The 2016 literary Advent calendar

img_2124Two years ago, I started a new tradition in my house: the literary Advent calendar. Each night during December, my kids unwrap a Christmas story and we read it together. The first year I had to round up the few holiday books we already owned, and fill out the list with more than a dozen others that I basically just found while perusing on Amazon. Some were total flops (note to children's book authors: please don't force the rhyme. Not all books have to rhyme! Nor do they have to beat people over the head with a moral!) The second year, I kept the favorites, and ordered some new volumes based on recommendations. This year, the third year we're trying it, I have some new volumes, some that were reasonable enough to keep, and a number of classics that I know my kids will be excited to see, since I hide these books in the closet much of the year.

(A new twist this year: I have some toddler designated books for his calendar, which will be doled out separately at his bedtime. Not 23, but enough to have some seasonal interest as he tries to figure out what on earth is going on).

Anyway, I wrapped them all on Sunday night, and thought I'd share my list. These aren't affiliate links, perhaps an economic mistake with a list like this, but if you feel like supporting this blog, you can always buy one of my books (see the list in the sidebar).

December 1: The Elf on the Shelf. Not high literature, and prone to the stupid-rhyme problem mentioned above, but this book heralds the arrival of Sassy the elf (our "house elf," as my Harry Potter obsessed boys call her). So we need to get it out of the way at the beginning of the month.

December 2: The Polar Express. Classic Chris Van Allsburg story of a little boy's journey to the North Pole on a secret train, and what he loses (and finds).

December 3: Who's That Knocking On Christmas Eve? In the north of Norway, some trolls try to disrupt Kyri's Christmas dinner. It doesn’t go so well (for the trolls!) The kids often ask to read this one from Jan Brett several times after it gets opened, so we open it early.

December 4: Cranberry Christmas. An entry in the "grump tries to spoil Christmas" category, and new this year, based on a blog reader's suggestion. I will report back after!

December 5: How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Whose heart doesn't grow three sizes upon learning that Christmas comes without ribbons, it comes without tags, it comes without packages, boxes, or bags?

December 6: How Santa Got His Job. Before Santa got his current gig, he tried all kinds of things from chimney sweep to zookeeper. He failed miserably at most, but picked up some important skills along the way, which Stephen Krensky explores in this ode to career switching for the North Pole set.

December 7: How To Catch Santa. Who can blame kids for fantasizing about how they might catch and question Santa on Christmas Eve?

December 8: The Night Before the Night Before Christmas. There's been a mix-up and Santa comes on the wrong night! Who will save the day? This is Richard Scarry at his best, and we often wind up reading this book many nights after we first open it.

December 9: I Wish to be a Christmas Tree. An evergreen is too big to be a Christmas tree, but his woodland friends decorate him to show how much he means to them. Bit smarmy, but a nice story about generosity.

December 10: The Wild Christmas Reindeer. Teeka is charged with training Santa's reindeer. This turns out to be a tough job until she learns to empathize with her charges. While the story is so so, the key with this book is Jan Brett's illustrations, counting down the days until Christmas in the borders almost like a little illuminated manuscript. You can look at each page for quite a while. Whether that is a good or bad thing probably depends on your bedtime routine.

December 11: Santa's Stuck. When rotund Santa gets stuck in the chimney, everyone has to pitch in to help. Not my favorite, but fun for kids. Also, I'm traveling the night of the 11th so that's why this one goes here.

December 12: The Night Tree. Eve Bunting tells the story of a family that drives into the woods and decorates a tree there. Warmly illustrated, if a bit simplistic. This book kind of exudes coziness.

December 13: The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree. An Appalachian girl and her resourceful mother bravely supply the town tree during the year their father/husband is at war. Gloria Houston and Barbara Cooney (illustrator) turn this tale into a tear-jerker, but it's a good reminder of how to embrace the Christmas spirit when you have absolutely nothing but hope.

December 14: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. This is the children's book version of the novel about a family of six tough, neglected siblings who turn the town's Christmas pageant upside down…in a good way. Kids often giggle at the "Hey! Unto you a child is born!" announcement.

December 15: Bear Stays Up for Christmas. A holiday sequel to Bear Snores On, by Karma Wilson and illustrated by Jane Chapman. As the title says, this time he stays awake. Nothing fancy, but a cute story.

December 16: The Christmas Wish. Anja wants to be one of Santa's elves. So she journeys north through a wild Arctic landscape to meet the jolly man himself. The story is secondary to the amazing photography from Per Breiehagen of reindeer and polar bears.

December 17: Peter Spier's Christmas. A picture book, and new this year based on a recommendation!

December 18: A Little House Christmas Treasury. Also based on a blog reader recommendation. We won't make it through this one in one night, but it will be fun to have all the Laura Ingalls Wilder holiday stories in one place.

December 19: Snowmen at Christmas. The snowmen come alive to celebrate in this book with enchanting illustrations from Caralyn and Mark Buehner.

December 20: Home for Christmas. Another Jan Brett one, with a troll running away because he doesn't want to do his chores. He finds it's not easy out there on your own and returns...well, you can guess from the title.

December 21: Joy to the World (Tomie dePaola). This has been a surprise favorite. It's three Christmas stories (The Night of Las Posadas, The Story of the Three Wise Kings, and the Legend of the Poinsettia) celebrating the holidays in the Southwest and Mexico. A nice counterpart to all the Scandinavian fare on this list!

December 22: The Christmas Farm. If you're a city kid getting your tree from the sidewalk (or local fire station) you may not think about where they grow. This tale of Wilma and Parker's farm reminds kids of the time and patience it takes for things to grow.

December 23: The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey. The most definite tear-jerker on this list.  In Susan Wojciechowski's book (illustrated by P.J. Lynch), a lonely wood cutter mourns silently until a widow and her child draw him out of his shell. It shows the Madonna and child imagery in a new light.

Then Christmas Eve is here!

Toddler bonus: Titles include The Littlest Elf, Rudolph, Merry Christmas Daniel Tiger, Llama Llama Jingle Bells, Little Blue Truck's Christmas.

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21 Responses to The 2016 literary Advent calendar


  1. Gwen says:

    A wonderful book for all ages on Xmas Eve itself is Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs, which wordlessly chronicles, through wonderfully detailed, gently humorous illustrations, Xmas Eve from start to finish through the eyes of a reluctant Father Xmas who’d rather be basking on a sunny beach than shivering up on the housetops.

    • @Gwen- how fun! I know I’d rather be on a beach than up on the rooftops.

  2. Cotton says:

    I love this idea! Another Christmas picture book I found recently that I thought was absolutely fantastic (no rhymes or morals) was The Gingerbread Pirate (by Kristin Kladstrup and Matt Tavares). So cute!

  3. Alissa says:

    I wrapped all my books yesterday and my twist this year is that each of my daughters will have a book to open. They are 4 & 6 and last year the alternating nights opening was hard. Also my older daughter is reading on her own so I picked some she might be able to read. I’m not sure if I’ll do this again as the wrapping was a total pain and I want to pare my books back to the classics (because I probably have 8 different versions of The Christmas Story). We have many of the same titles you do but some not on your list that I am excited about are “The Mitten” by Jan Brett and “Dream Snow” by Eric Carle. I do several winter theme books in addition to the Christmas classic tales. This episode of the Read Aloud Revival also inspired some titles and I was more thoughtful on the order of my books this year. https://amongstlovelythings.com/36/

    • ARC says:

      Ooh, you are a brave woman for doing 2 sets of books. I can barely get it together to get one set chosen and wrapped! I’ve wrapped about 12 so far and need to scour our collection for a few more.

      I also include winter-themed, plus books about love and giving because I don’t really *want* that many Christmas-specific books anyway 🙂

      • Alissa Williams says:

        I think it’s more stupid than brave. This might be the only year I do it. We’ll see how it goes. The wrapping was too much.

      • @ARC- I didn’t wrap the toddler books because a) he doesn’t know any better and b) too much work. Wrapping 23 books took me an entire hour and change.

  4. Christine says:

    Great suggestions! I have a lot of similar titles in our literary advent.

    My favorite titles are Merry Un-Christmas by Mike Reiss and The Gift of Nothing by Patrick McDonnell. The first book explores how boring everything we do for Christmas would become if we did it every day. It’s been really great to explain to my daughter why Christmas can’t be every day. The second book explores the emotional nature of gift giving and how you can give someone a gift without physically giving them anything.

    I’ll have to check out your Jan Brett books.

  5. Cloud says:

    This is a nice tradition! We have several Christmas-themed books sent by the NZ in-laws. Slinky Malinki’s Christmas Crackers is one you can get here, written by the same author who wrote the Harry McClarry books (the first of which I still have mostly memorized…)

  6. Angela says:

    speaking of children’s books I would LOVE to see a children’s book that discusses the topics of time management from your point of view… Can’t you just imagine writing a kid version of “I know How She Does It” inspiring little girls in pre-school to shoot for the stars ; )

    But back to the real topic of kid Christmas books- Thanks for the suggestions : )

    • @Angela – I think it would be hard to pull off a kids book that didn’t have the same problems I complain about with other people’s children’s books. Maybe it would have to be something fantastical. Maybe a little girl who transcends time…

      • Angela says:

        you know, I think you are exactly right- it would be better for a school aged reader ( I fail terribly at age appropriate toys, events, topics- parenting is really a crash course in all the things I don’t know in life)…. I’m sure there are some out there now, there’s even a whole website “Mighty Girl”. I’m just such a fan of your work and PoV, I want all girls and women to hear it : )

  7. Judy says:

    LOVE Jonathan Toomey. Also Santa Calls by William Joyce. Great story of siblings. My children are way beyond the Christmas book tradition but I may have to take my books out of the closet for myself this season.

  8. Kathy says:

    I highly recommend Can You See What I See? The Night Before Christmas by Walter Wick — my now 13 yo and I still break this one out every year to hunt for the hidden pictures

  9. Hayley says:

    If wrapping the books is a barrier to people doing this fun Advent activity then how about buying large flat paper bags and sealing with a Christmas sticker. Alternatively outsource wrapping the books to your oldest child – it will still be a mystery as to which one gets opened on a particular day.

    • @Hayley- both very smart ideas. I might do one of those next year!

  10. Katherine says:

    I have decided to try this even though my girls are now 12 and 16, with a view to reminding ourselves of all the old Christmas favourites! They seem to be up for the idea and didn’t think it was too sentimental. First test is tonight though when I will not get home until 9.30 after picking 12 y.o. up from athletics practice – will we all feel like sitting down and reading a kids’ book in the name of a family Christmas?!

    • @Katherine- aw, I like the idea of doing it with kids this old! It sounds kind of fun – you don’t normally get to read the Grinch with teenagers!

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