Kwanzaa in June: When Holidays Fall Out of Favor
Welcome to mid-June. That stellar time of year where librarians everywhere try to decide whether or not it’s too early in the season to put on display their five Fourth of July-related picture books (admit it – it’s true). The way my mind works it logically follows that there’s not better time to start lamenting a strange occurrence that I’ve not seen mentioned much of anywhere. In short: The (children’s) literary death of the out-of-favor holiday.
A librarian of my acquaintance asked me the other day if I could name a fantastic fictional Kwanzaa picture book published in the last two or three years. A cursory look at my library collection and certain facts have to be faced. Aside from Kevin’s Kwanzaa by Lisa Bullard, the number of Kwanzaa books published in the last few years has sunk like a proverbial stone. There was L’il Rabbit’s Kwanzaa by Donna L. Washington, published in 2010 and Kwanzaa by Sheila Anderson in the same year, but by and large the rush of Kwanzaa books we saw coming out in the 90s has turned from a gush to a trickle. What gives?
The fact of the matter is that sometimes holidays stand out and are in the public’s favor, and sometimes they lie forgotten. Consider Three King’s Day. Here in New York it can be quite the occasion. Yet aside from a DVD of Dora Celebrates Three Kings Day produced in 2008 (of which we own one single solitary copy) the most recent book in my system is Three Kings Day: A Celebration at Christmastime by Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith from 2004. Unlike Kwanzaa, Three Kings Day never had a massive cultural push, but it’s hard not to wonder if after producing Day of the Dead books some publishers figure they’ve covered their Latino holidays and don’t have to go any further.
Then there are the Muslim holidays. We’ve actually been seeing a very nice, slow and steady increase in the number of those holiday books each and every year. Libraries shelve them in their holiday sections though we wait for some of these holidays to be taught in the schools.
Solstice, a time of year that ties in very nicely with the seasons and other Core Curriculum topics, is a time of year we often field many questions about, but if it weren’t for Wendy Pfeffer’s 2010 The Longest Day: Celebrating the Summer Solstice we wouldn’t have almost anything published in the last 3 years.
So what am I trying to say? I have no idea! Mostly I’m interested in what makes a holiday hip one year and utterly forgotten another. Even as Kwanzaa fell out of favor we started seeing an influx of 100th Day of School titles on our shelves. Are there only so many holidays a school can handle before it’s accused of just partying all the time? And where do the Jewish holidays fit in all this? I can’t be the only library in the States that needs more and more Purim books every year.
Food for thought.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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