25 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS BOOKS
When our children were young, we started a family tradition of reading twenty four Christmas books in December, one book a day starting on December 1st. At first, we didn’t own 24 Christmas books, so we would check them out from the library. I wrapped up each book and labeled them 1-24. Every night, the children would go to the basket of books, find the book of the day, unwrap it and we would sit and read it together. My kids, now, too old for this, have fond memories of Christmas stories read by the fire during the Christmas season, and each of them have their favorites. I thought I would share some of these Christmas stories with you:
1. Mr. Willabee’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry (1963) (for ages 3-8)
This was the book that we selected for the day in December when we put up the Christmas tree. This is an adorable and amusing story about a Christmas tree that is far too tall for Mr. Willabee’s mansion and chopped off at the top. Find out what happens to the discarded Christmas tree top. Crawl through the walls of the large house to visit other creatures Christmas celebration. First published with black and white ink drawings, with splashes of vibrant green, it was later republished in full-color but with the trademark ink drawings still center stage. (Other picture books about Christmas trees I would recommend are Eve Bunting’s Night Tree and Gloria Houston’s The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree.)
2. Red Ranger Came Calling by Berkeley Breathed (1997) (for ages 6-9)
No Christmas library collection should be without this amazing book! This hilarious story is set during the Great Depression. Breathed, author/artist of the cartoon strip “Bloom County,” retells an autobiographical story his father told every Christmas Eve. A young boy is sent to his aunt’s house on a remote island for Christmas. There, he encounters a very ancient, white-bearded man who claims to be the real Santa, a retired Santa. When he asks Santa to prove himself by granting him a bicycle he knows his aunt or parents cannot afford, the little boy is in for a big surprise. Breathes quirky and imaginative full-color illustrations are a treasure not to be missed. This story will intrigue, puzzle and delight readers of all ages. This was my son’s favorite and is sure to rekindle the Christmas spirit in any cynic.
3. The Mitten by Jan Brett (1996) (for ages 1-3 – but my kids requested this book into elementary school)
A great tale for preschool children and a visual treat for everyone, this is a Ukrainian tale of a young boy, whose grandmother knits him snow white mittens. Despite her warnings, Niccki drops the mitten in the snow. An assortment of animals crawl into the mitten, one by one, a mole, then a rabbit, a hedgehog, an owl, a badger, a fox, a bear and, finally, a mouse. There they snuggle in, together until the mouse tickles the bear’s nose. Brett detailed paintings with ornate borders and side illustrations are sure to delight and bring smiles. A great book your preschooler can “read” on their own as well. Jan Brett has many other great Christmas story books (see my librarything booklist) including one we often read and loved The Trouble with Trolls (for ages 5+ as the trolls may be a bit frightening to younger children)
4. Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck (illustrated by Mark Buehner)(1955) (for ages 4-8) This is the moving story of a young boy, who rises in the middle of the night to do all the farm chores for his dad as a special Christmas gift to him. Pearl Buck is the author of over a hundred books, both for adults and children (she is also a TCK!) For her works, she has won both the Pulitzer and the Nobel prize. This short story was originally published in 1955, but only recently made into a picture book (2002) with the rich and expressive full-color artwork of Mark Buehner. I love the illustration where the father embraces his son, his face glowing with love and pride.
5. The Clown of God by Tomie dePaola (1978) (for ages 4-7)
This is one of my family’s favorites. My kids were enraptured when my husband would belt out, the jugglers act:
“First the red ball, then the orange, next the yellow, blue, green, violet, around and around they went until they looked like a rainbow…And finally the sun in the heavens!, cried Giovanni, the gold ball flew up, higher and higher.”
This retelling of a French legend about an old, itinerant juggler who presents his talent to the Christ Child, will capture your child’s imagination. The story is set in Sorento, Italy and illustrated by Tomie dePaola captures well with vibrant colors of the country, and the energy of the juggler. A beautiful reminder that God accepts our gifts, great or small, when they are offered to Him, with a sincere heart and a desire to please Him.
7. Nine Days to Christmas by Mary Hall Ets (author and illustrator) and Aurora Labastida (co-author) (1959) (for ages 4+)
Published in 1959 and winner of the 1960 Caldecott medal, Nine Days to Christmas is the tale of Ceci and her first posada – a Christmas festival in Mexico. Join five-year old Ceci as she takes in all the sights and sounds of the celebration. Although thirty years old, this multicultural book offers children a refreshing glimpse of Christmas in other parts of the world. (For another Christmas book highlighting Hispanic culture and traditions, I also recommend Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto (1996)(for ages 4-8)
8. The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden, illustrated by Barbara Cooney (1957)(for ages 5-8)
From Rumer Godden, one of UK most distinguished children’s author and illustrated by a Caldecott medal winner, comes a heart-warming Christmas story of wishes come true. An essential Christmas tale every little girl will love and cherish for years to come.(Another recommended Christmas book about wishes coming true is The Puppy Who Wanted a Boy by Jane Thayer, illustrated by Lisa McCue.
9. The Living Nativity – The Story of Saint Francis and the Christmas Manger by David & Helen Haidle (1998) (for ages 9-12)
Focusing on the life of Saint Francis, this story, set in Greccio, Italy in the twelth century, tells the tale of one Christmas night as a small village heads up to the hills to see a reenactment of the Christmas story, complete with assortment animals, borrowed from the local village farm. A great story to recapture the true meaning of why Jesus came and dwelt among us.
10. The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry (1862) (illustrated by P.J. Lynch – 2008)(for ages 10+)
A classic, this story is about sacrificial giving between a newly married couple. O. Henry (William Sydney Porter) was a master storyteller. P.J. Lynch has won the Kate Greenaway Medal twice and her art in this book captures the depth of human emotion. I also love Lisbeth Zwerger’s illustrations of this story.
11. Silent Night The Story and It’s Song by Margaret Hodges and illustrated by Tim Ladwig – (1997) (for ages 5+)
Picture books such as this one, is a great way to introduce children to the stories behind hymns. This is the retelling of how a part time organist, and a young priest, composed Silent Night on Christmas Eve 1818 after the organ breaks down in a small village in Austria. The artwork in shades or gold and brown by Tim Ladwig is a perfect pairing to this beautiful story. Another book which compliments this book well is Christmas in the Trenches by John McCutcheon and illustrated by Henry Sorensen (2006)(for ages 6 and up) – A true World War I stories of how British soldiers and German soldiers, facing one another, climbed out of their trenches one Christmas night and join together in singing Silent Night.
12. Papa Panov’s Special Day (adapted from the original by Leo Tolstoy, retold by Mig Holden and illustrated by Nathalie Vilain) (for ages 6-12+)
Ok, ok, I know I keep saying that this book or that book is a favorite, but this book IS definitely at the top of my list. Let me put it this way: if I could only pick one Christmas book to read, this one would be it. There are several versions, but I love the text and simple illustrations of this edition. An old, lonely shoemaker closes up his shop on Christmas Eve in a small village in Russia, makes a pot of coffee and reads the Christmas story. He falls asleep in his chair, and Jesus appears to him in a dream saying:
“You have been wishing that you could see me, Papa Panov.” he said kindly, “then look for me tomorrow. It will be Christmas Day and I will visit you. But look carefully, for I shall not tell you who I am.”
What happens that next Christmas morning is a beautiful reminder, through story, of what God calls us to do for “the least of these”.
13. Annika’s Secret Wish by Beverley Lewis, illustrated by Pamela Querin (1999)(ages 6-9)
As Annika and her family gather to celebrate Christmas together, Annika makes a choice to put her needs and her desires aside to bring happiness and hope to her younger brother. Based on Scandinavian Christmas traditions.
14. Jacob’s Gift by Max Lucado (illustrated by Robert Hunt)(1998) (for ages 3-7)
Max Lucado has written a number of Christmas books for children. In this book, a young carpenter apprentice who is rather absent-minded and laughed at by the other apprentices, works long into the night to finish a wood-working project that will be inspected by a visiting carpenter named Joseph. (also recommended by Max Lucado, The Crippled Lamb)
15. Angela and the Baby Jesus by Frank McCourt (illustrated by Raul Colon) (2007) (for ages 5+)
From the author of Angela’s Ashes, a Pulitzer price winning memoir, comes a tender Christmas story of a little girl and her family in a small town in Ireland. Six-year old Angela, concerned that the naked baby Jesus in the church nativity scene will catch cold, finds a way to smuggle him out of the church and into her room to warm him under her blankets. Raul Colon creates a nostalgic and spiritual dimension wiith low lights and dark scenes, and the glow of candles and traditional street lights. A European setting reminds me of Christmas’ in France.
16. An Orange for Frankie by Patricia Pollaco (2004) (for ages 6-9)
The Stowell family is a large family of 9, living on a farm in the Midwest during the Great Depression. This family is not wealthy, but they make do and often share what they have with those who travel on the trains near their farm. The story centers around Frankie, the youngest son, who is devastated when he looses his Christmas orange, that his dad brings home every Christmas for each one of the children. The family come up with a plan and surprise Frankie that Christmas morning. A moving story that brings home the value of honesty, family and the spirit of giving. This is another amazing book taken from the author’s own childhood, beautifully illustrated in Pollaco’s unique watercolor and pencil style.
17. Tree of Cranes by Allen Say – (1991) (for ages 4-8)
Set in Japan, a young boy and his mother dig up a small tree, decorate it with origami cranes and light candles as the mother recalls to her son her Christmas memories from her years in California.
18. Peter Spier’s Christmas!by Peter Spier (1983) (for ages 3-7)
All the childhood wonders and delights of the Christmas season, from Christmas shopping to after Christmas clean-up, are laid out in lavish detail in this worldless book by Caldecott winning author Peter Spier. If your family has experienced the visual world of Peter Spier in Noah’s Ark, you will definitely want to add this one to your Christmas collection. This is my favorite illustration from the book
19. Brave Irene by William Steig (1986) (for ages 3-8+)
This was one of my daugther Laura’s favorite. Mrs. Bobbins, Irene’s mother, is a dressmaker. She just finished a beautiful ballgown for the Duchess and needs to deliver it, but is too ill with the flu to take it to her. Irene tucks her mom into bed and bundles up against the cold and sets out in the snow with the gown in a box bigger than she is. She battles fierce wind and heavy snow with determination, love for her mother and bravery as her allies. Beautifully written and illustrated, another great book by award winning William Steig. Although a Christmas story, this one will be a year-round favorite.
20. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg (Caldecott medal) (1985) (for ages 4-7+)
What child can resist a train ride on the Polar Express to visit the North Pole? A magical and enchanting tale, beautifully illustrated with muted night scenes, light only penetrating the darkness from the window of the train and the light of the moon. Winner of the Caldecott medal.
21. The Legend of the Candy Cane by Lori Walburg (illustrated by James Bernardin)
(1997) (for ages 4-7) –
What is Christmas without candy and sugary concoctions? Set in early America, a small town is a abuzz with the coming of a new store and everyone tries to guess what store it will be. When young Lucy offers to help unpack the crates, she is in for a big surprise: boxes and boxes of candies of all sorts. Mr. Sonneis opening a candy store! As she helps unpack, Mr. Sonne shares with Lucy the legend behind the candy cane and encourages her to share the story throughout the town.
22. Santa Comes To Little House by Laura Ingalls Wilder (lllustrated by Renee Graef)(published as a picture book in 2001)(for ages 4 and up)
This is an excerpt from Little House on the Prairie, with full-page colored illustrations. It is a great addition to your Christmas books for all Little House on the Prairie lovers. A fun story about pioneer days and a Christmas centered around the simple pleasures of family, friends, stories and music.
23. The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski, illustrated by P.J. Lynch (1995)(for ages 6-9)
This story, published in 1995, has quickly become a Christmas classic. Set in early America, an old, bitter woodcarver, is asked by a young widow and her son to carve a nativity set for them. Although he grumbles and announces that: “Christmas is pish-posh” he accepts the job. As the nativity set is carved piece by piece, Jonathan is transformed by the story of Jesus birth, as well as the love and kindness shown by the young boy and her mother, who come often to watch him carve. P.J. Lynch’s realistic illustrations in shades of wood grain, highlighting the creche carvings by the light of the fire, and the hands and faces of the carver will enrapture child and adult alike. The minister’s wife, Brenda, at the church we attend is an amazing storyteller and this is one of her favorites, which she has read at our Christmas Eve service.
24. The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clark Moore (1823)
Christmas Eve would not be complete without a reading of this Christmas Classic as a family. “Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…” According to tradition, Clement Clark Moore wrote this poem for his family in 1823, never intending to publish it (and actually didn’t acknowledge authorship until 1937). It is now one of the most famous, most read and most cherished Christmas stories of all times. There have been literally hundreds of illustrators who have interpreted this poem visually. I have several different versions on librarything and continue to snatch up as many copies as I can 😀 to make this one available to you). I do have several copies of Jan Brett’s Night Before Christmas if you enjoy her unique artwork.
25. The Christmas Story – retold and illustrated by Carol Heyer – (1991)(for all ages)
On Christmas eve, we would also take time to read the ultimate Christmas story, retold for us in the Gospels, and the reason we celebrate the Christmas season, both as families and as a community of faith around the world.
There are so many beautiful illustrated versions of the Christmas story for children. I could write a whole blog post just on this topic (maybe I will), but for now, I recommend this version. From Gabriel’s visit to Mary to their flight to Egypt, the author’s retelling stays true to the biblical text while making it accessible to young children. Her bright illustrations in acrylic paint and using live models brings the characters and events home to children. Others I would recommend are Mary’s First Christmas by Walter Wangerin, Jr., Silent Night by Susan Jeffers, and for something completely fresh and unexpected The Nativity by Julie Vivas.
I’ve added a few chapter books for your young (or older) readers who might enjoy quiet reading time of their own. These also are great read-aloud books for December. There are, of course, many, many more great Christmas novels. I am only scratching the surface, but scratching away, here are few of my favorites:
The Miracle on 34th Street by Valentine Davies – (I like the edition illustrated by Tomie de Paola)
This is a Christmas classic, originally published in 1947. Everyone has seen the movie versions, but the book is not as widely read in recent years. Yes, the book is even better! This makes a great read-aloud as an add-on to the picture books. After you finish reading it, enjoy the movie version and compare the two.
“Reading the funny, touching fantasy may become a Yuletide habit like watching the movie.”—Publishers Weekly
The Twenty Four Days Before Christmas by Madeleine L’Engle (for ages 8-12)
If you have not read any of the Austen family stories by Madeleine L’Engle, this one is a great place to start. In this novel, seven year old Vicki walks us through her families advent traditions, the anticipated coming of a new family member, and her role in the church play. This is another great read-aloud, centered around the chaos and joys of a loving family.
The Silent Bells by William MacKellar (illustrations by Ted Lewin) (1978) (for ages 8-12)
A young swiss girl longs to hear the Cathedral bells but she knows that only a very special gift brought to the nativitiy creche will break the long years of silence on that Christmas eve. An old legend beautifully retold.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson (1972) (for ages 8-12)
The Herdmans are the town bullies who cheat, steal and smoke cigars. When they all show up for the try-outs for the church Christmas pageant and all get starring roles, to everyone’s surprise, it turns out to be the best Christmas pageant the community has ever had. This classic, humorous story is a great read-aloud, and is sure to become a favorite.
A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas (1954) (for ages 8+)
This edition with black and white illustrations by Fritz Eichenberg was published in 1969. Written by the Welsh poet, this was originally written for the radio and Dylan Thomas recorded it for BBC in 1952 before it was published as a book. This is a short story, a retelling from Dylan’s own childhood of Christmas’ past.
Most of the above titles are available to you if you live overseas. You will find a complete list of all the Christmas books on my librarything.com book list, under the tag “Christmas”.
I would love to hear if you and your family have favorites you would like to share with us.