Counting down the days to Christmas is a common theme with many variations and traditions, like Advent calendars. When I was a child we would make a chain out of paper loops as a countdown in December, ripping off a link every day until Christmas. The anticipation for children can be overwhelming, and one way to ward off their constant questions is to provide a similar countdown, dotted with surprises.
At Biblio, we firmly believe there are no better presents than books!
This year, I’m combining this love of books, a season of sharing, and the creation of new traditions by wrapping up 24 separate Christmas books and letting my daughter open one up to enjoy before bed every night during December as a way to welcome the comfort and joy of the season all month long.
I’ve compiled a list of some of the best Christmas books for the season. Some of these are sure to bring back sentimental memories of your own childhood, but there are modern titles so you can build new ones as well.
This list is best for children under the age of ten. As they get older, you can start sharing classics like E. T. A. Hoffmans’ Nutcracker with illustrations by Maurice Sendak, The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry, Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol, and Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales.
One of the most recognizable modern Christmas stories, the tale of How the Grinch Stole Christmas from the Who’s in Who-ville is a must for every child’s list.
A young boy catches the Polar Express to the North Pole and is given a special gift by Santa himself in this Christmas classic adapted into an Oscar-nominated film in 2004.
This wordless picture book about a snowman that comes to life doesn’t actually include a Christmas celebration, but the television film of The Snowman from 1982 continues to be an annual tradition for many families across the UK during the holiday season.
In Little Blue Truck’s Christmas, the Little Blue Truck delivers Christmas trees to all his friends, with a special surprise at the end.
The Wild Christmas Reindeer (1990) by Jan Brett
The Wild Christmas Reindeer is a beautifully illustrated book that includes Brett’s signature ornate borders that tell a story of their own as the reader follows the adventures of Teeka trying to train wild reindeer in time for Christmas.
The Sweet Smell of Christmas by Patricia Scarry
This scented storybook is about a little bear and his family enjoying the many fragrances of the holiday season like pine, hot cocoa, and apple pie – all The Sweet Smell of Christmas!
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1958) adapted by Barbara Shook Hazen and illustrated by Richard Scarry
Rudolph first appeared in a coloring book put out by the Montgomery Ward Department store. In 1958 Little Golden Books released an edition of Rudolph illustrated by Richard Scarry. This edition preceded the stop-animation movie which was released in 1964.
Olive, the Other Reindeer (1997) by J. Otto Siebold and illustrated by Vivian Walsh
Olive, the Jack Russell Terrier, assumes he must be a reindeer after hearing the popular Christmas tune.
Frosty the Snowman came to life in a song written by Walter “Jack” Rollins and Steve Nelson in 1950. The same year, Little Golden Books published an adaption of the popular song.
Baboushka and the Three Kings (1960) by Ruth Robbins
Baboushka and the Three Kings is a Russian folktale about an old woman’s search for the Christ child. It was awarded the Caldecott medal in 1961.
Stick Man (2008) by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Alex Scheffler
Stick Man, a modern Christmas classic by former UK Children’s Laureate and internationally acclaimed author, Julia Donaldson, and world-renowned children’s illustrator Axel Scheffler is about a stick who ends up far from home and goes on a great journey to be reunited with his family for Christmas.
Great Joy is a heartwarming story about a young girl, Frances, who is troubled that she can’t help the organ grinder and his monkey who stays out playing music for money in the cold.
Pick a Pine Tree is a sweet little rhyming poetry book about the Christmas tradition of picking a pine tree.
The Dinosaur’s Night Before Christmas by Anne Muecke
It’s a fact that kids enjoy both dinosaurs AND Christmas, so they’ll of course love a story about dinosaur fossils in a museum coming to life in a holly jolly way with The Dinosaur’s Night Before Christmas.
Pinkney’s gorgeous illustrations of the melancholy classic tale The Little Match Girl brings to light the invisibility of the poor and bright hopes and dreams of a dying little girl.
Nine Days to Christmas is about Ceci, who awaits her first posada, a traditional Mexican Christmas party, for which she can select a pinata. This story was the recipient of the Caldecott Medal in 1960.
In this holiday tale, Llama Llama has a hard time waiting for the special day to arrive.
Like The Snowman, The Snowy Day doesn’t include the Christmas Holiday, but the spirit of the season is in the pages of this classic as the young boy enjoys the first big snowfall of winter.
Merry Christmas, Strega Nona (1986) by Tomie DePaola
DePaola’s Strega Nona, or “Grandma Witch” returns, with her bumbling assistant Big Anthony, to get ready for the Christmas Feast.
Refuge tells the story of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus having to take refuge in Egypt and rely on the hospitality of strangers.
With The Day Santa Stopped Believing in Harold, Santa starts to doubt that Harold is writing the letters, sitting on his knee, and setting out the cookies – maybe his parents are just trying to trick Santa into leaving presents. He starts to ask around and look for proof that Harold exists.
In Here Comes Santa Cat, a mischievous cat tries to wrangle his way off the naughty list by impersonating Santa, before finally trying to actually be nice.
This beautiful tale is a retelling of the Nutcracker set in New York City during the Harlem Renaissance. This Jazz-inspired picture book is illustrated by the award-winning artist James Ransome.
Written by biblical scholar and professor Clement Clarke Moore in 1822, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” was first published (uncredited) in the December 23, 1823 edition of the Troy Sentinel. Since then, the work has shaped the imagery around Santa Claus, his reindeer, and Christmas itself. Many people can recite the poem without needing to look at the beautifully illustrated book. And the signoff reverberates from screens and doorways through December:
“Happy Christmas to all,
and to all a good night.”
Amy C. Manikowski is a writer living in Asheville, NC.