Many families, it seems, have a tradition of reading books around Christmas. Sometimes that means 24 wrapped books under the tree that you unwrap one at a time each day leading up to Christmas. Sometims that’s a 12 days before Christmas thing, or a handful of special favorites.
In my house growing up, there were some years we read from a collection of stories a neighbor had assembled and bound for us in a little binder as a gift, but I wouldn’t say this was one of our die-hard traditions.
I’ve thought about it for my kids as they grow up–I love the idea of kids unwrapping a special Christmas book to read each night–but I haven’t found enough Christmas books my kids find engaging and fun for their ages. And who wants to read something that’s just okay?
As I’ve read and hunted and done some (not-so-)intense field-testing (in the form of reading books to my children), here are a few Christmas books we love right now…
I’ll preface this by saying that if you’re not reading Polar Express to your tiny ones at Christmas, you’re really missing out. I didn’t include that one in my list because it seems obvious, but to be clear, both my children really like that one (Milo because of the amazing train and Sophie because of the story). This year it’s Polar Express’s 30 year anniversary. Can you believe it?
1. Dream Snow. In our minds, Eric Carle can do no wrong. This book features a Santa lookalike farmer who falls asleep and dreams everything is covered in snow. The illustrations are beautiful as always, but they also come with transparency pages that overlay snow onto the drawings. You can uncover the snow-covered animals one by one, and it’s even got a secret button in the back you can push to play a twinkly song at the end. Two thumbs up.
2. Is it Christmas Yet? We just love bear books, and this one was cozy. Big Bear is trying to finish Christmas preparations and little Teddy just can’t WAIT. He not-so-helpfully helps and together they cobble together a really wonderful Christmas. Charming illustrations.
3. The Knights Before Christmas. For the little adventure-seeker in your house, this twist on the favorite carries the same rhythm and tempo as the traditional Night Before Christmas story, but with a lot of funny (and pun-ny) add-ins as the knights try to defend their castle against and unknown invader. Except that jolly invader is Santa himself. Watch Santa penetrate the knight’s best defenses and both sides win the battle in this very excellent holiday tale.
4. Gingerbread Pirates. This has been a really different year for me Christmas books-wise and I totally credit my adventure-loving children. Both my kids loved this story of gingerbread cookie pirates who have to navigate Santa, find their ship, and figure out what this Christmas business is all about.
5. Mortimer’s Christmas Manger. This is Sophie’s favorite this year. It’s a sweet story of a mouse who finds a great house just his size to move into. The problem is, there’s all these little statues inside! No matter how many times Mortimer moves them out, someone keeps putting them back in. Then, one night, Mortimer hears the story of who these little statues really are. It’s a great little discussion for the Nativity story. We really enjoyed it.
6. Samurai Santa. No one is more surprised than I am that this book made the list. It was a surprise find–after Gingerbread Pirates and Knights Before Christmas, this one kept popping up. This was in the same family as our other Christmas adventure books, and Sophie just loved it. Like, a lot. We typically keep all our (many) library books in the living room book area so they don’t get lost, but Sophie begged and begged us to let her take this one up to her room. We let her.
The main character, a boy named Yukio just wants to have an epic snowball fight, but all the other ninjas don’t want Santa to think they’ve been bad this year. So, Yukio decides to set a trap for Santa, raising the intruder alarm when he arrives. What happens? Well, let’s just say everyone’s Christmas wishes are granted.
7. Room for a Little One. This is another religious one. It’s simple and flowy. If you’re looking for more ways to bring the Christmas story into your home, this one is a good tool.
8. Little Blue Truck’s Christmas. We’re big time Blue Truck fans, and this was one of our favorites last year. The story follows the same pattern as the other Little Blue Truck books but with some fun holiday add-ins. Plus, the book lights up at the end, which more or less made my children’s lives.
9. Olivia Helps with Christmas. One thing I love about Olivia books is that they’re enjoyable on a few levels. My kids love the simple story, and Michael and I get a kick out of the little details (the parents’ exasperation, the “Ski Gstaad” poster in Olivia’s bedroom) in the background. Definitely a good one.
10. Bear Stays Up for Christmas. I said earlier that we love bear books, and I meant it. This is part of one of our favorite picture book series and it’s just as charming as the others. Simple rhymes, cozy illustrations, and just the right thing to read while sipping a mug of cocoa.
11. Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree. I hadn’t read this till last year, but I just LOVED it. It’s a story of pass-along Christmas cheer as each character finds someone to share a Christmas tree with. The drawings are very nostalgic and my kids really liked this story.
12. Red Ranger Came Calling. This is my very favorite Christmas book of all time, and I don’t say that lightly. I actually laugh every time I read it. The illustrations are that good. The book takes place during the Great Depression, when the main character (a boy who’s sort of lost the magic of life) is sent to stay with is Aunt Violet. Aunt Vi does her best to make the season special, but Red isn’t having any of it. Spying some suspicious behavior near a neighbor’s house, our little hero decides to investigate. What he finds is a tired old man with a lot of elvish friends. Does little Red dare let himself believe? Even those with the hardest of holiday hearts will soften a bit at this mostly-true Christmas tale with a surprising (and very satisfying) photo at the end.
What are YOUR favorite Christmas books?
p.s. if you’re going to go the book-a-day route, Simple As That has these cute printable advent tags that would be perfect!