete and disability rights activist, who overcame challenges due to a physical disability. 

His determination to participate in sports and his extraordinary 400-mile cycling journey across Ghana exemplify the Kwanzaa principles of self-determination (Kujichagulia) and collective work and responsibility (Ujima). Emmanuel’s journey of changing perceptions and his ongoing efforts to support others with disabilities through the “Emmanuel Education Fund” embody the spirit of Kwanzaa, celebrating unity, purpose, and collective progress.

“Moon Festival” by Ching Yeung Russell, Illustrated by Christopher Zhong-Yuan Zhang

Image Source: Biblio 

“Moon Festival” is a picture book that brings to life the vibrant traditions of the Chinese Moon Festival. Through the eyes of a young girl living with her grandmother and longing to reunite with her parents, the story captures the essence of this ancient festival with joy and hope. 

This book is an excellent read during the Fall Festival season, as it coincides with the time of the Moon Festival, offering young readers a glimpse into a culturally rich celebration that honors family, unity, and the beauty of the Autumn moon. It’s a wonderful way to explore and appreciate the diverse ways communities around the world celebrate the changing of the seasons.

“ChupaCarter” by George Lopez, Illusrtrated by Ryan Calejo

Image Source: Penguin Random House

“ChupaCarter” is a humor-filled and imaginative contemporary fantasy inspired by Latinx folklore. Actor and comedian George Lopez introduces readers to twelve-year-old Jorge’s magical adventure. Sent to live with his grandparents and struggling to fit in at his new school, Jorge feels lonely and out of place. 

His situation takes a turn when he befriends Carter, who is not just any ordinary kid but a young chupacabra, a creature from folklore known for its fearsome reputation. Despite the chupacabra’s notoriety, Carter proves to be kind-hearted, a good listener, and surprisingly fashionable.

This book is a fantastic addition to a Las Posadas reading list, as it blends elements of Latin American culture and folklore with a modern twist. It offers young readers a glimpse into Latinx traditions through an engaging, relatable narrative and a perspective that celebrates cultural heritage.

“National Geographic Kids Holidays Around the World Series: Celebrate Diwali with Sweets, Lights and Fireworks” by Deborah Heiligman

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“Celebrate Diwali with Sweets, Lights, and Fireworks” by Deborah Heiligman is an informative and culturally-rich addition to the “Holidays Around the World” series presented by National Geographic Kids.

The book is filled with vibrant photographs and engaging text that vividly describe how Diwali is celebrated in different parts of the world. It’s an excellent educational resource that goes beyond just narrating the festival’s customs; it includes recipes for traditional Diwali sweets, a card game, a helpful glossary, and recommendations for additional books and websites for further exploration, perfect for readers who are curious about cultural traditions and for those celebrating Diwali.

Books for Teens and Young Adults (12 – 18+ years old)

“The Power of Light: Eight Stories for Hanukkah” by Nobel Prize Winner Isaac Bashevis Singer, Illustrated by Irene Lieblich

Image Source: Publisher’s Weekly

“The Power of Light: Eight Stories for Hanukkah” features a collection of stories that captures the essence of Hanukkah through a tapestry of rich narratives. Each story in this compilation beautifully illuminates the themes of faith, miracle, and the enduring human spirit, resonating with the festival’s message of light triumphing over darkness. 

Singer’s masterful storytelling, combined with Lieblich’s evocative illustrations, brings to life tales that range from historical to fantastical, offering readers of all ages a profound and enchanting exploration of Jewish tradition and folklore during the Festival of Lights.

“The Silent Stars Go By” by Sally Nicholls

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“The Silent Stars Go By” written by an author with dyslexia, is a historical novel set during World War I and the Christmas of 1919. The story centers on Margot, a young mother and vicar’s daughter, who faces immense personal turmoil and societal pressures. Her life dramatically changes when her fiancé, Harry, goes missing in action, leaving her with a burdensome secret that could tarnish her family’s reputation.

Nicholls’ novel is not just a tale of love and hope, but also a deep exploration of the challenges faced by women during this era, particularly in maintaining societal expectations while grappling with personal crises. 

“Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story” by Angela Shelf Medearis, Illustrated by Daniel Minter

Image Source: Albert Whitman & Co.

“Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story” is a tale that embodies the core principles of Kwanzaa. Set in an African village, the story follows seven brothers known for their incessant fighting. The turning point comes with their father’s death, leaving behind a will that challenges them to transform seven spools of thread into gold by sundown, or face life as beggars. 

This original folktale skillfully weaves the Nguzo Saba, or the “seven principles” of Kwanzaa, into its narrative, demonstrating the power of unity, creativity, and cooperation. Accompanied by Daniel Minter’s magnificent linoleum block prints, this book is not only a celebration of Kwanzaa but also a timeless lesson on the importance of family and community. It’s a cherished tale, lauded by critics and recognized with multiple awards, making it an ideal read for Kwanzaa and beyond.

“Fish in a Tree” by Lynda Mullaly Hunt 

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“Fish in a Tree” is a novel that resonates deeply with the themes of understanding, empathy, and overcoming challenges, aligning perfectly with the spirit of the holiday season. The story centers around Ally, a girl with dyslexia who feels out of place in school until a perceptive teacher, Mr. Daniels, recognizes her struggles. 

Through his support, Ally embarks on a journey of self-discovery, learning to embrace her unique way of thinking and overcoming the stigma attached to her learning difficulty. This book celebrates the power of finding strength in oneself and being grateful for those who help us along the way, a poignant reminder, especially during the holidays, of the importance of acknowledging and appreciating individual differences.

“Wild and Crooked” by Leah Thomas

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“Wild and Crooked”, a wonderful addition to your fall festival reading list, explores themes of identity, truth, and the enduring power of friendship. The story follows Kalyn Spence, whose life is forever linked to a violent crime committed by her father. Returning to Samsboro under a new identity, she seeks to escape the judgment of those who cannot forget her father’s actions.

Gus Peake, another central character, is known in Samsboro either as the son of a murder victim or as the “disabled kid” due to his cerebral palsy. Craving recognition for his true self, Gus’s life changes when he forms a deep friendship with Kalyn. 

Their bond, built on sincerity and mutual understanding, is tested when the tragic and intertwined histories of their families resurface, challenging the accepted truths of the town. As Kalyn and Gus find themselves in the midst of a national uproar, they confront the legacy of lies they have inherited and seek to forge their own paths.

“Breathe and Count Back from Ten” by Natalia Sylvester

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“Breathe and Count Back from Ten” follows Verónica, a Peruvian-American teen with hip dysplasia. As she auditions to become a mermaid at a Florida theme park, Verónica navigates the complexities of her first romantic relationship and learns to feel comfortable in her own body. The story takes a dramatic turn as Verónica discovers hidden truths about her health, forcing her to reevaluate her independence and the control she has over her life.

Verónica’s journey and her struggle to navigate cultural expectations and personal desires reflects the experience of many Latinx individuals, making this novel a powerful and relatable story during Las Posadas, a festival that honors cultural heritage and the strength of the human spirit.

“Vanished” by Sheela Chari

Image Source: The Book Smugglers

“Vanished” by Sheela Chari is a particularly fitting read for Diwali, as it delves into the themes of cultural identity and connection to one’s heritage. Neela’s journey to find her veena, a symbol of her East Indian roots, parallels the Diwali celebration of illuminating one’s life with culture and tradition. As she embarks on a quest that takes her to India, the story encapsulates the spirit of Diwali—discovering and embracing one’s cultural identity amidst the broader global tapestry. 

This makes “Vanished” an ideal book for teen and young adult readers, offering a story of self-discovery and cultural reconnection.

Discover & Share Stories of Inclusion with KIT this Holiday Season!

Our wish for everyone this holiday season is one of discovery and connection. As you share this holiday book list with the young minds around you, we hope they spark conversations, foster empathy, and open hearts to the wonder of our world’s celebrations. 

We’re excited to hear which stories become new favorites in your family, school, or community, enriching your holiday experiences with their inclusive and celebratory narratives.

In the meantime, if you need more help with building or improving disability inclusion efforts in your program or classroom, contact KIT and our experienced staff will work with you to create a program that meets your specific needs!