Our “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.