Since Cyber Monday, I have been on a quest to find children’s book that positively reflect Christmas in the context of African American cultures, children, and families. It started out rough but ended well.
Since today is officially the second day of Kwanzaa, the day of Kujichagulia (self-determination)— my favorite of the Nguzo Saba–– it seems appropriate to share my other favorite books from my Cyber Monday adventure today.
I have never followed the American Girl series. I think it’s because of those scary-lookin dolls that they sell. I knew of Addy’s Stories but have never followed the work of Connie Porter. That changed this Cyber Monday as I began to take a closer look at the series, especially the one that focuses on Christmas, Addy’s Surprise. I love the way the little girl and her mother are described in the cold winter of Philadelphia, as well as Addy’s concern for her family who is still enslaved. Christmas here is, obviously, not about toys and things, but all about the passions and joy of memory and care. I have not finished the entire series yet, but plan to do so.
Waiting for Christmas
This is a beautifully illustrated book by Jan Spivey Gilchrist and written by Monica Greenfield (daughter of noted author, Eloise Greenfield). It is the poem-story of a brother and sister on the days and nights before Christmas: playing in the snow, sitting with family at the fireplace, decorating a tree, and finally being able to wish everyone a merry day. I enjoyed the short poem-story in its brilliant simplicity along with the beautiful renderings of this sweet little boy and girl.
Mim’s Christmas Jam
The name, Pinkney, looms large in African American children’s literature. Jerry Pinkney, noted watercolor artist/illustrator, is the father of Brian Pinkney, whose dynamic use of scratchboard has become his own signature style in children’s literature. Andrea, an editor-writer, and Brian married and have created a virtual canon of children’s literature. Mim”s Christmas Jam is one noted example. The story begins with a young brother and sister, Saraleen and Royce, fondly remembering their Christmas traditions with their father who will not be with them to celebrate. Their father must work in New York City to build the subway, rough and dangerous work that offers no vacation. They send their father his favorite treat in the world, their mother’s special Christmas jam (a recipe is included in the book). The jam is so sweet that even their father’s bosses are inclined to give workers the day off for Christmas and with that, Saraleen and Royce, receive their Christmas wish: the return of their father.
Christmas Makes Me Think
Last, but not least, is Tony Medina’s Christmas Makes Me Think. Medina captures the way a little boy experiences all of the wonders of Christmas: the joys and contradictions. The little boy, the narrator and source of consciousness, offers a compelling viewpoint. He cherishes helping his grandmother bake a chocolate cake and seeing the tree and presents in his home. But he also questions the desire to cut down trees and kill animals to serve on the table. As he thinks about new gifts and the things he already has, he wants us to notice the homeless and poor who have nothing while he has excess. Christmas makes him think… about other people, not just himself. It is a wonderful message told from the voice of a young black boy who is one of the most believable characters I have seen!