Here, in no particular order, are twenty books we are enjoying this December. My children are almost 3 and 18 months, and so most of these books are on that level, however most of them would be enjoyable for kids younger or older as well. If you have other favorites, please feel free to share them in the comments section! I may do a follow-up post with more great books, because of how many we are still on the wait list for at the library.
I put a widget in my sidebar containing links to Amazon for all of these books. If you are considering purchasing any of them, please consider buying them through my link!
Christmas in the City is a cute story of a mouse couple whose tree home is cut down to be the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center in New York City. The mice have fun exploring the city, but Mrs. Mouse is expecting babies, and on Christmas Eve the mice find a church and Mrs. Mouse delivers triplet mice in the manger scene! Various animals bring baby gifts, and eventually the Christmas tree is taken down and the mouse family finds a new home in the countryside, always remembering their special Christmas in the city. The illustrations in this book are sweet, with detailed borders painted around every scene. This book especially resonates with us this year as we’re expecting a baby soon (HOPEFULLY!) too, although not triplets (HOPEFULLY!).
Margaret Wise Brown (who wrote two of our favorites, Goodnight Moon and Big Red Barn Big Book) wrote Christmas in the Barn in a similar form to her other books, but telling the story of the birth of Jesus. Caldecott Honor Artist Diane Goode (who also illustrated several other of our favorite books) did the wonderful pictures with especially well done animals in the barn. This is a very sweet and appealing book.
Although I’m not normally a big fan of simplified versions of books that are already geared toward children, Christmas in the Big Woods,
which is based on the Christmas section in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House in the Big Woods,” is a good book on its own merits. Hannah is already quite familiar with the story line, since we’ve read “Little House in the Big Woods” a few times for read aloud time, so it has been fun for her to see a more heavily illustrated version. Renee Graef, who did the illustrations, based her pictures heavily on the work of Garth Williams who illustrated the real Little House books, with his permission. Whenever I read the Little House descriptions of Christmas, I’m struck by how joyful they were about their simple and few presents, which I think is a good message for children, as well as being educational without beating them over the head with a historical message.
Cynthia Rylant (another excellent author whose books I recommend) wrote Christmas In The Country to tell the story of a girl who lives with her grandparents and builds wonderful memories of their simple celebration and traditions. Diane Goode (as I’ve mentioned, we love her illustrations) complements the story with excellent pictures full of detail and emotion.
An Early American Christmas is an interesting look at how Christmas traditions in New England were adapted and adopted from German immigrants. While informative, the book stays on a level a toddler can easily understand. Tomie dePaola’s drawings are in a two dimensional, stylized form that you’ll recognize from his other books, and the style fits well with the early American time period depicted in the story.
No Christmas book list could be complete without perennial favorite How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss. If your only exposure to this story is watching the cartoon on TV, you should read the book! Dr. Seuss uses his characteristic clever rhymes and expressive drawings to highlight the idea that Christmas is more than material things. Cindy Lou Who is so much cuter in the book, I don’t really understand why they changed her character so much in the cartoon, but in any case, the book is much shorter than watching the cartoon, and better for kids’ brains to boot.
We love Toot and Puddle, Holly Hobbie’s cute and funny piglet characters. The stories are original and never tiresome, and the illustrations are really fantastic. In I’ll Be Home for Christmas Toot has been in Scotland for a family reunion and is trying to get home in time for Christmas. Meanwhile, back at Woodcock Pocket, Puddle and Tulip (the parrot) scramble to get the preparations done. After caroling with sheep and trying to walk home in the snow all the way from Boston, Toot hitches a ride on a mysterious sleigh and makes it home just in time to celebrate with his friends. Again, the story is funny and unique and the illustrations make this a truly wonderful book.
In another Toot and Puddle adventure, Let It Snow follows the piglets as they try to come up with the perfect gifts to give each other and their cousin Opal. The piglets believe that the best presents are “a one-of-a-kind thingamajig, not just a whatsit anyone could buy in a store” so they head to their workshops and craft some inventive presents. Holly Hobbie’s story is lots of fun, and her pictures are fabulous as usual!
Ezra Jack Keats added his wonderful illustrations to the traditional Christmas carol The Little Drummer Boy with great results. Keats has a unique style that incorporates a lot of texture and detail, which adds a lot of flavor and depth to the lyrics of the carol. The end of the book includes the music to the carol, in case you want to play it on the piano for your kids and don’t have the music in some other form. We have this book as a board book, which is great for younger kids, but it’s not abridged like so many board book versions of books, which I appreciate!
When Christmas arrives at the old house in Paris, covered with vines, the twelve little girls in two straight lines are all sick, except for Madeline. Curiously, they apparently had no plans to go home for the holidays, but were instead stuck at boarding school with Miss Clavel. At any rate, Madeline was taking care of everyone when a mysterious rug merchant showed up and gave all the girls a magic carpet they could use to go home for Christmas. Madeline’s Christmas is an unusual story, but that’s what makes the Madeline books so interesting!
In Only a Star a little girl asks her father what decorations there were in the stable when Jesus was born. This unique book then answers by showing how the common everyday scenery around the manger was made beautiful by the birth of Christ. For example, the light of the Christmas star falling on a spider web makes sparkling jewels. The end of the book includes some notes on the various animals mentioned in the story, if they were mentioned in the Bible, or if they have traditionally been associated with the Nativity and so on. The illustrations in this book are really great and convey the landscape and animals particularly well.
The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree
is a sweet story of how an Appalachian community celebrates Christmas with much sacrifice during the First World War. Although kids will learn a lot about the time period and location from reading this book, the history doesn’t distract from the excellent story in any way. Barbara Cooney (who also illustrated “Miss Rumphius” and other great books) illustrated the book and her pictures add much detail and context to the text.
We’re reading A Pioneer Christmas for our read-aloud book this month. The book alternates short chapters about how a pioneer family with Scottish roots prepares for and celebrates Christmas with their community, with short sections explaining the history and detail of how pioneers lived in 1841, and how-to instructions for crafts, recipes, and games kids can play that are like those the pioneers enjoyed. I should mention that I find it sort of irritating that the author persists in calling the pioneer community “the backwoods” as though it was just the sticks and not the frontier, but other than that I think it’s a good book. Some of the crafts and games are a little over my kids’ heads this year, but I think we’ll make a pomander, and maybe try one of the recipes.
Snowmen at Christmas
is a fun and imaginative rhyming book wherein a little boy imagines the neighborhood snowmen getting together while everyone sleeps to celebrate Christmas together, including snow cookies, dancing, and singing “songs about snow and the birth of a King.” The story is such a fun concept, and the pictures are great, with lots of detail and color and humor.
Although not technically a Christmas story, I included Snowmen at Night
because it’s about winter and is festive. Much like “Snowmen at Christmas,” “Snowmen at Night” follows the imaginary adventures of a bunch of snowmen (and snow-mamas and snow-babies and snow-dogs) who get together to drink cold cocoa and play snowmen games and go ice skating and all sorts of fun things. The illustrations for this book are hilarious. I love the pictures of the snowmen picking up their pieces and hauling their friends home on toboggans after snow game injuries!
Another book not about Christmas but perfect for this time of year is The Snowy Day
by Ezra Jack Keats. The little boy in the story has a grand time playing outside in the snow, and the illustrations have a cool 1960s feel with lots of texture and detail that really add to the book. We have Josh’s childhood copy of the book, but it’s still available for purchase and in libraries, probably because it’s such a good book!
The Last Strawis an interesting perspective on the Christmas story. In the book, Hoshmakaka is an old camel chosen by the wise men to carry gifts to the baby Jesus. Over the course of the story, the camel overcomes his pride and worships Jesus with the wise men. The illustrations of the camels and other animals are terrific and add a lot of detail to the story.
Although it’s not about Christmas, The Mittenby Jan Brett is a great book about winter. In this adaptation of a traditional Ukrainian folk tale, animal after animal climbs into a boy’s lost white mitten until finally one sneezes and the stretched out mitten flies into the air to be found by the boy. The best part of this book, as with all of Jan Brett’s books, is the charming and detailed set of illustrations. Each page has a wonderful border and pictures within pictures that will really captivate your kids. We have the board book edition, which is good because this book gets a lot of mileage at our house!
Clement Moore’s famous The Night Before Christmas
poem is given a fabulous treatment by the addition of Jan Brett’s detailed and beautiful illustrations. You could spend hours looking at the pictures in this book (and your kids probably will if they are like my kids!). As with her other books, Brett adds great borders and pictures within pictures, as well as lots of additional detail that perfectly augments the well-known poem. I’d recommend this version of the poem if you don’t already own one!
Another fun Jan Brett book is The Wild Christmas Reindeer.
The main story is of how a little girl gets the reindeer trained and ready for Christmas, while the sidebar and border illustrations show elves making toys and doing other preparations each day during the month of December. The illustrations have a Russian feel to them, which makes for great color and detail.
Just a Note: If you’re interested, my general policy on Santa and related Christmas ideas unrelated to the Nativity is that they are just stories like any other imagination story. I don’t imply to my kids that Santa is real, the way I overtly talk about Jesus’ birth and other biblical/historical events, but I don’t toss books just because they are about Santa, the same way I don’t have a problem reading books about mice that talk, ducks that wear clothes, or pigs that build houses out of straw, sticks, and bricks. I think kids can pick up on what’s real and what’s not, and if they wonder, they can ask. I don’t have a high tolerance for junk and twaddle in any season, Christmas being no exception, but a good story is a good story and I don’t feel the need to don’t see why there needs to be a feeling that either you tell your kid Santa is real OR you don’t have anything to do with Santa stories at all. That’s just my perspective. You can read more about my thoughts on celebrating Christmas at all in this post from a few years ago.
Last but not least, don’t forget to leave me some comments if you have other Christmas book suggestions!