The literary Advent calendar

photo-439Our “literary Advent calendar” made its first appearance last year. The idea is that for each pre-Christmas night of December (or of Advent, whichever) the children open a new Christmas book. Then you read it together. It’s a chance to highlight old favorites in a systematic way, and try some new ones. As modern Christmas concepts go, it’s a much better addition to the festivities than the shelf elf, but I digress.

Anyway, a friend asked for some of my favorite titles, so here are the keepers from last year to this year that I remembered off the top of my head, even though they’re all wrapped. Maybe next year I’ll make a full downloadable 24-item list with links and give it out in exchange for email addresses. But this year, eh.

The Elf on the Shelf. Coming December 1, but more because the children have asked multiple times for the elf to appear. The story is stilted, but the kids are fans, and the elf has his upsides (transgressions can be stopped by reminding people that the elf is watching). I’d recommend putting this more toward mid-December if you’d like to limit elf-related obligations.

The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. A classic, and in pure Dr. Seuss style, meant to be read aloud. The Whos down in Who-ville sure know how to celebrate Christmas, even if their presents have been taken, and kitchens cleaned out to the last crumb.

The Polar Express. The illustrations are gorgeous. But beyond that, if you have kids who are wavering in their Santa beliefs, the idea of the world being divided into those who can hear the bell and those who can’t may make them want to linger in the former world a little longer.

The Night Before The Night Before Christmas. Richard Scarry is always a favorite in our house, and this tale of Santa and a calendar mix-up was requested a lot last year. We’d open the night’s new book…and then the kids would ask for this one.

Who’s That Knocking On Christmas Eve. A surprise hit. Jan Brett has written and illustrated a lot of children’s books, many with a Scandinavian theme. In this one, the trolls try to take the Christmas feast but are convinced otherwise by a polar bear. My 4-year-old was asking for this into February.

The Wild Christmas Reindeer. Another Jan Brett story. The plot is OK, but the illustrations tide this one over. She fills the borders of each page with their own Advent calendar, with Santa’s elves counting down the days to Christmas.

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey. Fair warning — this is a bit of a cheesy tear jerker. That said, it’s less cheesy than some others, and serves as a reminder that Christmas is hard for people who have lost loved ones. It may also make you think about the mother and child center piece of most creches in a slightly different way.

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree. This one is another tear jerker, about a resourceful Appalachian mother and daughter who fulfill their duty to their community, even as their husband/father has gone off to war.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (picture book edition). The 1972 novel is, of course, better (“Hey! Unto you a child is born!”) However, if your kids aren’t old enough for that, this picture book version hits the highlights.

Joy to the World: Tomie’s Christmas Stories. This compilation of three Tomie dePaola Christmas tales may be a bit long for one night, but you could stretch it out over, well, three (just make sure the kids aren’t mad about less unwrapping). You can learn a bit of Spanish while enjoying these folktales.

Bear Stays Up For Christmas. To be sure, just as every new pop artist has to quick crank out a Christmas album, this is a complete holiday cash-in of the kid favorite Bear Snores On. However, as a holiday cash-in, it’s not bad. My kids liked it.

What are your favorite holiday children’s books?

Photo: We did another tradition this weekend, decorating the gingerbread house! Thankfully, Costco sells a pre-assembled version.

14 thoughts on “The literary Advent calendar

  1. Dream Snow by Eric Carle, beautifully illustrated (of course!), and as the snow falls, the reader lays the winter blanket with the acetate sheets. At the end, press a button for a bit of magic. This was a sweet nighttime read.

    Wombat Divine by Mem Fox. This Australian book was purchased in Canada, so I don’t know if it’s available in the US, but it ought to be! Wombat loves Christmas and wants to be in the Nativity play, but what role will he, and all the other Australian animals, take?

  2. Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree
    Olive the other Reindeer
    Olivia Helps with Christmas
    Gingerbread Pirates
    Llama Llama Holiday Drama

  3. Thanks for these suggestions. I just finished wrapping our books this weekend. I have two daughters and I think next year they’ll each need their own book to open so I’m looking to purchase some more gems for our collection. I use a mix of Christmas and Winter books for our advent book countdown and it’s one of my favorite traditions (although the wrapping part stinks).

    1. As much as the wrapping part is annoying, I like that it:

      1. Gives me practice to upgrade my abysmal wrapping skills. I am REALLY bad at it.

      2. Lets me use up the horrible/cheap wrapping paper that we bought by accident.

      3. Forces me to get into the holiday spirit early since they have to be wrapped before Dec 1 🙂

      1. Anandi – YES I like that I am using up all the terrible wrapping paper and random stuff my mother in law gave me. However, I haven’t been using it as a chance to practice – maybe I should because my advent book wrapping is TERRIBLE!

    2. @Alissa – the one downside of my version is that we will have to take turns (3 of the 4 kids – the baby neither knows nor cares). I am bracing myself for the fighting that will ensue if one day’s book seems bigger or cooler than another day’s book. But I just can’t stomach 3 sets of books. Expensive and triple the wrapping!

  4. Thanks for the list! I buy 1-2 new holiday books each year, especially as I find our older ones either too annoying or too babyish. 🙂 We also like Bear Stays Up for Christmas (and had never read the other Bear books!).

    This year I bought Jack Frost upon reco from a blog reader a few years ago.

    I also like The Snowy Day (not Xmas specific, but winter), as well as the Olive and Olivia books mentioned by beth above.

    We also include some family favorites (non-holiday) and it’s nice to get to re-read those, too. What I love about this tradition is that it gives us a larger variety of books – otherwise the 3yo would be requesting the same thing every night. She got stuck on Shel Silverstein’s “The Missing Piece” for a while. I like it, but not as much as she does 😉

  5. Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs is a very witty, beautifully illustrated, wordless picture book about a grumpy Father Christmas who’d rather be sunbathing on the beach but nevertheless makes all the mundane preparations necessary to carry out his delivery rounds, which are then depicted with the same loving attention to detail and dry humor. This remained one of my favorites long after I was much “too old” for picture books–in fact, it still is!

    1. We love Raymond Briggs’ _The Snowman_. It’s also a picture book, and the animated version made me cry…totally caught me off-guard. But we all love it nonetheless.

  6. What a great idea! My son is 3 and we have been thinking about what sort of traditions we’d like to start as a family. Literary advent will be one of them we start this year. We also have started the (very easy) tradition of the holiday amaryllis.

      1. Speaking of traditions, I bought a new ornament this year for each of us…our tree is usually decked with handmade and/or yard-sale goods, but I thought it would be a nice surprise to hang something personal to each kid & parent.

  7. pre-assembled gingerbread house! I vowed after last year’s disaster not to try to make gingerbread houses again for at least a few years, but if I can find one of those…

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