My Favorite Holiday Book of the Year
December 2, 2021 § Leave a comment
With two posts remaining, I’m once again hitting pause on my Gift Guide, this time to tell you about my favorite holiday book of the year. It’s rare to find a December holiday-themed book that speaks to Christians and Jews, much less one inspired by true events. Trust me: you do not want to miss this. You might not get through it without shedding a tear. You definitely won’t get through it without getting chills. If there was ever a story to conjure up the true spirit of the holiday season—while also reminding us of the meaning of community—this is it.
With words by Lee Wind and art by the esteemed Paul O. Zelinsky (don’t forget this holiday gem), Red and Green and Blue and White (Ages 5-10; affiliate link) is a nod to the real events of December 1993 in Billings, Montana. It’s the story of two best friends, who live across the street from one another—one in a house decked out in red and green, the other in a house lit up in blue and white—and an anti-Semitic act that threatens to diminish the latter. It’s as much about what happens when we won’t be silenced, as what happens when we stand beside our friends and rally support from an entire community.
It’s about what it looks like when love wins.
“On a block dressed up in Red and Green, one house shone Blue and White.” I love this opener, because it names and reflects what many of our children notice while driving around in the month of December: the red-and-green houses far outnumber the blue-and-white ones. Chanukah may not hold the same significance within the Jewish calendar as Christmas does for Christians, but it is just as beloved by the children who celebrate it. As a child who celebrated Christmas, I always wondered about the blue-and-white homes in my neighborhood. I always wondered if they felt eclipsed by the sea of red and green.
We are introduced to Isaac and Teresa, two best friends and neighbors, each decorating their house for the December holiday they celebrate.
We get a window into how this special friendship has played out over the years, with Isaac’s love of poetry, Teresa’s love of art, and their shared loves for building snowmen, reading books, making up games, and enjoying sprinkles-loaded cookies together.
When the sun goes down, Isaac and Teresa look out their respective windows and into each other’s, admiring the colors glowing from within.
And then one night, while everyone is sleeping, a stone is launched through Isaac’s window, extinguishing his family’s menorah. We don’t need to know the identity of the hand that throws the stone. What matters is the glass on the floor, the hushed voices of adults and authorities talking, and the way Isaac feels, small and confused and afraid.
What Isaac does know is that his family needs to light their menorah again. “If they didn’t, Isaac knew it would be like hiding they were Jewish. That didn’t feel right.” And the next night, when Teresa looks out her window and sees her friend’s house glowing blue and white once more, she “let out a breath she hadn’t known she was holding.”
Taking her cue from Isaac’s bravery, Teresa does something brave with the tools she knows best: she draws a picture of a menorah, with the words “For Isaac,” and tapes it to her window. When Isaac sees it, he matches her art with a poem of his own.
Across the next eight pages, the solidarity displayed by both children starts a chain reaction within the community. Friends, schools, libraries, stores, restaurants, and clubs produce menorah drawings to hang in their windows. TV channels and newspapers pick up the story. From more than 10,000 windows comes a celebration of, in the words of Isaac’s poem: “Christmas Tree/and Menorah Light/Red and green and blue and white/Stronger together/Shining bright!”
It is not lost on me that, as beautiful as this story is, we need a far greater number of Chanukah stories that are not about discrimination and heartbreak. And I promise to highlight those, too. (Here’s a link to a lovely 2020 one I featured on Instagram last year.)
May we stand together this holiday season. A very Happy Chanukah to those who celebrate, and a very happy start to Advent for others. And ditto to those who celebrate Kwanza or any of the other religious or cultural holidays this month!
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Book published and gifted by Levine Querido. All opinions are my own. As an Amazon Associate I earn a small kickback from qualifying purchases through the links above, although I prefer we shop local and support our communities when we can. If you’re in the Alexandria area, please consider shopping at the beautiful Old Town Books, where I assist with the kids’ buying!
Tagged: activism, anti-Semitism in children's books, art as a theme in children's stories, children's books celebrating inclusion, Christmas, community, friendship in children's stories, Hanukkah, Jewish characters in children's literature, Lee Wind, Paul O. Zelinsky, picture book, poetry
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