Kid Picks: 12 Top Christmas Books
Holiday decorating is always a big deal in my home. The Sunday after Thanksgiving, we start dragging all of the boxes out of storage to begin assembling the sights, scents, and sounds of Christmas throughout our house. There's the Christmas tree, of course, with all of its smaller, accompanying boxes of ornaments. There's the Nativity set with each figure carefully wrapped. There's the wreath for the front door. There's the Advent calendar shaped like a gingerbread house with 25 little doors to hide candy behind for each day. There's the ceramic tabletop tree which spins and plays holiday music in a never-ending loop. However, there's one box that brings a certain joy like no other in our home: the box of Christmas books.
It's just a plain cardboard box, but inside is the collection of stories we've been gathering since my children were infants. When this box comes out, my kids stop whatever else they're doing to start flipping through the pages. Even the oldest board books get another look for old times' sake as well as the newer picture and chapter books which were added over the past few years. Some are old classics; some are new titles. They are all an important part of how my family celebrates the holidays.
Here are some of our favorites! The first six I'll highlight all focus on the religious reason for the season, the Nativity Story.
Who is Coming to Our House? by Joseph Slate, illustrated by Ashley Wolff. This story of the birth of Jesus is told from the perspective of the animals in the stable on that first Christmas. The gentle, rhyming words describe how they prepare for their very special guests. This book is wonderful for very young children.
Room for a Little One by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Jason Cockcroft. This picture book also features animals. This time, a Kind Ox welcomes other animal neighbors in from the cold night air to share his warm stable. Then they discover they have room for one more. This book is also lovely for young children.
Stable in Bethlehem: A Christmas Counting Book by Joy Hulme, illustrated by Dan Andreasen. This simple rhyming book brings the Nativity Story to life while counting down from 12 doves to 1 tiny baby in a manger. The story reinforces counting skills while telling its timeless tale and is a good choice for preschoolers.
Humphrey's First Christmas by Carol Heyer, illustrated by Carla Mercer-Meyer. This picture book is one of my family's all-time favorites. Humphrey is a camel in a caravan who only cares about one thing-- getting his blanket back. The story is told from Humphrey's hilarious perspective as it becomes clear that this camel is part of the Three Wise Men's pilgrimage to Bethlehem. Humphrey learns there are more important things than a blanket. Good for all ages.
God Gave us Christmas by Lisa Tawn Bergren, illustrated by David Hohn. This beautifully illustrated picture book teaches about the Christmas Story and God's love through the eyes of a little polar bear cub. Like any young one, Little Cub has many questions, and her patient Mama sets off to show her the signs of God's goodness all around us. A good choice for preschoolers and young children.
December by Eve Bunting, illustrated by David Diaz. This simply-told tale by a Caldecott award-winning author introduces us to a young boy and his mother as they celebrate Christmas in their small house made of cardboard with a tiny tree, two cookies, and a picture of an angel on their wall. Bunting captures the voice of the little boy with such innocence and grace as he discovers that even though they don't have much, they have enough to share with the stranger at their door. This picture book is a bit longer and more subtle in its messaging so is perhaps best for slightly older children and family read alouds.
The next six books focus on the secular aspects of the holidays with a few appearances by the big man himself, Santa Claus.
That's Not My Reindeer by Fiona Watt. This board book is part of the Usborne Touchy-Feely Series. Little ones can touch different textures on each brightly-colored page as the reader searches for and finds just the right reindeer for Christmas Eve. This is a great holiday book for babies and toddlers.
Winter Wonderland: Sleigh Bells Ring, Are You Listening? illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers, words by Dick Smith, music by Felix Bernard. This is a picture book version of the classic song by the same name. The text of the book is the lyrics of this holiday standard with delightful pictures of little woodland creatures as they "frolic and play" in a snowy forest. You can read it out loud or sing along! The last page holds the sheet music for the song. This book is good for young children and anyone familiar with the famous tune.
Llama Llama, Holiday Drama by Anna Dewdney. Our family loves Llama Llama! In this Christmas-themed picture book, Llama Llama is very, very excited for the holidays. The rhyming story builds the anticipation until it's all too much for a little llama, and his mama helps him cope with all of the holiday hype. This is a funny and sweet book for preschoolers and young children.
Pete the Cat Saves Christmas by Eric Litwin, illustrated by James Dean. Here's another holiday-themed book from a popular series. With his characteristic rockin' attitude, Pete the Cat fills in for Santa at the last minute and saves Christmas like only Pete can! This groovy picture book is great for preschoolers and young children.
The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore, illustrated by Tom Browning. Yes, this is perhaps the most famous Santa story of them all. Moore's timeless poem of Santa's visit to a home where not a creature was stirring is a beloved holiday tradition in many families. You can find numerous books and retellings of the classic. I love this version with Browning's stunning illustrations, especially of the jolly old elf. We read this one aloud as a family every Christmas Eve.
Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs. This is not your typical Santa! In this book, written and illustrated by the author of the celebrated classic, The Snowman, Santa is a bit more grumpy than jolly. Told in a graphic-novel style with minimal text, Santa awakens from dreams of a beach vacation to begin his long journey of delivering gifts. And it's not always easy! This book was originally published in Britain in 1973 so I had to explain a few things to my kids (like what rooftop TV antennas are and the significance of a flag flying over Buckingham Palace), but otherwise they really enjoyed this twist on the traditional Santa tale. I think older kids will follow this story more easily than very young children. Also, please note that a couple illustrations appear to show Santa enjoying an "adult beverage" so just be aware when deciding if this book is right for your family.
There are so many wonderful Christmas books available, these are just a few of the ones we hold dear. I always like to reread Dickens' classic A Christmas Carol if I have the time, or I watch the Muppets movie version! What Christmas books have become cherished traditions in your family? Best wishes for further reading!