Sharing this post on social media? Use this description to keep it accessible: [Image description: Illustration from ‘Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa,’ by Donna L. Washington & Shane W. Evans. Granna Rabbit snuggles a drowsy Li’l Rabbit as the candles on the kinara are extinguished in trails of smoke (presumably by wind, as kinara candles are intended to stay lit until burned out).]
Where are all the Kwanzaa books for kids?
Even if you don’t celebrate Kwanzaa, it’s a really cool, strategically-created modern holiday worth learning about. There are 7 days, and each day consists of a reflection and an action. For those of you who celebrate Ramadan, Diwali, and the Lunar New Year, you may recognize some common reflections and traditions.
I started to curate a quick-reference Kwanzaa reading list, but most of my favorites aren’t available on Bookshop. Also – I just haven’t been able to find many engaging books about it. Most of them are didactic, intended for one-time reads in a classroom as an introduction to Kwanzaa for non-practicing kids.
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There are few Kwanzaa books ’cause white folks control the publishing industry
While many kids who actively celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah get stories using the holiday as a background for fun adventures, there’s just… none of that for Kwanzaa. Seriously – do a search! It’s all non-fiction, covers of families smiling and lighting candles on a kinara as they drag us through the days. (Don’t be fooled by the cover of Kevin’s Kwanzaa – sure, at least they’re dancing, but it reads like a mayo sandwich.)
Even our family favorite, Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa, falls prey to a bit too much repetition and some weird illustration issues – such as a kinara blown out before the candles have had a chance to burn down, as is the tradition. The cute illustrations pull us in, but the story won’t hold kids’ attention enough to ask for a second read.
Gatekeepers only publish books intended for white audiences
Typically, schools and libraries have deals to only order books from large publishers. So it’s not that hard to detective-out why all most accessible Kwanzaa stories are intro stories intended, or at least accessible to, an outsider’s (re: white) gaze.
In the bazillion books about Hanukkah and Christmas, the author assumes readers have a foundational understanding of God, Santa, the Macabees, and so on. So they build on that foundation, given space to create joyful, dramatic, and adventurous holiday stories. These are next-level, futurism stories, created for kids to have micro-adventures within the sphere of holiday traditions they are well acquainted with.
But where aer those stories for kids who celebrate Kwanzaa? The holiday is over 34 years old. Where are the stories for second- and third-generation families who are well past the need for a primer?
We could fix this pretty easily
Librarians, publishers, agents, educators, editors, publishers, store-owners, and so-on: Start boosting #OwnVoices authors who celebrate Kwanzaa, and give them space to create books of adventure and validation.
Learn more about how white gatekeeping works in the publishing industry.
Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa* has the most engaging illustrations and gives younger readers some motivation to endure the more dreary, didactic books.
Seven Spools of Thread is the only one with an actual story that the kids like reading. The bickering brothers is perfect for siblings in the 5+ range who are prone to squabbling and competing with a message about collective action.
*Content warning for folks with a history of body violation: there is a scene with strong echos to the cover of My Brother Charlie (the book I hate most on the planet!) – where Granna Rabbit surprises Li’l Rabbit with a hug. Unlike in Charlie, it’s not explicitly a non-consensual assault, and the hug looks welcome in the context of the story. I have…so many issues with this illustrator’s embrace of ableism & orientalism, but I do recommend many of Evans’s books that don’t use targeted people as footstools. Li’L Rabbit’s story is cute enough (and I’m desperate enough for an engaging book), that we’re best off just choking down the hints of Charlie.
Non-Fiction, Didactic Stories
Together for Kwanzaa – Beautiful illustrations, and the author tries to couch a lot of facts into a story. But the kids know this is just a pile of facts under the guise of a story, and they’re not falling for it. If you know enough to make up your own story for kids on the fly, the book is worth it for the illustrations.
Seven Candles for Kwanzaa is out of print, but has the most thorough rundown on the significance of each day. It’s well written and interesting, but honestly, my kids resent sitting through bland didactic books like this. So we treat it more as a reference text, and is a little bit redundant if you have Together for Kwanzaa on hand.
You may also like
- Kwanzaa Stories For Kids (where we add more good finds as they come along)
- Children’s Books By Brilliant Black Women
- Kids Books Centering Black Futures
- Winter Favorites
- Kids Books about Collective Action
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