Long time readers know that my kindergartner has had an unhappy relationship with bedtime since babyhood. I am happy to say that things have improved a lot in the last year or so. We can now really enjoy before-bed story time without the looming dread of impending battles.
In any case, we’ve been working through our collection of Christmas books. Over the years, we’ll try new titles, and see what sticks and what is forgettable. Here’s what’s keeping the attention of a very high-energy 5-year-old boy right now (well, in addition to the classics like How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Polar Express, and Elf on the Shelf, but you already know about those!)
5 More Sleeps ’til Christmas, by Jimmy Fallon, illustrated by Rich Deas. Yes, this is a celebrity children’s book, which is often a terrible genre (Freckleface Strawberry excepted!) but Fallon’s comedic timing is great. The first time we read it through, my kid was roaring at the recurring visual gag, and now that he knows what’s coming, he still likes the idea of counting sleeps until Christmas. He has made it known that starting on December 20th, we will have to read this book every night, and note where we are within the 5-sleep rubric.
Christmas Farm, by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Barry Root. Wilma and her young neighbor Parker plant many dozens of Christmas tree seedlings on their back hill. Over five years, Parker grows and the trees do too, dodging moose, mice, and weather, until they are ready to be sold. We read this year after year, and enjoy thinking of how evergreen trees grow through many summers until they are ready to brighten our homes at the darkest time of year.
How Santa Got His Job, by Stephen Kerensky, illustrated by S. D. Schindler. Before his current gig delivering presents, Santa went through a long series of career pivots. Chimney sweep, delivery man, zoo keeper, circus performer — like many of us, Santa had to figure out his strengths as he went along. This one is fun as kids see how Santa is getting closer to being the red-suited, reindeer-driving character we know and love.
Who’s That Knocking on Christmas Eve? written and illustrated by Jan Brett. Far up in northern Scandinavia, Kyri and her father are plagued by trolls who keep stealing their Christmas feast. But then one year, a boy and his pet ice bear stop by on the way to Oslo, and the trolls experience a turnabout they are not soon to forget! Jan Brett does wonderful illustrations and has many Christmas books (The Wild Christmas Reindeer, Home for Christmas) but this is the one we choose to re-read because it’s less pedantic than the others. Also, I suspect my 5-year-old identifies with the naughty trolls.
The Night Before the Night Before Christmas, written and illustrated by Richard Scarry. Mr. Frumble wants to be helpful. But when he rides his ski-pickle-do up to Santa Bear’s workshop, he sets off a series of unfortunate events that has Santa Bear taking off to deliver presents on the wrong night. Hopefully Mr. Frumble will be able to solve the problem! There are always a great many things to see in Richard Scarry books, which helps this book stand the test of time.
Pick a Pine Tree, by Patricia Toht, illustrated by Jarvis. This deceptively simple rhyming book has us smiling in delight when we see the final result of all that ornament hanging. I would add that Little Blue Truck’s Christmas, by Alice Schertle, illustrated by Jill McElmurry, has a similar gasp on the last page of this board book with the blinking lit-up tree.
Bear Stays Up For Christmas, by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman. Kids who learn about hibernation might wonder if animals sleep through Christmas. Well, not this year! Bear’s friends are determined to help him stay up, though in his busyness of making presents, he still doesn’t see Santa stop by. With its focus on sleep, this one is particularly appealing to a kid headed toward bedtime.
I’d love suggestions of other holiday books that have been big hits in your house! I’d add that while I appreciate some more tear-jerker titles such as The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree, and The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, I just can’t handle this in my end-of-the-day-exhausted state right now.
Photo: Our elf, Sassy, who wore a mask for the first week she (or possibly he?) was here.