Religious holy days inspire children's books galore. They may spotlight the spiritual meaning of these special times or focus on beloved family traditions, particularly for the festive winter holidays of Christmas and Hanukkah and the theologically essential stories of Easter and Passover.

For Christmas, authors and illustrators most often turn to the nativity story—retelling it with imaginative rhymes or prose and artistic depictions of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus—perhaps with Middle Eastern or North African features—as well as kings, the wise men, and animals trekking to Bethlehem to honor their newborn king. Among forthcoming titles is 'Twas the Night, (Tyndale, out now) by William Dean with illustrations by Sarah Lowe. It features the nativity story in Luke 2 in the style of Clement C. Moore's renowned poem A Visit from St. Nicholas, opening with " ’Twas the Night before Christmas, and all through the land/not a creature suspected that God became man." Also riffing on Moore's poem is ‘Twas the Day Before Christmas in Bethlehem Town (Pauline Books, out now) by Leslie Bond Diggins, illustrated by Erin Nielson. Here it is reset with rhymes about a little shepherd boy's act of kindness toward the crowds heading for the manger.

Award-winning poet Nikki Grimes' Lullaby for the King (Beaming Books, out now), with illustrations by Michelle Carlos, features jewel-colored animals joining the angels in a lullaby for baby Jesus. "It's reverential but imaginative," says editor Naomi Krueger. "Readers are tired of seeing overly precious and white depictions of the holy family. They will be moved as the illustrations reveal a Black Mary, Joseph, and a Christ child whio doesn't look like a porcelain doll."

Author Mitali Perkins looks to the heavens in Holy Night and Little Star (WaterBrook, out now), which highlights a tiny twinkler in the sky over Bethlehem that is called upon by "The Maker" to join all the galaxy in welcoming the Christ Child. It's a story the publisher describes as "foreshadowing Jesus's mission of salvation," told with illustrations by Khoa Le.

Interactive approaches are seasonal favorites, often promoted as gifts to keep tots involved in the celebrations. Kregel is taking that direction, prompted by "requests from resellers for new seasonal children’s books,” says publisher Catherine DeVries. They are offering I Spy Christmas by Deborah Lock, illustrated by Samantha Meredith (out now) with search-and-find prompts embedded in the scenes of the nativity story. Kregel’s Christmas Treasury of Illustrated Bible Stories (out now), compiled and edited by Matt Lockhart, follows the holy family from Jesus's birth through his childhood and Includes an Advent Bible reading plan.

Zonderkidz brings an interactive approach as well with two offerings out in October. There's the bestselling author Sally Lloyd-Jones' Jesus Storybook Bible Advent Activity Book, packed with projects and activities. And there is a Read and Rhyme lift-the-flap book, The First Christmas (out now) by prolific children's author Glenys Nellist with illustrator Ag Jatkowska with a tot-friendly tone and simple bright portraits of the holy family.

Paraclete presents an advent book from a best-selling author, Gayle Boss, in a children's version of her book All Creation Waits: The Advent of New Beginnings (out now) starring 25 woodland creatures drawn by illustrator Sharon Spitz, and the publisher also has a flap-book-format for tots, Share the Joy! (out now) written in rhymes by Valerie Ellis and illustrated by Sergio De Giorgi. The theme is showing toddlers how they "can help make Christmas special for others, and share the gift of Jesus's birth with everyone," according to the publisher.

Woodland critters warble away in a board book Joy to the World: A Christmas Song (Running Press Kids, out now) illustrated by Sara Gianassi. School children create their own Christmas play in songwriter and author and songwriter Rory Feek's One Upon the Very First Christmas (Tommy Nelson, out now) with illustrations by Christine Cuddihy. Worthy Kids called on illustrator Madeleine Marie for The First Words of Christmas (out now) as a holy day primer for the littlest listeners.

Many days of celebration

Christmas titles are not alone on bookstores' winter holiday bookshelf. In Running Press Kids' Raaga's Song: A Diwali Story, by author and illustrator Navina Chhabria, an Indian girl, Raaga, learns to be true to herself during the November Hindu holiday, which celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, goodness over evil

Jewish families take delight in Hanukkah, also considered a festival of lights. It marks the ancient time when Jewish fighters, the Maccabees, reclaimed the holy temple from desecration by Greek invaders. They relit the eternal light of faith with a tiny bit of oil that miraculously lasted eight nights. Religiously, the holiday is observed by lighting candles for eight nights.

Among titles coming from Jewish publisher Kar-Ben are two that highlight the holiday's spirit of generosity. In a A Wild, Wild Hanukkah (out now), written and illustrated by Jo Gershman with co-author Bob Strauss, a polar bear and other creatures join the Hanukkah party, eating latkes, the traditional pancakes fried in oil, and playing games like spinning the dreidel, a little top. And the publisher turns to the Hanukkah customs observed by Sephardic Jews of Spanish heritage with The Mexican Dreidel (out now) by authors Linda Elovitz Marshall and Mexican-born writer Ilan Stavans and illustrations by Maria Mola. Visiting his grandmother during Janucá, a little boy makes new friends as they chase spinning tops through their neighborhood and enjoy holiday treats.

Green Bean Press is celebrating with the tops, too, in The Extraordinary Dreidel (Nov.) by Devorah Omer with illustrations by Aviel Basil, featuring children who delight in the gift of a wooden dreidel carved by their uncle, which leads to teaching the Hanukkah story.

EndGame Press author Dreama Archibald follows up her picture book of a mouse celebrating Sabbath with the critter's new adventure in Mouse Malachi Discovers Hanukkah (out now) teaching the origins and history of the holiday. "It marks a period in Jewish history in which the Jewish people overcame an oppressive enemy, who had attempted to stamp out their cultural identity," says managing editor Hope Bolinger.

Celebrating freedom and salvation

Passover and Easter both combine deep religious messages with joyful traditions.

The Easter story is the essence of the Christian message —Christ's death and resurrection opening the doorway to salvation. Paraclete skips the bunnies and candy-egg baskets to go straight to the Bible for a rhyming retelling of holy week in Journey with Jesus, An Easter Story (Jan. 2024) by Ann Ingalls with illustrations by Steliyana Doneva.

At Sophia Institute Press, author Anthony DeStefano and illustrator Richard Cowdrey, tells a new tale of how the cottontail became a symbol of hope. In The Story of the First Easter Bunny (Jan. 2024) a big-eared little bunny shares Jesus's words with his sick mother and witnesses a miracle.

Zonderkidz continues Glenys Nellist's 'Twas series with 'Twas the Season of Lent: Devotions and Stories for the Lenten and Easter Seasons (out now), illustrated by Elena Selivanova. It's geared to guide children and families in reflecting on the life and works of Jesus. And for the youngest Easter celebrants, WorthyKids staff has produced First Words of Easter (Jan. 2024), illustrated by Madeleine Marie.

For Passover, Jewish publisher Intergalactic Afikoman takes an out-of-this-world approach to storytelling with fantasy and sci-fi tales around the retelling of freedom from bondage in Egypt. Brianna Caplan Sayers, who launched the house in 2020, includes "fun and zany" in the press's mission. Their Passover-tied titles such Space Torah: Astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman's Cosmic Mitzvah, (Jan.) by Rachelle Burk with illustrator Craig Orback, features a character who brings Jewish ritual objects into space and reads from the Hebrew Bible including the Exodus story in orbit. Frankenstein's Matzah: A Passover Parody (Jan. 2024), is a sci-fi Seder adventure by K. Marcus with illustrator Sam Loman.

Apples and Honey Press's graphic novel Matzah Man to the Rescue (Mar. 2024) is a playful retelling of Passover practices by Eric Kimmel, five-time winner of the National Jewish Book Award, with illustrator Charlie Fowkes. The Matzah Man is a superhero who manages in a crisis to round up all the symbolic foods used in the Seder meal.

Kalaniot Books, which often highlights the diversity of the Jewish world, plans to publish Passover paperbacks in March 2024 that feature interactive activities displayed on the inside covers. In An Invitation to Passover, by Rabbi Kelly Olitzky and Rabbi Deborah Bodin Cohen with illustrations by Mariia Kolker (Mar. 2024), a girl invites an international array of friends to contribute a touch of their own culture to the Passover observances. And Kalaniot will offer an updated illustrated guidebook to the Passover Seder by Rahel Musleah with illustrations by Louise August. It takes its title, Why on This Night? A Passover Haggadah for Family Celebration, from one of the key moments in the ritual seder meal when a child asks questions designed to prompt the telling of the story.

Kar-Ben offers a story about a bear family celebrating a Seder in Afikotective (Jan. 2024), written and illustrated by Amalia Hoffman. Since a Seder is not over until someone finds a hidden bit of matzah, called the afikokmen, a little bear turns his stuffed animal into a detective who searches for it. In Tyrannosaurus Tsuris (Jan. 2024) by Susan Tarcov, with illustrations by Elissambura, the dinosaurs are worried (tsuris in Yiddish) that guests fear they will be eaten.