Lisa’s Book List #5: Books that Celebrate the Spirit of Giving

“There he searched out the poor and down-hearted, never happier than when he was giving something away.”

— Jeff Brumbeau, The Quiltmaker’s Gift

(A version of this article first appeared in Kingston Neighbours magazine, December, 2020.)

December means celebration! Many religions and cultures have holidays this month: Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa. And while traditions differ, these holidays share many similarities: family get-togethers, special foods, and gift-giving. But 2020 has been difficult. COVID-19 jeopardized many people’s health and economic well-being. Many have lost jobs. Some have lost loved ones. Travel and large social gatherings remain restricted. Many are alone and finding it hard to survive, let alone celebrate with family, food, or gifts. 

Canadians normally give about $17 billion dollars to charities each year, but CBC reports that giving is likely going to be down by approximately 37 percent this year because of the hardship from the COVID-19 pandemic. While it’s important to preserve the joy of the season for kids, it’s also important to teach them about charitable giving — this year more than ever. 

If you’re able, consider donating to local food, toy or clothing drives. Not only does it help organizers, it also models for our kids our civic duty to look after one other. Additionally, instead of just reading holiday classics like ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas, consider also reading stories about people in need to nurture children’s social empathy. Here are some books I recommend to help kids reflect on the value of giving:

Bagels from Benny, Aubrey Davis – Benny tries to thank God by leaving bagels at the synagogue every Friday, only to discover a homeless man is eating them.

Crenshaw, Katherine Applegate (novel) – Jackson’s imaginary friend reappears when he starts worrying his family may have to live in their minivan again.

Great Joy, Kate DiCamillo – While preparing for a Christmas concert, Frances worries about the organ grinder and his monkey living outside.

If the World Were a Village, David J. Smith – If the world were a village of 100 people, 30 are hungry some or all of the time, while 17 are severely undernourished. A great factbook illustrating the inequities in our global village.

Lily and the Paper Man, Rebecca Upjohn – Lily helps a homeless man when the weather turns colder.

Mama Panya’s Pancakes, Mary and Rich Chamberlain – A Kenyan tale about sharing, even when there’s little to share; a wonderful example of the Kwanzaa principle of ujima, collective responsibility.

An Orange for Frankie, Patricia Polacco – During the Depression, Frankie gives his Christmas sweater to a hobo and loses his precious Christmas orange.

The Quiltmaker’s Gift, Jeff Brumbeau – A greedy king learns about the joy of giving from a humble quiltmaker.

The Quiltmaker’s Journey, Jeff Brumbeau –  The prequel to The Quiltmaker’s Gift, the story tells how the quiltmaker resolved to help the poor.

Stay, Bobbie Pyron (novel) – Piper meets a street dog when her family moves into a homeless shelter.

Those Shoes, Maribeth Boelts – Jeremy longs for a pair of high tops that everyone else is wearing.

What Is Given From The Heart, Patricia McKissack – After his father dies, James Otis and his mother give to a family who lost everything in a fire. 

Chag Sameach, Merry Christmas, Habari Gani and Happy New Year! May 2021 be filled with health, peace, and of course, books!

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