Our 25(ish) Favorite Christmas Books

I just spent a LONG time sitting in the middle of a big pile of Christmas books, trying to pick our very favorites… And it turns out that narrowing down our beloved Christmas books into a reasonable recommendation list was a really hard task (the picture above shows the many books that survived the first round of cuts)! There are classic Christmas books that should belong in every collection, like The Polar Express or The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, but you probably already know or own them. They’re not on this list. My girls also have Christmas favorites featuring beloved characters, like Maple and Willow, Olivia, Bear, and the Construction Site team, but if you know and love the series, you probably already know and love the Christmas book. You also won’t see them on this list. Instead, I hope this list can help you find some Christmas books that you didn’t already know! So, without further ado, here is the Children’s Lit Love 2018 list of 25 favorite Christmas books (with a little cheating…)!

(I have starred the books I believe are must-reads for the season.)

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Sweet Christmas Stories:

  1. *Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo — In my opinion, Kate DiCamillo can do no wrong, so I was thrilled when her first picture book was also a beautifully illustrated (fabulous paintings by Bagram Ibatoulline) book about Christmas! In Great Joy, a little girl is touched by the realization that some people don’t have homes, places to stay warm during winter’s snows. But she also learns about the greatest gift she can give anyone, that of kindness and welcome. This one is sure to be a touching addition to your Christmas collection. (Ages 4 and up)
  2. The Christmas Boot by Lisa Wheeler — This is illustrated by one of my favorites, Jerry Pinkney, and that very well may be the reason it makes my list of favorites. That said, this story of a poor, lonely woman who finds a boot on Christmas morning; through this boot, she also finds a powerful belief in the magic of Santa, Christmas, and company. (Ages 4-8)
  3. The Little Fir Tree by Margaret Wise Brown — All the little fir tree wants is to be a part of something, part of the forest, part of the community. His wish is granted when he is chosen to be the center of a great Celebration at the house of a young boy who cannot walk. The relationship between the tree and the boy unfolds over the years until the tree itself is surprised by the best Celebration yet. (Ages 4-8)
  4. Night Tree by Even Bunting — This is the story of a family piled into their car to drive through the woods to find their Christmas tree. Readers soon learn, though, that they’re not cutting a tree down… Instead they’re creating a gift for the animals! I love the non-traditional concept of this Christmas tree and giving. (Ages 4-8)
  5. Pick a Pine Tree by Patricia Toht — This bouncy, rhyming story walks readers through the process of picking and decorating a Christmas tree. The illustrations by Jarvis are bright and happy, and as a bonus depict an interracial family who host an also diverse Christmas tree decorating party! Released just last year, this is already a lifetime favorite for many. (Ages 2-6)
  6. Apple Tree Christmas by Trinka Hakes Noble — Set in 1881, a family of 4 lives with their animals in a converted old barn close to a beloved old apple tree. When a Christmas snowstorm hits and the apple tree splits, the family is brought even closer together by realizations of how important the tree was to all of them. (Ages 6-9)
  7. Shall I Knit You a Hat? A Christmas Yarn by Kate Klise — I hadn’t heard of this one till this year, but a good friend told me that our local children’s bookstore recently told her it was the best picture book about Christmas and everyone should have it… And it is indeed is delightful! A wonderful story about the spirit of Christmas, the joy of giving, and time with loved ones. (Ages 3-7)
  8. *Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry — I wish I had a better picture of the original cover, but we lost our dust jacket long ago… One of the oldest books on my list, this was published in 1963 but is absolutely still delightful today! Simple tri-colored illustrations accompany a rhyming story of a tree that keeps giving… and giving… and giving. (Ages 2-8)
  9. A Christmas Tree for Pyn by Olivier Dunrea — Tiny Pyn and her great big father live along (we infer that her mother has died…), and though we can tell he loves Pyn very much, he has a harder time showing that softer side to her. All she wants for Christmas is her very first Christmas tree… And in the end, she gets that and so much more! (Ages 3-8)
  10. The Baker’s Dozen: A Saint Nicholas Tale by Aaron Shepard — A friend sent us this as part of a new baby/Christmas gift in 2015, and I am so glad we have it! This is a retelling of a Dutch legend of Saint Nicholas, and it teaches the origin of the term “baker’s dozen,” as well as the importance of sometimes going above and beyond instead of doing exactly what is asked or required. (Ages 4 and up)

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Stories of the Nativity/First Christmas:

11. *Mortimer’s Christmas Manger by Karma Wilson — The same friend who gave us The Baker’s Dozen sent us this one, and it is a favorite year after year. This is written and illustrated by the same duo who does the Bear series (Bear Stays Up for Christmas is a must-read in our house, too…), and it is just as charming! Mortimer is busy looking for a new, cozy house, and finds just the place in the nativity scene of the big house! Echoing sentiments of the Biblical Christmas story, Mortimer learns what it was like to search for a place to sleep and understands what it means to love Jesus. (Ages 2-8)

12. The Christmas Fox by Anik McGrory — This is a sweet story of animals excited to go see a new baby (always just referred to as a baby, not Jesus). Each animal is excited to give a gift to the baby, except the fox, who believes he has nothing to give. In the end, he realizes he does indeed have a wonderful gift to give! (Ages 3-7, though is short enough that younger children could enjoy too)

13. Baboushka: A Christmas Tale retold by Dawn Casey — This retelling of a traditional Christmas tale from Russia reminds us to slow down and focus on what is truly important during the holiday season. Babushka, the main character, is invited to go with the 3 kings to meet Jesus, but she is too busy to go. The next day she changes her mind and gathers gifts to give the baby, but on her way meets children in need and gives all her gifts to them instead. I love these illustrations– the color palette is delightful! (Ages 4-8)

14. *Humphrey’s First Christmas by Carol Heyer — This richly illustrated book tells the story of the journey of the 3 wise men from the point of view of the camel that carried them to Bethlehem. It’ll make you giggle while also reminding you of the story of Christmas and the meaning of giving from your heart. (Ages 4-8)

15. *Who Is Coming to Our House? by Joseph Slate — This is the perfect Christmas board book for your youngest readers! The animals all ask, “Who is coming to our house?” and while they don’t know the answer, they do know it is someone important, so they bustle around to make the stable perfect. On the next-to-last page, Mary and Joseph arrive, and we finally see baby Jesus at the end. (Ages baby-3)

16. This is the Stable by Cynthia Cotten — Written in the style of “the house that Jack built,” Cotten slowly builds the scenery and characters of the nativity. The youngest listeners will love the repetition, rhythm, and rhyme of this story! (Ages 2-8)

17. The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado — Lucado tells a tender story of a lamb with a crippled leg, a lamb who frequently feels left out and is often left behind. A friend reminds him that “God has a special place for those who feel left out,” and Joshua finds his place in the stable on Christmas. A Christmas story, sure, but one that can be read year-round for its valuable message. (Ages 4-8)

18. *Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story by Sally Lloyd-Jones — This time we see the story of the first Christmas through the eyes of all of the animals in the animal kingdom, not just the ones in or close to the stable. Alison Jay’s unique paintings are brightly colored, but finished with a “craquelure” finish, lending an antique, historical feel to the book. (Ages 3-7)

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Too Hard to Choose Just One Christmas Book from a Favorite Author:

19. Gifts of the Heart, Uncle Vova’s Tree, or An Orange for Frankie by Patricia Polacco — She has even more Christmas books, but these 3 are my favorite… And if you made me choose just one, Gifts of the Heart is probably the one I’d recommend, though that’s a really hard choice! They’re all diverse (telling stories of long ago Christmases on snowy farms, Russian traditions, and lost loved ones), and all highlight the importance of giving from the heart and thinking of others during the holiday season. (Ages 6+ for all)

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Books about Diverse Christmas Traditions:

20. *Walk This World at Christmastime by Debbie Powell — I found this book last year on Everyday Reading’s Christmas list, and it’s so fun! A wonderful mix of information about Christmas traditions around the world (you visit a new set of countries on each page) and a lift-the-flap book (5-6 flaps per page, each with a blurb of info about Christmas in that part of the world behind it), this clever book also serves as an advent calendar! Your children ages 5 and up will love this for years!

21. Joy to the World by Tomie dePaola (or the individual stories: The Night of Las Posadas, The Legend of the Poinsettia, or The Story of the Three Wise Kings) — Like Polacco, dePaola has many wonderful Christmas stories (even one for Strega Nona!). I’ve owned The Night of Las Posadas and The Legend of the Poinsettia since I was in the classroom, and I was thrilled to receive the beautifully bound hardback Joy to the World as a gift a few years ago. Each story includes an author’s note, and Joy to the World also has 5 beautifully illustrated musical scores. dePaola never disappoints, and we’ve learned a lot about Christmas traditions in Mexico, Spain, Texas, and New Mexico that we wouldn’t know about otherwise. (Ages 3 and up)

22. N is for Navidad by Susan Middleton Elya and Merry Banks — This brightly colored alphabet book walks readers through how a Latino family (the author’s note states the customs depicted are primarily Mexican) prepares for their Christmas celebration, beginning December 16 and ending with a celebration of the arrival of the 3 kings on January 6. There’s even a glossary of the Spanish words in the back! (Ages 4-8)

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Best Book Based on a Christmas Carol:

23. *Here Comes Santa Claus by Gene Autry and Oakley Haldeman, ill. by Bruce Whatley — I discovered this one this year when Ralphie from Simply on Purpose raved about it, and she was right! The illustrations are bright and colorful, and Autry and Haldeman did a wonderful job of writing a song about Santa Claus that also reminds us of the immeasurable love of God and the hope and goodwill of the Christmas season! (Ages 2 and up, especially if you sing!)

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Stories about the Rockefeller Center Trees:

24. *Red and Lulu by Matt Tavares AND The Carpenter’s Gift: A Christmas Tale about the Rockefeller Center Tree by David Rubel. Both of these books are sweet stories about the choosing of a Rockefeller Center tree and the effect that choice has on the nearest inhabitants, and both are beautifully illustrated. What makes these both really special is that they both include information about how Rockefeller Center trees are donated to Habitat for Humanity at the end of each season to be used for lumber! (Red and Lulu– ages 3 and up; The Carpenter’s Gift– ages 5 and up)

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Best Classic Paired with Best Classic with a Twist:

25. *The Night Before Christmas ill. by Christian Birmingham AND *‘Twas the Evening of Christmas by Glenys Nellist — There are so many versions of The Night Before Christmas, so you just have to pick the one with your favorite illustrations. I think Birmingham’s are beautiful, so this is my go-to each year (but, admittedly, we own at least 3 different versions, so I haven’t taken time to check out new editions lately). My mom send us ‘Twas the Evening of Christmas last year, and I am so glad we have this to pair with the Santa-centered original! Modeled after the rhyme and format of the original, Nellist’s story tells of the first Christmas Eve and the birth of Jesus. Nellist does an amazing job of mimicking the well-known story with lines such as, “The pigeons were nestled all snug in their beds/ While visions of breadcrumbs danced ’round in their heads.” (The Night Before Christmas– ages 5-8, but I think it’s ageless! The Evening of Christmas– ages 4-8)

So, there it is. In addition to a few of the books listed at the very beginning (we may try to make Best Christmas Pageant a family read-aloud this year, and my girls will NEED Maple & Willow’s Christmas Tree on repeat…), these are the books that will live on our front-facing shelf this holiday season.

I know you’ve got Christmas favorites that didn’t make my list— comment below with your opinions!

5 thoughts on “Our 25(ish) Favorite Christmas Books

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