Louisiana has a long and wonderful tradition of producing great, high-quality Christmas books for kids.
The state is so unique, with many interesting traditions, that there are plenty of opportunities for authors to highlight our Louisiana approach to the holidays. Among these books are the iconic 1970’s Cajun Night Before Christmas, which was followed by an ornament book and coloring book of the same name, and the more recent Randolph Saves Christmas and Louisiana Night Before Christmas. These books have become a part of countless families’ Christmas traditions.
This year, we have two new entries into the Louisiana canon of children’s Christmas books. First is Bonfires on the Levee, celebrating the Acadian tradition of lightning bonfires to light the way for Papa Noël as he delivers presents to the children of Louisiana. The second is The New Orleans Twelve Days of Christmas, based on the classic holiday song, but with a uniquely New Orleans theme.
Bonfires on the Levee is a great children’s introduction to the annual custom of “lighting the way” for Papa Noël. Winter festivals of light occur all over the world and in Louisiana, blazing bonfires dot the Mississippi River levees for miles. This is a counting book for emerging readers and features ten bonfires ready to be counted as rhymes flow across the pages. The vibrant illustrations created in cut paper and foam collage enhance the text, offering little ones further engagement in this soon-to-be-classic holiday tale of lighting the way for Papa Noël along the mighty Mississippi.
Written and illustrated by Johnette Downing, her author’s note sheds light on the origin and function of the communal folk tradition that has sparked the interest of thousands of tourists annually. The book was selected in 2020 to represent the State of Louisiana at the Library of Congress National Book Festival in Washington, D.C., an indicator of how important this book is in capturing a longstanding Louisiana tradition. Downing is a multi-award-winning musician and author who serves up a gumbo of Louisiana roots music and books and also is often called the “Musical Ambassador to Children.” Dedicated to celebrating childhood in Louisiana and beyond, she presents keynotes and workshops for educators globally.
The New Orleans Twelve Days of Christmas was written by New Orleanian Lisa Marie Brown. Ms. Brown has spent her life learning and teaching about the city she loves most. She is a tourism information counselor for the Louisiana State Museum, a licensed city tour guide, a former elementary teacher, and an archivist at the Historic New Orleans Collection.
The New Orleans Twelve Days of Christmas celebrates holiday time in the Crescent City through a fun rendition of the classic holiday song. Each day presents exciting local gifts: there are four ferryboats and two sweet pralines ⎼ there’s even moss hanging from an oak tree! Welcome to the land of second lines, oyster po’boys, shotgun houses, and king cakes. Bright, festive illustrations accompany a lively cast of characters in this playful picture book. After singing this version, appetites will be keen to sample some of the Louisiana delicacies that were just sung about.
While the bonfires on the levee have been canceled this year due to COVID-19 concerns, you and your family can keep the tradition alive by reading about them this year. And singing about New Orleans food and beloved local spots? Well, that’s always timely. I recommend getting both of these books for your kids and for the whole family’s enjoyment.
Scott Campbell is the publisher of Pelican Publishing, a nationally recognized, local publishing company established in 1926. He also is the publisher & founder of River Road Press, a local boutique house of local and regional titles.