Holiday children’s books worth a re-read

We’ve amassed quite a collection of Christmas books over the years. I think it was eight years ago or so that I jumped on the trend of wrapping the Christmas books and letting the kids unwrap one each night. It was not a particularly festive experience. They’d fight over whose night it was, whose book was bigger, if they unwrapped something they didn’t want… plus sometimes you’re in the mood for a different book or re-reading one!

So this year I just hauled out all the books in early November. I read stories with the 2-year-old every night, and many nights I read with the 7-year-old and the 11-year-old (whose literary tastes are more sophisticated, but she is very into Christmas!). Here’s what’s going over well with them and (crucially) me, since there is a lot of re-reading going on.

First, let’s talk about the Grinch. The 2-year-old requests this just about every night. Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch Who Stole Christmas is a classic for a reason — perfect for read-alouds. I’m tired of it, but not quite as tired as I would be if he’d become obsessed with something else. Other current favorites include Construction Site on Christmas Night and Merry Christmas Daniel Tiger (the lift-the-flap book). He has also enjoyed How to Catch Santa and Little Blue Truck’s Christmas (a board book whose last page lights up!)

The older kids are a bit more into the stories. We always enjoy Christmas Farm, with its tale of Parker and Wilma planting dozens of Christmas tree seedlings on the back hill, seeing some lost every winter to moose and mice, but still managing to sell hundreds to neighbors near and far. In keeping with the agrarian theme, we’ve also enjoyed Apple Tree Christmas, about a family living somewhere blizzard-prone, whose favorite apple tree takes on a new life after a terrible storm. I like Pearl S. Buck’s Christmas Day in the Morning (yes, she wrote a children’s book), though my children, who complain about emptying the dishwasher, were stretching to fathom waking up at 4 a.m. every day to do the milking.

Those books are all wholesome, but sometimes you’re in the mood for a book about tricking someone or something bad. Cranberry Christmas is always fun, with Mr. Whiskers helping thwart a villain so the children of Cranberryport can ice skate on their pond again. I don’t really think much about seaside towns in winter, but of course they continue to exist, and so I always like the images of shell ornaments and frozen bogs. Then there’s Who’s That Knocking on Christmas Eve, which is Jan Brett’s beautifully-illustrated tale of a boy from Finnmark, a cozy cottage, an “ice bear” (isbjorn!), and naughty trolls who learn their lesson about messing with one.

If you’re into far northern scenery, A Christmas Wish, by Lori Evert, has beautiful photography, though the story is a little meh. Same with The Wild Christmas Reindeer (also a Jan Brett one). The little Advent calendar running along the borders is fantastic, but the story is just OK. We look at it for the illustrations.

Another book with excellent illustrations and a good story: The Polar Express! We’ve been into this because we’ve seen so many trains this year…

I’ll recommend two books I’d put in the “learning to be Santa” category. One, The Night Before the Night Before Christmas, by Richard Scarry, is a fun story (with classic Richard Scarry illustrations) about what happens when Santa gets mixed up, and Mr. Frumble has to deliver all the presents instead. Then — a lesser known one — I’d recommend How Santa Got His Job. Santa as a young man tried all sorts of careers, from chimney sweep to delivering packages to zoo keeper, getting discouraged at all of them, before he found his true calling.

I do like the story of The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree, about an Appalachian family during the final year of World War I, but it tends to make me cry, so I don’t like reading it out loud. If you are into that sort of thing though, you might like it.

A book that makes us laugh: 5 More Sleeps Til Christmas, by Jimmy Fallon. A little boy keeps insisting he can’t sleep because he’s so excited, but the illustrations show a different story. I like a good children’s book where the pictures are part of the gag.

Finally, some Christmas tree tales: we like the whimsy of Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree, where each successive family lops the top off a too-tall tree to pass it along, and we like Pick a Pine Tree, which is a hushed and lovely rhyme about hanging the ornaments and bows. I also like Night Tree, about a family headed off into the woods to decorate a tree (in place) in the cold night, though my kids weren’t quite as enthusiastic about that as, say, The Grinch.

We’re always looking for more stories, so feel free to share your favorites here!


24 thoughts on “Holiday children’s books worth a re-read

  1. Little Blue Truck is a favorite in our house with our toddler. We have to let the tree light up multiple times when we read it. It is really delightful. I also love The Grinch and haven’t gotten sick of it yet. I wish my boys like The Polar Express. I thought the 4.5yo would like it more this year but he is still kind of meh about it. But it does have a mature mature meaning to it. Maybe if we watched the movie he’d enjoy it more. Pick a Pine Tree is another favorite! We also really like Merry Christmas, Pookie. My oldest was obsessed with the Pookie books so we have all of them! The boys get Christmas-themed books during every 1-3 days as part of our Advent Calendar tradition. I’m excited to see what they think of the books I’ve picked out.

    1. @Lisa – I didn’t know there was a Merry Christmas Little Pookie book! We love reading What’s Wrong Little Pookie? So I just found the next thing to go in my Amazon cart…

      1. The birthday Pookie book is really good, too. The pookie books have been read so many times in our house. They are much loved!!

        The comments on this post are so good! I need to bookmark it for next fall so I can request a bunch of titles from the library!

  2. Thank you so much for this list. I immediately requested almost all of them from our library as we need some new ones in the rotation. My all time favorite is the “The Sweet Smell of Christmas”, a scratch and sniff book. Very cute. My kids love all the random versions of 12 days of Christmas although I find them so tedious. They cannot get enough.

    1. @Katharine – indeed. This is the trouble of not doing links – if I’d called up the book on Amazon I would have seen that 🙂

  3. We love Santa’s Favorite Story by Hisako Aoki with lovely illustrations. Also, for an Eastern Orthodox perspective, the book The Miracle of Saint Nicholas is a beautiful story about Christmas in post-Soviet Russia.

  4. You’ve listed some great ones!

    We also have really enjoyed:

    Mistletoe: A Christmas Story, by Tad Hills
    Mouse’s Night Before Christmas by Tracey Corderoy
    And Then Comes Christmas by Tom Brenner
    The Christmas Feast by Nathalie Dargent
    Tough Cookie: A Christmas Story by Edward Hemingway
    An Early American Christmas by Tomie dePaola

  5. The Jolly Christmas Postman. Not sure if it is still in print, but it is a book that incorporates letters in envelopes as part of the story. My kids used to love helping me take the letters out to read!

  6. Christmas farm and the year of the perfect Christmas tree (also makes me cry every time) are firm favorites
    Other favorites that even my 15 year old won’t let me retire are
    “Dear Santa” by the same author as dear zoo
    Both toot and puddle Christmas books-I’ll be home for Christmas and let it snow
    Some British ones – Mog’s Christmas and The church mice at Christmas. Still wrapping up the books in wrapping paper that at least one kid will deign to paint and opening one a night to read… one of the best parts of Christmas for me especially now they’re all too old for picture books.

    1. My kids loved books that made me cry (“Love You Forever” I’m lookin at you). They would pull the book out and crawl up in my lap. With each page turned they watched (me) more closely. “Is Mama crying yet?”

  7. My 17-month-old is loving Moo Baa Fa La La La La by Sandra Boynton and the last page of Little Blue Truck’s Christmas. My little guy doesn’t have the attention span for it yet, but my favorite growing up was Lucy and Tom at Christmas by Shirley Hughes which is about Christmas in England.

  8. All books from Tomie dePaola, including The Clown of God and Jingle the Christmas Clown. By far my favorite children’s book author/illustrator.

  9. I have a soft spot for Jan Bret – The Mitten, The Nutcracker both have such beautiful, nostalgic illustrations. My 2 year old is loving

    Bear Stays Up for Christmas
    The Joy of Giving (Bernstein Bears)
    How to Catch an Elf (great for Little Blue Truck fans)
    Arthur’s Christmas

    Sadly he is still terribly missing Halloween – the demand for 5 little pumpkins read aloud (still!) every time we get in the car is starting to drain me (haha!)

  10. Were comments recommending Hanukkah books removed? I wrote a comment a few weeks ago and don’t see it here. We also do Christmas and liked Santa Mouse from when I was little.

    1. @Kelly- I wouldn’t have removed any comments like that! I don’t see any comments waiting moderation…I can try to hunt through and see where it would have gone. Or feel free to post it again!

  11. Well after Christmas but was scrolling around your website preparing for my February book club (Tranquility by Tuesday!) and had to add a couple to your Christmas book list. The Autobiography of Santa Claus was a huge hit with my girls growing up. We did the audio book–it’s loooong, but it goes a long way towards smoothing the road to discovering the truth about Santa Claus in a really wonderful way. The Flight of The Reindeer is another, with gorgeous photography and commentary from everyone from Sir Edmund Hilary to Al Roker. Not really a read all at once kind of book, but fun to pick and choose excerpts along and along. I have given them Christmas books since they were babies (now 17 and 20) so we have quite a few. Will try to remember to revisit this post when I pull them out next year!

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