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!