When the holiday season arrives and the adults start digging out the decorations, the kids at my house head straight for one box: the Christmas books. They excitedly unpack them and stack them on the nightstand, where they’ll be ready for read-aloud time.
Reading our favorite holiday books together has become one of the season’s traditions at our house—and one that no one outgrows. Here are a few of the best Christmas books to share with one another this season, and for many seasons to come.
Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry
First published in 1963, this Christmas classic found a new audience when it was updated with new illustrations in 2000. It’s a perennial favorite in our family. Mr. Willowby brings home a beautiful live Christmas tree that is perfect in every way—except that it’s too tall for his room. He cuts off the top and shares it with his maid. She in turn snips off the top, which becomes a tree for the gardener. This continues with smaller and smaller trees and smaller and smaller families, proving that one person’s trash is truly another’s treasure.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss
You may think you and your kids know the Grinch’s story by heart—and maybe you do. But if you’ve watched the TV special more than read the book, pick up a copy of the original this season. Dr. Seuss wrote his books to be read aloud, and your kids will love hearing the rhymes while taking in a classic about how kindness and generosity can transform even the hardest, smallest heart.
Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner and Mark Buehner
This book imagines the secret lives of snowmen, and the antics they get up to together after all the humans go to sleep. They play more than make mischief, and kids will enjoy imagining that maybe there’s more behind those mounds of snow than we think. Plus, the illustrator has added tiny objects—a cat, a Santa face, a mouse, and more—to each page for you to try to spot. If you love this title, consider its companion, Snowmen at Christmas.
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
This is a story about listening, so make sure you don’t let the movie replace the experience of reading this book with your children. It’s a thoughtful, eloquent story that emphasizes the importance of faith over logic and belief over skepticism—and its message is meant for us grown-ups as much as for our kids. Is it sometimes hard for you to hear the bells of Santa’s sleigh, especially amid the craziness of Christmas? By the time you come to the last page of this heartwarming book, they’ll be ringing for you again.
My Penguin Osbert by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel
“Be careful what you wish for” is the underlying message of this Christmas book about a boy named Joe and a pet penguin named Osbert. This year, when Joe writes the proverbial letter to Santa and asks for a penguin, Santa surprises him by actually bringing one. And Joe gets a lot more than he bargained for. This book will make your kids laugh as they watch Joe squirm, but at the end you can discuss the pitfalls of letting Christmas revolve around a list of desires and demands.
The Sweet Smell of Christmas by Patricia M. Scarry
There may not be much of a plotline to this little book by Patricia Scarry, wife of fellow children’s author Richard Scarry. But the familiar Scarry-style animals will appeal to your kids, as will the scratch-and-sniff apple pie, candy cane, Christmas tree, gingerbread, and more. The book lasted us several Christmas seasons before my children lovingly wore off the scents.
Nativity by Cynthia Rylant
Sparse words and beautiful illustrations grace the pages of this simple but stunning new release, which leaves space for you to talk over the Bible story with your child. This book by Newbery Medalist Cynthia Rylant starts out with the story of Jesus’s birth, based on verses from the Bible, and then includes some of his later teachings—“Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth”—that will speak to adults and kids alike.
The Night before Christmas by Clement C. Moore, illustrated by Charles Santore
“’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house . . .” There’s something about this opening phrase that sends a thrill through audiences young and old. It sets the stage for Santa and all his magic, which truly—almost two centuries after the poem was first published in 1823—never gets old. This particular version honors the original poem by adding rich, mesmerizing illustrations. You’ll fall under its spell all over again.
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