About the Holiday
Today’s holiday is celebrating it’s 50th anniversary this year. Kwanzaa was established in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach as a way to unite African-Americans as a community. Derived from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, which translates as “first fruits,” Kwanzaa incorporates aspects of several African harvest celebrations. The seven-day holiday is observed from December 26 through January 1, and as the little boy in today’s book relates, offers excitement, togetherness, and meaningful reflection.
Written by Lisa Bullard | Illustrated by Constanza Basaluzzo
Surrounded by red, green, yellow, and black paper and his craft supplies, Kevin is excited to be making decorations for his family’s Kwanzaa celebration. “Mom says it celebrates our African American culture,” Kevin says. Together, Kevin and his mom set the table. First, his mom lays down a mat. Then Kevin adds the candleholder and the special Kwanzaa candles while his mom adds a bowl of fruit and vegetables. “There’s an ear of corn for each kid,” Kevin explains. “Next comes the unity cup. Didn’t I do a great job decorating it? We put out presents too! Now we’re ready for Kwanzaa,” he adds with pride.
On the first night of Kwanzaa, Kevin’s family gathers at the table as Kevin’s grandfather lights the first candle—the black candle in the center of the candleholder. Each night another candle will be lit. Kevin can’t wait for his turn on the last night. After the candle lighting, “Grandpa explains the Kwanzaa word for the first day. Every day has a special word in Swahili,” Kevin says. The first word is Umoja, which means unity, or “sticking together as a group.”
Grandpa explains that “sticking together is why Kwanzaa began.” The holiday was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966, who wanted African Americans to “feel proud of their shared African background.” Each night another family member lights candles, so Kevin watches closely to be ready for his turn. On the third night, Kevin’s mom lights the candles, and the principle word is Ujima or “collective work and responsibility.” The family talks “about helping one another solve problems”—like Kevin’s “messy bedroom problem.” The fifth night belongs to Kevin’s brother, and the family discusses their goals to help the community. Kevin says that he has two goals: to become a teacher and to light the Kwanzaa candles.
The sixth night is Kevin’s favorite. His family attends a big party, and because the day’s word is Kuumba, which means “creativity,” there will be homemade decorations, presents, and drums. Kevin loves to “boom, boom with the drummers” and “stomp, stomp with the dancers” and “eat and eat!” At last, it is the seventh day of Kwanzaa! Kevin is excited to open his presents, but he says he “likes lighting the candles even more!” Grandpa tells Kevin his special word Imani means “faith,” and that he “should believe in our people every day.” Kevin agrees, thinking “that will be like living Kwanzaa all year long!”
Each two-page spread of Kevin’s Kwanzaa also presents facts about the holiday. Readers learn how the holiday began, where it is celebrated, and that it incorporates parts of African harvest festivals. They discover that the one black candle, three red candles, and three green candles are lit in a special order and learn the Nguzo Saba or “Seven Principles” of Kwanzaa. Shared activities, such as drinking from the unity cup, are also discussed.
Lisa Bullard’s story, told by a young boy proud to be celebrating Kwanzaa and lighting the candles for the first time, is an engaging introduction to the holiday. Through the narrator’s enthusiasm as he prepares for and takes part in the family celebrations, Bullard reveals the principles and traditions that make Kwanzaa so meaningful. Kids will also appreciate the sentiments expressed in the gentle bits of humor. Divided into short chapters, Kevin’s Kwanzaa allows young readers to feel more grown up—just as Kevin does as he joins the family in lighting the candles.
Through her vibrant illustrations, Constanza Basaluzzo brings the traditions and ceremonies of Kwanzaa to life for children. As the family gathers each night, the joy and pride they feel is clearly depicted. Images of the decorations, clothing, and homemade items as well as portrayals of the seven principles and the founding of Kwanzaa make the concepts easily understood.
Ages 4 – 7
Millbrook Press, Lerner Books, 2013 | ISBN 978-0761385882
Discover more about Lisa Bullard and her books as well as fun activities on her website!
Kwanzaa Word Search
Picture Book Review