Our Favorite Christmas Books

At the beginning of this month we started several of our family holiday traditions, including our Christmas book advent! This is such a beautiful time of the year. I love to squeeze every ounce of magic out of it. I’m especially invested in doing so this year, as so many of our favorite parts of the season have been cancelled or are unsafe with current circumstances. So at the end of November, I set out one evening to collect all of our favorite Christmas books and wrap them up for the kids to spend the whole month of December enjoying!

There is really something magical about reading Christmas stories together as a family. It’s one of our most beloved holiday traditions. As a lifelong book-lover, I believe this is one of the most perfect ways to celebrate the season, and truly embrace some quality time together. We’ve been adding to our collection for years and we have some incredible books to enjoy. Each night, we curl up together in cozy pjs beside the twinkle of Christmas lights. Snuggled under thick blankets, we read about this most magical time of year!

Our favorite Christmas books - December 2020 blog post | | photo by Kati Mallory

How does our book advent work?

Before December 1st, I pull out our collection of favorite Christmas books (we rotate our books seasonally). I set aside an evening to wrap them up festively in holiday paper while sipping hot cocoa and listening to the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack. This can feel a bit like a tedious job and I have to remind myself what a true labor of love it is as I get 10+ books into wrapping!

Each night leading up to Christmas, our boys take turns choosing one book to unwrap. Once a book is unwrapped, we leave it out so we can continue to read them throughout the month. This year I originally wanted to number the books in a particular order but I decided to just let them choose at random. It is so fun to see their excitement as they open each one and see what book it is!

It’s actually really fun for us parents too! We love all of these books almost as much as the kids (maybe more!) so it’s a great surprise each night for us too.

Our collection consists of a variety of books. Some of them I’ve loved and kept since my own childhood. Others have been gifted through the years. And many of them I’ve purchased after falling in love with them. When I started this tradition, I didn’t have a full 24 books. The first year I only did the 12 days leading up to Christmas. The following year, I checked out books from the library and wrapped them up so I’d have a full 24!  Just make sure to check your due dates if you use library books. Now we own enough that I even occasionally double up in wrapping so the kids get a two-for-one.

Our kids are still little (ages 2.5 and almost 4) so I choose books accordingly. I also like to challenge them with some of the ones I choose. That means I include some old-time classics, books that offer more of a world-view of the holidays, and a couple of favorites from my own childhood. These can be a bit above their typical listening level.  I’ve found that for the most part, these stories can still capture their attention. And if need be, I “summarize” my reading through the longer sections to help them stay engaged. I also include some board books, which are age-appropriate for babies up to preschoolers.  

It’s never too early or too late to start your own collection! If you can, try to buy one or two favorites a year. Maybe add a few to your child’s Christmas wish lists from family. And definitely consider supplementing with library books as you go to help along the way.

Our book advent tradition is eagerly anticipated by our whole family. We enjoy the excitement of rediscovering so many favorites and reading together through this magical time of year. I decided to pull together a list of our favorite Christmas books (in no particular order) to share with you. It’s not all of them, but these are all a part of our Christmas Book Advent this year. My hope is that you might feel inspired to add one or two to your own collection. Or perhaps check a few out from the library to enjoy with your family this year.

Our family’s favorite Christmas books:

Our favorite Christmas books - December 2020 blog post | | books 1-8

1. Where Do Diggers Celebrate Christmas? by Brianna Caplan Sayres. If your kids are truck-lovers like ours, this might be a great book to add to your Christmas collection. The trucks can be found trimming their tree, singing Christmas carols, gathering gifts, and putting out milk/cookies for Santa! This is a board-book sequel to the original Where Do Diggers Sleep at Night? and has a simple rhyme to it that makes it fun to read and enjoyable even for children under 3.

2. How Santa Got His Job by Stephen Krensky. This book is an entertaining tale all about Santa’s adventures to find the “right” job beginning with his first job! Did you know he was a chimney sweep, a postal worker, a cook, a zookeeper, and a circus performer – all before getting his job at the North Pole?! We love this witty little book. Another favorite is How Santa Lost His Job by the same author!

3. The Mitten by Jan Brett. A classic favorite at our house based on a Ukrainian folktale which makes it extra special for us since Paul is from Ukraine. The tale of a little boy who loses a handmade white mitten in the snow and it is found by a variety of animals who all decide to squeeze inside it to be cozy together. The illustrations are beautiful and the story is so endearing. We love this one so much!

4. Last Stop on the Reindeer Express by Maudie Powell-Tuck. In this story, Mia is missing her grandfather at Christmastime and the magic of the season simply isn’t the same without him. She writes him a letter and is saddened to learn it will not reach him in in time for Christmas. In a surprising twist of fate, she discovers a mysterious post box that leads her on a grand adventure. Illustrated with peep-through pages and lift-the-flaps, this engaging tale will warm your heart.

This is a lovely book for anyone who can’t be with their loved ones at Christmas and is a very sweet story for families to read to their younger children if they do have to be apart during this time of year.

5. The Sweet Smell of Christmas by Patricia M. Scarry. A classic interactive favorite, this scratch-n-sniff book was originally published in 1970! It is so nostalgic to read about Little Bear preparing for Christmas with his family to my own children all these years later. The wonderfully evocative smells of pine, peppermint, gingerbread, hot cocoa, and orange really create a scene of Christmas. I always got mandarin oranges in my stocking as a kid and this is a tradition that I plan to continue!

6. Mice Skating by Annie Silvestro. This is a whimsical book about the wonders of winter, friendship, and a little mouse named Lucy who loves ice skating. I really appreciate that Lucy follows her heart by resisting the pressure of her friends who only want to stay inside and then ultimately helps them try something new!

Full of cheesy puns (which I LOVE!), this whimsical book will charm your socks off.

7. Finding Christmas by Lezlie Evans. This is a simple and delightful story about three friends (Mouse, Hare, and Squirrel) who discover the true meaning of Christmas as they help nurse a lost and injured swallow back to health. This book emphasizes the values of caring and generosity, being kind to strangers, and the power of intention. It is a tale full of lovely holiday spirit.

8. Stickman by Julia Donaldson. We love every book we have read by this author so naturally this one ranks high as a favorite for all of us. You may recognize other books by her including: Room on the Broom, The Gruffalo, and Zog (to name a few of our all time favs!). In this delightful story, Stickman goes out for a jog one morning only to get mistaken for a stick by a variety of different characters (think: a dog who wants to play fetch, a goose that is building a nest, a man making a sandcastle, etc.). This book is lyrically engaging and you’ll be rooting for Stickman by the end!

*You can also watch Stickman as an animated movie on Amazon Prime for free (along with the others listed above!)

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9. The Little Reindeer by Nicola Killen. In this simple yet enchanting story, Ollie is awakened by the sound of jingling. She sets off into the night in search of the source and discovers a lost reindeer! This book has a magical feel to it and is beautifully illustrated in black & white, with splashes of red details that really capture your eye.

10. When Santa was a Baby by Linda Bailey. In this charming story, we are introduced to Santa as a cuddly rotund little baby. Of course, he has rosy-cheeks and a big booming voice. As he gets older, we learn (right alongside his parents) that he prefers for the color red, is very curious about chimneys, has an affinity for gift-giving and toy building, wants a pet reindeer, and loves the cold. In fact, his favorite thing to do in the summer is stand in front of the open refrigerator in the nude! My boys crack up at this part bc they think seeing Santa’s “backside” is hilarious – more modest reader beware!

The illustrations have a gorgeous vintage style that almost remind me of old Coca-cola commercials. Such a fun read!

11. A World of Cookies for Santa: Follow Santa’s Tasty Trip Around the World by M. E. Furman. This is a wonderful book about different Santa traditions and the kinds of cookies/treats that await him on his journey around the globe. The illustrations are bright and colorful, the story is culturally rich and flavorfully delicious. You’ll even find recipes for several of the cookies at the end of the book!

**Full disclosure on this one; it’s a little bit long-winded for my young boys but they enjoyed it nonetheless.

12. Dasher by Matt Tavares. Most children know the story of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer but this book dates back to before Santa ever even used reindeer to pull his sleigh! Little Dasher and her family are an unhappy feature of a traveling circus and they long to be free and live under the North Star where the air is cool and there is snow under their paws. One night, brave Dasher escapes and meets Santa in the woods where she is able to help him deliver gifts to children. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but I’ll give you a hint… by the end, Santa has found his famous 8 reindeer to help pull his sleigh! The story is engaging and illustrations are lovely.

**If you’re a fan of The Polar Express, I bet you would enjoy this one as well.

13. Amazing Peace, A Christmas Poem by Maya Angelou. We have the illustratsed children’s version of this book. A lyrical and inspiring poem that reminds us to embrace the peace, hope, and promise that this season holds. I love reading poetry to my boys, even though it seems to be less interesting to them. The illustrations really help keep their attention. This one feels like a particularly important and powerful read for any and all of us this year. I actually found my copy on eBay a while back but couldn’t find it for a reasonable price online currently. So I’m not including a link – maybe your local library will have it?

“Into this climate of fear and apprehension, Christmas enters, streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope and singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air. The world is encouraged to come away from rancor, come the way of friendship.”

-Maya Angelou

14. Pick a Pine Tree by Patricia Toht. We received this book as a gift from Aunt Kati a few years ago and it has been a big hit ever since! When I was young, our family went together to a Christmas Tree farm each year to cut a live tree. In this story, that tradition lives on – a family goes to pick a pine tree and takes it home to decorate for the Christmas season. The story is told through rhyme and illustrated in bright festive colors. Each year our family goes to “pick a pine tree” and this book certainly gets us in the spirit every year! It’s one of our very favorites!

15. Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert E. Barry. First published in 1963, this heartwarming story was one of the handful of new books we added to our collection last year. It quickly became a favorite. The rhyming tale is quite engaging, and the sweet vintage-appeal of the illustrations is idyllic. A Christmas tree just a bit too tall gets trimmed and passed along to a whole community, from Mr. Willowby to Mistletoe Mouse.

This book truly brings to life the adage of “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

16. This is Christmas by Tom Booth. This was my top-favorite new add to our collection last year. I’m not sure if it’s the cheerful illustrations or the story that I enjoy more, because both are truly delightful! Maybe it’s the nature-lover in me, but there is something so lovely about the curious little chipmunk trying to understand what exactly Christmas is. In the end, he realizes that Christmas is about the joy and love you share when you surround yourself with friends and family. 

17. Red and Lulu by Matt Tavares. I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for this book since the first time I read it. This is the tale of a beautiful pair of cardinals, Red and Lulu, who live in a majestic spruce tree. Then one day, the unthinkable happens, and they are separated. This poignant and emotionally captivating story will be certain to tug on your heart-strings. The illustrations are stunning and tell an incredibly touching tale of perseverance and love.

18. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. A timeless classic, this book has been a favorite of mine since the late 80’s! As a childhood tradition, every year my mama and I would read The Polar Express every year around Christmas. Reading it with my kids has been very nostalgic for me. This tale is about a boy who is losing faith in the magic of Santa. He finds himself on quite an adventure as he boards a train destined for the North Pole! This book shows us that the spirit and magic of Santa truly lies in the heart of the believer.

“Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.”

-Chris Van Allsburg

19. Little Blue Truck’s Christmas by Alice Schertle. Fans of the Little Blue Truck will love this charming and spirited counting-tale! Little Blue Truck is busy spreading Christmas cheer to all of his animal friends. He and Toad are out delivering Christmas trees. With the familiar simply rhythm and signature illustration style of other LBT books, this one is certain to be a seasonal favorite.

Our copy even has flashing colored Christmas lights on the final page which is always a hit!

20. Dear Santa by Rod Campbell. A classic lift-the-flap book that toddlers will love, by the same author as Dear Zoo (which my children both adore!). Santa is trying to choose the perfect gift. After wrapping a series of things that aren’t quite right, he finally decides! It is a delightfully fun book to go through with small children who may exclaim enthusiastically as they lift-the-flaps to discover what Santa has considered. Ideal for ages 3 and younger (though my almost 4 year old still loves it!).

21. Dream Snow by Eric Carle. Another delightful lift-the-flap board book that toddlers will love. Dream Snow is written by the same author as The Very Hungry Caterpillar (a timeless childhood favorite!). A story about a farmer who falls asleep on Christmas eve and dreams of blankets of snow covering him and his uniquely named animals (One, Two, Three, etc.). When he wakes, there really is snow!

“Few in number are the parents who have made it through their toddler’s years on just one copy of Carle’s The Very Hungry CaterpillarDream Snow has similar ingredients: a simple story, lively collage-like illustrations and a fun gimmick for little hands . . .”

Time Magazine review

22. Santa Calls by William Joyce. In 1993, I received an autographed copy of this book as a gift from a family friend and loved it from that very first read. In true Joyce-fashion, this story depicts an unusual, creative, and imaginative Christmas adventure with some surprisingly heartwarming twists. Illustrated in a joyous art-deco meets Wizard of Oz style, this a great book for anyone in the mood for a little seasonal Santa fantasy.

**Full disclosure on this one; I would recommend to more advanced picture-book audiencesit’s a little bit wordy for my young boys but they enjoy it nonetheless.

23. Holly Hobbie’s The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore, illustrated by Holly Hobbie. When I was growing up, every year one of my uncle’s would read this book to us as a holiday tradition at our annual family Christmas party. Most people are familiar with the famous Night Before Christmas tale so there isn’t much to add as far as comments on the actual story as it is written, other than… it’s brilliant.

“Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds;
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads”

-Clement C. Moore, opening lines of The Night Before Christmas

In this particular version, the illustrations are absolutely magical and captivating in a way that pulls you right in to the story itself. Holly Hobbie also adds in a character (a very young child) who wakes up to witness the story unfold, which somehow just adds to the magic of it all. I love to read this to my boys on Dec. 24th right before I tuck them in for the evening.

24. Bear Stays Up for Christmas by Karma Wilson. In this sweet tale, Bear is feeling very sleepy but his woodland friends really want him to stay awake. They’re hoping he will share in the fun of preparing for Christmas! This board book is fun to read with it’s lyrical storyline and the illustrations are simply lovely.

25. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. This classic and endearing tale of Peter’s fun adventures on a snowy day in his neighborhood is delightfully charming. Our boys have the entire story memorized! From making interesting footprints in the snow, sliding down snowbanks, building a snowman, and making snow angels, this book will have you wishing for snow for sure! A Letter to Amy is another one we love by this author.

*You can also watch The Snowy Day as an animated movie on Amazon Prime

26. Construction Site on Christmas Night by Sherri Duskey Rinker. This book will amaze any truck or construction lover (of any age). It transitions through the main roles of each construction vehicle and the gifts each one receives for the upcoming year. Think: a new scoop for the excavator, new tires for the dump truck! The highlight of the book is when we discover at the end, that the trucks have been working hard to complete a very important job by Christmas – a new fire station!

*This review provided by Paul B. who read this book earlier this week to our boys!

27. Sneezy the Snowman by Maureen Wright. Sneezy is quite the interesting character! He’s snowman who is cold and gets himself into trouble trying to warm up. Luckily for him, he has a group of kind children who do their best to help him out! Written in rhyme, this story is hilariously entertaining and has a delicious ending!

28. Under the Christmas Tree by Nikki Grimes. In twenty-three moving poems, the author depicts universal sentiments – sights, sounds, and feelings that make the holiday season so special. This is a book of poetry, evocative and compelling, but the story of each poem also reads like narrative. It begins with taking out decorations for Christmas, and follows through Christmas Eve, the dinner, and days after. The breathtaking illustrations contribute deeply to the experience.

I found this book on eBay when I bought my copy. I couldn’t find it for a reasonable price online currently. Including an amazon link in case a used copy becomes available. Perhaps your local library will have it? It’s totally worth seeking out!

Did YOUR favorite Christmas book make the list? Am I missing one that must be included in our collection? Please tell me in the comments! I love discovering new children’s books and I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions!

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  • Wessinger Phoebe

    What an amazing job you’ve put together here & awesome book review list Once again your writing excels littlebear…

  • Kate Daniels

    Liza- you got most on my personal list. Auntie Claus is one of the good ones to add when they are in lower elementary. Love your writing and the pics of boys too! Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas

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