This week we’ve been swimming in Christmas books and softly-lit Nativity scenes, crazy reindeer, and all kinds of hot chocolate cravings. It’s been delicious. Every night, my little guy and I plump up the pillow’s on “mommy’s bed” and surround ourselves with stacks of books we’ve found at the library or borrowed from friends-we’ve even plowed through our own little collection again.
All to give you the very best list we can.
I hope you’ll find some old friends, the classics, on this list. And I hope you find some new suggestions that whet your book-loving soul’s appetite for some new reads that sing Noel and ring jingle bells and everything in between. I love variety in my Christmas reading-some serious, real-meaning-of-Christmas kind of books (like The Gift Giver) and some ridiculous doses of holiday silliness (like Merry Christmas, Stinkyface!). I’m sure you’ll have favorites I missed. So, do a girl a favor, and leave a comment at the bottom with more titles to add to my December stack!
Here we go…
1. The Gift Giver by Jacob Haslem and Nick Allen: So there’s that little adage about not judging a book by its cover. But really, this one is stunning. It captures the quiet excitement of Christmas and hints that the mystery of Santa Claus is about to be explored. And it is. But in a way you’ve probably never seen before. It’s an origin story-so we find the backstory of Santa Claus, but more importantly, we’re clued in on the big why. Why he gives gifts. And it all comes back to the original Gift Giver, Jesus Christ. It weaves the symbols of Christmas (the evergreen, the color red, the lights, the star), New Testament scripture, and a little boy’s questions in a really lovely way that will appeal to the whole family.
I loved learning that the inspiration for this book came as one of the author’s was talking with his four-year-old how Santa Claus fits in with the real substance of Christmas. In recounting the experience, Jacob Haslem explains, “The commercialization is fun…but it ultimately leaves us to celebrate two separate and distinct Christmases: the fun Christmas and the Christ Christmas. Thus, The Gift Giver was thought up to meld the two.” So that was the goal. And The Gift Giver does it beautifully.
2. A Lonesome Bear Called “T” by Rick Reinert: This one is a total throwback to my childhood. It’s cute and cartoon-y and the kind of book that makes my two-year-old giggle with delight. It’s all about a bear who wanders out of his family’s hibernation cave one year and discovers Christmas. He returns every year on that special day to watch the celebration from afar until he finally works up the courage to knock on the door and experience it firsthand. And he meets Santa. Pretty good for your first Christmas, right? Your little ones will love this book!
3. The Polar Express by Christ Van Allsburg: Well, it’s a classic for a reason. And no matter how busy I’ve been-including the years I was single and at graduate school writing a thesis-it just isn’t Christmas without sitting down to read this little piece of magic. From the train ride to the pajama dress code to the bell of the believers, it’s absolutely lovely. And I’ve always loved the idea that his evidence-his proof of his incredible journey-was only evidence to those who already believed. I’m guessing this one is on your list too.
4. The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciecjowski: This comes by a recommendation of a friend who is always spot-on with book recommendations. She has impeccable taste! And just let me gush. It’s beautiful. I mentioned that my little guy and I have spent lots of good time cuddled up with these books over the last week. Well, this one kind of lost his attention and he jumped off the bed and ran out of the room and did who knows what. I don’t know, because I couldn’t put this down.
It’s a story of personal redemption and the power Christmas has to transform us. It follows the experience of a woodcarver-hardened and ornery but so gifted in his trade-who is asked to recreate a Nativity set for a widow and her son who have recently moved to the area. In the process of the move, they lost this prized possession and are desperate to have something like it before Christmas day. I don’t want to give too much away. Go find it. Today.
5. Dream Snow by Eric Carle: This is perfect for the toddler in your life. It’s a simple story with interactive pages and farm animals! Eric Carle’s trademark bold colors and paint strokes make it visually captivating, and anyone who aches for snow at Christmastime will appreciate the book. If you and your kiddos love The Hungry Caterpillar (also by Carle) this is for you!
6. When Jesus Was Born in Bethlehem, Paintings by Joseph Brickey: This book doesn’t have a typical author, because all of the text is scripture (mostly Matthew and Luke) that recounts the Christmas story. The verses are accompanied by paintings, and the book is largely broken up based on the different people who make up the Nativity scene. So you’ll have verses about Mary and Gabriel coming to Mary alongside a gorgeous painting of her. It’s a great way to read the scriptural account of the birth of Jesus Christ with kids-because it’s illustrated.
7. Merry Christmas, Stinky Face by Lisa McCourt: We have the board book version of this book, and it’s a hoot! It was one of those things I found on Amazon and the reviews were awesome so we took a $5 risk. And it payed off. Any parent will identify with the nonstop questions posed by the little person in this book. “What if the snow kept falling and falling so much that we couldn’t open our door?” “What if I built a little snowman and he followed me inside but our house was too warm and he started to melt?” “What if Santa’s lips get chapped from all that flying?” And the mama in this book? Her answers are the best. It’s a sweet read that your kids will love. And you’ll love reading it to them.
8. The Story of Santa Claus by Scribbler Elf: This is THE authoritative Santa book. Did you see who the author is?! Not only is it written by Scribbler himself (wink, wink), the illustrations are done by several artistically inclined elves, so each page has a unique look. But really. Any question you could pretty much ever have about Santa. Where he came from. Who the elves are. Why the North Pole. Reindeer? All around the world in one night? It’s all there. And it’s (hands-down) why I believed in Santa for, well, let’s just say, a really long time.
9. Room for a Little One by Martin Waddell: This was one we added to our collection last year, and it’s perfect for little ones. My little guy was (is) totally in love with the whole farm scene, and this brings in that element to the Nativity story. It goes through the animals who might have been there on that night to welcome the Christ child into the world. It’s really lovely.
10. The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell: This is another one I’ve been reading since I was a little girl, and the story just keeps getting better with age. It’s about a rowdy four-year-old angel who struggles to behave “angel-like” in a pristine and proper heaven. As the night approaches when Jesus is to be born, all of the angels prepare gifts for him. The Littlest Angel ends up giving the perfect gift that becomes a symbol of Christmas everywhere. And we’ll leave it at that.
11. The Spirit of Christmas by Nancy Tillman: I’m not sure why this little book makes me cry, but it does. It’s written in rhyming poetry and the illustrations include lines from popular Christmas songs. It details the fun and the frills of the season, but it ends with the substance of it. That Christmas isn’t Christmas without love-without the love of God and without family love. Yep, that’s probably why this one gets me every time.
12. Gathering Christmas by Larry R. and Lisa Gleave Laycock: This another one that comes by recommendation from a good friend who has impeccable book taste. Such good taste that when I couldn’t find it in the entire Salt Lake City library system, I went to Amazon and just bought it. And I’m so glad I did! It’s the story of the progression of a completely magical Christmas tradition of one couple. It’s a quick read, about 90 pages, but it’s guaranteed to get you thinking about the importance and excitement of giving. I really can’t recommend this enough!
“If we are fortunate, our lives will span perhaps 80 Christmases-maybe more, maybe less. Let us be certain that we gather Christmas well this year and always…”
13. The Night Before Christmas: It has to be read at least once, right? Probably on Christmas Eve. I’m personally a fan of Jan Brett’s version-I think everything she touches is magic. But there are some other really fun plays on this classic.
Like Dinosaur’s Night Before Christmas, when Santa’s experiment to recreate a dinosaur as a Christmas Eve gift goes awry and a whole fleet of dinosaurs take over the sleigh. The little people in your life will be crazy about it!
Or Cajun Night Before Christmas, but you’ll have to get the drawl right. Don’t worry, the accent is written in.
This year, I found another version we’ve had all kinds of fun with. It’s Night Before Christmas done by Can You See What I See? So it’s pages of fun searches, the book in activity form, where you see if you can find the 5 penguins or the 3 mugs of hot chocolate. Love this book!
14. Silent Night, Holy Night: The Story of the Christmas Truce As Narrated by Walter Cronkite: This one will probably be more appreciated by your older kids. And you, definitely you. It’s the true story of a Christmas truce that played out at Flanders Field in World War I. It tells of gifts exchanged, services held, and hymns sung by men who were technically enemies. As I look around at this crazy world, this book reminds me that the real gift of Christmas-the Christ child-is promised peace. It’s a story that should be read every year.
15. The Mansion by Henry Van Dyke: I probably love this one for sentimental reasons, as much I love it for the substance of the story. My husband loves this book and reads it every Christmas. One Sunday evening while we were dating, five Decembers ago, we had just finished dinner and he suggested we sit down and read this together. And we did. By the fireplace. Romantic, right?!
Okay, on to the book. This is a quick read with several similarities to A Christmas Carol. I would say the main difference in themes is that A Christmas Carol focuses on a bad man becoming a good man, while The Mansion takes a good man, John Weightman, and examines his journey to become better. John Weightman-an extraordinarily wealthy man who has donated and given much monetary relief to others throughout his life-finds himself in heaven and accompanies several others on their walks to their own mansions. He arrives at his spot, only to find a shanty. “But how have I failed so wretchedly,” he asks, “in all the purpose of my life? What could I have done better? What is it that counts here?”
The answer is the lovely message of The Mansion.
16. The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston: We’ve been reading this one every year since I was a little girl, and I just bought my own copy this year so I can keep doing it with my kids. It’s another story set in wartime, but this one is lighter and your little ones will enjoy it. In this little Appalachian town, each year one family is asked to provide the town church with its Christmas tree. That same year, if that family has a little girl, she gets to play the angel in Christmas Eve play recounting the Nativity story. Ruby’s family is chosen for the coming year, so in the spring she and her father climb the highest nearby mountain to choose the tree they’ll bring down to the village that year. He gets called to the war, and I’ll leave it at that. As a parent, I love this story even more than I did as a little girl. For years I thought of it as a story of a little girl and her dad, now I see the mom as this strong and beautiful figure. Anyway, it’s really lovely and you’ll love having it as part of your collection.
17. The Wild Christmas Reindeer by Jan Brett: Like I said before, I love Jan Brett. And this is a fun read that your little ones will love. Little Teeka is the elf responsible for getting the reindeer in flying-condition this Christmas Eve. (I’ll just add, the reindeer names in this book are awesome! They’re not your usual Dasher and Dancer, Prancer, etc. Try Bramble and Tundra and Windswept…) Teeka seems to believe that only harsh commands and demands will get them ready, but she quickly learns that tenderness and kindness go a long way. The moral of the story will be captured by your toddlers-and I love that it’s a little different than your usual Christmas message.
18. The Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke: Henry Van Dyke does it again. This man must have just oozed Christmas spirit to have written this one and The Mansion. This story recounts another wise man, Artaban, who sees the sign of the star and goes to find the Christ child. In preparation, he sold everything he owned to purchase three precious stones to give to the tiny King. He plans to meet up with the other wise men, presumably those who actually made it and found Jesus, but his meeting is delayed by finding a stranger in need. This basic dilemma occurs over and over again, until Artaban finds himself decades older and without any gift for Christ. You can probably guess the message of the story, but it’s such a poignant reminder this time of year that we serve God as we serve those around us.
19. Christmas Jars by Jason F. Wright or Penny’s Christmas Jar Miracle by Jason F. Wright: Same author, the first is a quick-read chapter book, much like Gathering Christmas. The second is a storybook that takes the same concept but makes it a kid-based story that your little ones will relate to and love. A Christmas Jar is a tradition of giving and goodness that will inspire you to do something kind this year and next year and the year after that… Both books are fictional stories about people who either give or receive a Christmas Jar and the power of Christmas kindness to create miracles in people’s lives.
20. Olivia Helps With Christmas by Ian Falconer: If you’re a fan of any other Olivia books, you’ll love this one! And if you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Olivia yet? Well, you’re in for a real treat. Olivia is quirky and childlike and, like lots of kids you and I know and love, she has the best of intentions that don’t always translate well. Examples: She tries to help by feeding the baby, but feeds him blueberry pie that he promptly throws up. She sets the table for Christmas Eve dinner and even adds a centerpiece. Too bad it’s the top of the Christmas tree that she sawed off. Ha! This simple, nothing-but-fun kind of Christmas book will keep you and your kids giggling.