I posted last week on Instagram my pile of Christmas books that are all wrapped up for the countdown to Christmas. I have been collecting these books over the course of years. I intend to further change this list. You will find an abundance of Jan Brett books. That is because 1) I love Jan Brett and 2) I got a great deal on a lot of used Jan Brett books a couple of years back, and so they filled up my spaces to 25 books quickest. However, I don’t like how heavy on Jan Brett books this list is, so I have a wish list that I’m replacing a few of them as I can afford it. I try to do at least 1 or 2 books from my wish list in nice hardback each year. Some books were from garage sales, or just given to me. Since some of these books are handpicked, and some are thrown in, I’m adding a rating system so you know how much we love this book, and maybe a clue as to how long it will be in our Christmas rotation. (4-5 stars will most certainly be staying!)
They are in no particular order. We always pick them randomly. Affiliate links given.
1. Merry Christmas Curious George! by H.A. Rey
This is Ingrid’s all time favorite book. She’s a George groupie. I made the mistake of leaving this book in our normal book library through the year because she loves it so much, but now it is despised by all the other kids. However, George is always classic. I’m not a big fan of “commercial” books, but since George books came before the movie/show, I still consider him great. (I know I’m a snob. I’m so sorry.) It’s not the deepest Christmas book out there, but for the little ones, this is good. Most especially if your kids love characters and you are trying to transition to great literature, this is a decent bridge. 4 out of 5 stars.
2. How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
Does this one need explanation? This is also a favorite for the little ones, but also for the big ones. It’s big in imagination, great message, with great illustrations, and it’s Seuss, so the writing is lyrical and hysterical. 5 out of 5 stars.
3. Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck
On a completely different tone, this is a book about a boy growing up on a dairy farm. As Christmas creeps up, and his sisters and mother start making gifts, he tries to figure out what he can afford to give his dad. He decides that he will wake up 2 hours early (3am instead of 5am) to milk the cows so that his dad can be present while his kids open up their presents Christmas morning…something his dad has never been able to do because of the cows. In the end, this books is a tear jerker, and it is one that effected my son David deeply. It brings to light the idea that service is a gift that touches people in unexpected and intimate ways. 5 out of 5 stars.
4. Why Christmas Trees Aren’t Perfect by Richard Schneider
This story takes place in the woods where all the trees work their hardest to be picked by the queen to be the official Christmas tree in the castle. They try their best to be rigid and grow straight without distractions. One little tree, though, can’t help but lower his branches to shelter a rabbit from wolves, to curl around a little bird caught in a blizzard, and so on. He ends up being crooked, but in the end, this is his beauty. 4 out of 5 stars.
5. The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski
When a woodcarver who is bitter after losing his family gets a job to replace a carved nativity for a single mother and her little boy, the most unexpected thing happens. The mother brings the little boy over to watch the carving each day, and the little boy drives the woodcarver crazy. He describes how the old set had a sheep that had a certain expression, or Mary’s shawl looked very different, and all the ways the woodcarver is doing it wrong. As the man hears the little boy describe each piece as he works on it, he considers the message of the nativity all over again, and it changes him forever. Beautiful illustrations too. 5 out of 5 stars.
6. The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers
I picked up a hardback version at a garage sale, and can’t find a link to it, but the link above would be the version if I were to buy it new. The classic ballet is timeless, and part of our culture. It’s great to listen to Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece along with it. 3 out of 5 stars (because my version, not the one linked, is painfully long for the kids).
7. Home for Christmas by Jan Brett
8. The Twelve Days of Christmas by Jan Brett
9. The Mitten by Jan Brett
10. The Wild Christmas Reindeer by Jan Brett
11. The Trouble with Trolls by Jan Brett
12. Annie and the Wild Animals by Jan Brett
I’ll just do 1 Jan Brett review. There is nothing spiritual in her books around the Christmas story, but it is very Scandinavian in it’s illustrations, and the common theme of trolls which is steeped in Norwegian culture and fairy tales. They are just plain fun, but I have too many in collection to be as diversified as I’d love to be. The Twelve Days of Christmas (5 stars) is staying for sure, and perhaps Home for Christmas as well, though that’s tied with The Wild Christmas Reindeer.
13. The Christmas Wish by Lori Evert
I found this one in a Nordic Needlepoint store, and if you love things along the arctic circle, you will love this book. It’s real life photography with magical elements added throughout to make this into such a realistic, possible fairy tale. 5 out of 5 stars.
14. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
I remember reading this book as a kid long before the movie. The gorgeous illustrations in this book inspired the movie, and I remember being worried that the movie wouldn’t be able to capture the beauty of it. (I do approve of the movie, as they did a fantastic job on it, but the book will always, always have my heart.) 5 out of 5 stars
15. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
This is an abridged version to fit into a picture book. The illustrations with this is gorgeous, and the editing really does a nice job of maintaining the language of Dickens without simplifying it too much. I don’t mind reading my kids language above them. In fact, I prefer it. 5 out of 5 stars
16. The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
A story about a poor couple, very much in love. You will either love this book or hate it. But it’s a classic. Spoiler: The husband wants to badly to get his wife a beautiful Christmas gift, and knowing she’s had her eyes on some beautiful combs for her hair, he sells his prized pocket watch to give them to her. The wife, knowing his prized possession of a pocket watch, gets him a chain for it so he can wear it properly, and sells her hair to pay for it. This story is masterfully told, and talks about love and sacrifice. 4 out of 5 stars.
17. The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado
This is a great little nativity story, and I wish my kids liked it a bit more. It goes a bit slow for them, but if we play it up with some sheep-like craft or activity, it holds. I love it for myself. I love the illustrations and the message. But my kids think it’s slow. I’m hoping this year that will change. Because of their input, I’ll give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.
18. The Tale of Three Trees by Angela Hunt
This book hits the ball out of the park. I’ll just tell you right off it’s 5 out of 5 stars. It’s the story of 3 trees, who have a dream of what they want to be. God takes their dream, and they go through a period of humbling and misunderstanding, until at last the most beautiful possible version of their dream comes true. This story connects the manger to the cross, and what the Jesus was born on this earth for in the first place. So, so well done.
19. Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story by Sally Lloyd-Jones
I immediately bought this book because let’s face it: it’s by Sally Lloyd-Jones, the author of the Jesus Storybook Bible which is my all time favorite Children’s “Bible.” (I have issues calling bible stories “Bible” as that shouldn’t be for paraphrases, or adding liberties, but for actually translated from original language- Scripture. It’s a semantic issue I have. But I love how this at least says it’s a “Storybook Bible.”)
Her other books make me cry ugly tears as God’s grace is revealed in the most beautiful depth, and the book is for children! I’d read her storybook Bible as a devotional even without kids! So this Song of the Stars is her story of how all creation joined in the singing with the heavens on the night that Jesus was born. It is also stunning, breathtaking, and helps you imagine what was going on in heaven and in all creation as they watched God’s story unfold. 5 out of 5 stars.
20. Ollie’s Ski Trip by Elsa Belskow
Elsa Belskow is one of my favorite illustrators, ever since one of Knut’s aunts gave us Pelle’s New Suit when Silje was born, which is one of my all time favorite children books now. Her books are lovely. I got this book because we are a big ski family, and you can’t go wrong with Elsa Belskow. The book is a bit long for my kids, and I wish it was big with large illustrations like our other books by her, instead of small with many pages, as it’s tricky to read to our family with bunches of kids. So we have our logistical issues with this book, but I still think it’s beautiful. 3 out of 5 stars. If I had 1 kid with a longer attention span, I’d give it a much higher rating.
21. Winter’s Gift by Jane Donovan
This is a beautifully illustrated book, also about Christmas on the farm, and talks about love and the bond between a man and his horse. Ultimately it’s about sacrifice and love. Lovely, lovely book. 4 out of 5 stars.
22. Snipp, Snapp and Snurr and the Reindeer by Maj Lindman
This is a cut, funny little book in the Scandinavian series on Snipp, Snapp, and Snurr. It’s a whimsical, lighthearted story full of fun. 4 out of 5 stars (because I have a major soft spot for Scandinavian picture books, if you couldn’t tell.)
23. The Christmas Message by Claire Miller
This is a very traditional, basic nativity story that can be found in your church library. There’s nothing wrong with having a basic story, but if we are going basic, I’d rather just read it from Luke 2. But the kids love it, and we got it free. 3 out of 5 stars.
24. Race of the Birkebeiners by Lise Lunge-Larsen
If you have followed this blog for awhile, you know that my husband skis the huge 55k cross country ski race every year in Wisconsin. It’s called The Birkie. It’s an enormous race, with thousands of participants from all over the world. One year when we were there, the author of this book was signing copies, and we got one for the kids. The Birkie race is based off of the story of how The Birkebeiners in Norway saved crown Prince Haakon from being kidnapped. With birchbark on their legs as armor, these guys strapped Prince Haakon on their backs, and skied him 55k to safety. The Birkebeiner race in Norway every year is waaaaaaay bigger, in the tens of thousands (on Knut’s bucket list) and they require their skiers to carry 8 lbs on their back to represent Prince Haakon, so it’s a bit tougher. So it’s not a Christmas story, but a story that is deep in our family’s winter culture. So 4 out of 5 stars. (Though, I’d like to move this book to our regular library and move in a more Christmas-y book in the future.)
25. Good King Wenceslas by John Neale
This is another gorgeous book, detailed illustrations, about the story behind the Christmas carol. Why was Good King Wenceslas good? You’ll have to read to find out. Very, very well done. 5 out of 5 stars.
As you can tell, there are some books I’d like to swap in for some “lesser” books in years to come. I would love a great version of the little drummer boy, and a historically based St. Nicholas tale. Also, The Little Match girl is on my wish list.
I would love to state quickly (haha) too, our family’s view on Santa stuff, as that seems to be a big debate in Christian circles. Our kids have stockings, and we fill them, and they open them Christmas morning, and we read Santa books, but from the beginning, our kids have known that Santa is based off the historical person of St. Nicholas, who had a habit of helping the poor, and you see all the “legends” of Santa, which points back to his passion to help the poor and needy in Jesus’ name. So these Santa books are fun, and not evil. They just are a retelling of the same principle. But these stories don’t hold a candle to the nativity. I will say, I would love more books about Jesus in my collection, as Advent is a really important season to me on the church calendar. As I’m trying to steer my collection more in that direction, I want to also live in the freedom that I don’t have to be legalistic about it.
I would rather have some quality literature in my collection on Santa than very poorly done books on Jesus. I can’t stand poorly done books on Jesus. It feels sacrilegious. It makes me cringe. And there’s lots of them. In my heart, I feel like if I speak the truth to my children about God, and show them beauty and art (both the serious side and the whimsical side) regardless of the subject matter of that art, (as long as that art is good and lovely) they will get a better picture of God, His goodness, and His majesty that way. Even if it’s fiction. I firmly believe that good fiction honors God. Non-fiction tells us what we see, and fiction tells us what we can’t see. When we think that we understand all of God and all of His ways, and He can fit into our tiny little brains, we are in trouble. “With God all things is possible” is a hard concept to grasp when you have only read non-fiction.
God does not fit into our thoughts, we must get lost in His. And they are more vast and wise than we can imagine. Therefore…stretching our imagination is good. It’s a faith muscle. It helps us imagine what could be, and some would argue, help us stretch our faith. C.S. Lewis and Tolkein lived by these principles. Fiction is incredibly important.
And that’s a small tangent from someone who got a literature major at a Christian college.
We do separate Advent readings. I would love more Advent books. Some of my favorites are:
Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp, and I really like her adult version of her Advent devotionals even better, but they cannot be used for kids. I’ve tried. Her kids book has great illustrations, and she has some great Advent activities to do in the kids’ book, and those are very good. As Advent books go, this is on the top. As far as adult devotionals go, this Advent one by Bonhoeffer is on my wish list. Next year, maybe. I’ll go through Ann’s book again this year.
Bartholomew’s Passage by Arnold Ytreeide is an Advent reading that the older kids and I will read after the little ones have gone to bed. It will be our big-kids read aloud for this month. I have heard by several parents that it is exceptionally good, but surprisingly suspenseful. It’s too suspenseful for little kids, so I have been cautioned by more than one parent to gauge your kids’ maturity before reading it aloud. I don’t know. We’ll see. We were given it many years ago, and are finally going through it this year.
What are some of your favorite all-time Christmas books?