Great Holiday Books for Kids

December 10, 2012 |  by  |  book review
Great Holiday Books for Kids

Let’s face it, most holiday books are pretty lame. Take any well-known series of books (Little Critter, Bernstein Bears, etc.), slap a Christmas tree on it and voila – Christmas book. Usually somebody is learning an important lesson about the true spirit of Christmas which means they’re dull, preachy, and your kids won’t dig them. Or they’ve been made into movies (Grinch, Polar Express) and now the paper version can’t compete with the colorful thrill of moving pictures.

But a few holiday books do stand out from the pack and are worth your consideration. This list was compiled with the thoughtful help of my good friend Alana and includes stories that are secular, Christian, Muslim, and Jewish. But they all have one thing in common – their awesomeness!

Top 10 Holiday Books for Kids

(In no particular order. Note: Click on title or image for links to Amazon)

Olivia Helps With Christmas

Most of you either a) know Olivia by now or b) live in a yurt in northern Canada. Unlike most holiday books, Olivia doesn’t attempt to keep the focus on family or giving. Olivia doesn’t learn an important lesson from Santa. This book does, however, represent the reality of Christmas with kids in a cute and authentic way. While the overall quality of Olivia books is mixed, this one is a winner.

Snowmen at Christmas

Fantastic illustrations with cool hidden pictures (mouse, dinosaur, etc.) to hunt for? Check. Awesome rhymes that are fun to read out loud? Check. Sweet story about how snowmen celebrate the holiday together? Check. By all measure, this book is a treasure.

Nabeel’s New Pants: An Eid Tale

Around the same time of year that Christians are celebrating Christmas, Muslims celebrate Eid, Jews celebrate Hanukkah, and Hindus celebrate Diwali. All these festivals involve feasts, lights, gifts, and family. This story follows Nabeel buying gifts for his family and new pants for himself, except that they are a bit too long. You will laugh out loud at this story, and learn a little about Eid customs too.

Bear Stays Up for Christmas

What a dilemma – bear hibernates every winter and misses Christmas! This year his friends gather together to wake up bear up, determined that they can celebrate together. “T’was the day before Christmas, snuggled on his floor, Bear sleeps soundly, with a great big snore.” You really can’t go wrong with Karma Wilson (author), everything she puts out is a gem. Such as…

Mortimer’s Christmas Manger

Another book by Karma Wilson, this story introduces the story of the nativity as a little mouse finds a perfect place to live in the nativity scene, except that he has to move that pesky baby out of the way. The story gently tells of Jesus birth and Mortimer learns to make room for Jesus, and that Jesus has room for us all.

The Jolly Christmas Postman

The story follows the postman as he delivers holiday cards to the Three Bears, the Gingerbread Man, etc. Wonderful illustrations and the book includes actual fairy tale mail. These are charming and not attached (they’re loose paper within attached envelopes). Thus it’s a good fit for older (4-5+ YO) kids who will LOVE the novelty of reading the story AND the mail.

Moishe’s Miracle

You really need to channel your inner Tevia (think “If I Were a Rich Man”) to read this book out loud. It’s a charming Hanukkah tale of a gentle man, a nagging wife, goblins, and lots and lots of latkes. The only thing missing is a recipe at the end of the book because you will want to fry up some potato pancakes right away!

Best Christmas Book Ever

Contrary to the title, I do NOT believe this is the best Christmas book ever. But if your kids are big Richard Scarry fans (like mine are) this book is a must-have. It’s a collection of holiday-themed short stories featuring all the Richard Scarry favorites (Huckle and Lowly, Mr. Gronkle, Sargent Murphy, etc.) and of course, Santa!

Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree

This book is a bit wordy for younger (<3 YO) kids but is a charming addition to your bigger kid's holiday library. Mr. Willowby's tree is SO tall it won't fit in the parlor! So his butler chops off the top to make it fit. They then realize that the top of the tree is just the perfect size for the upstairs maid. And so it goes.

The Spirit of Christmas

If you’ve read any books by Nancy Tillman (of On The Day You Were Born fame) you know that her books feature gorgeous original artwork and heartfelt poetry that will leave you a blubbering puddle. Which may not seem like a great way to recommend a book, but it should be. This book is a beautiful piece of art. The story centers on the hunt for the spirit of Christmas (hint: the “spirit” is cleverly hidden in each picture). And it ends with the lines, “The best part of Christmas will always be you beneath my Christmas tree. You are loved.” I have not yet once read this to my children without tears. Buy it.

Did I miss any great holiday stories? Have any of your own family favorites to share?

ps. Because somebody rightfully pointed out that I forgot Twas the Night Before Christmas, I’m including this old but excellent SNL skit of John Malckovich reading Twas the Night Before Christmas (starts at approx: 1:10 minutes into video). Enjoy!


  1. Hello,
    I love this list because there are so many books on here that I don’t know! But to me, a Christmas book list is not complete without The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. I just love it.
    Thanks for all the great content!

    • Hey Laura,
      Thanks for chiming in! Yes the Grinch IS a great one. Although it would be #1 on my “favorite holiday videos” list for sure. I think I’m just so much in love with the video/music (you’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch!) that the video trumps my love of the book.

      Which really when you think of it, is not something you can say often AT ALL 🙂

  2. Maybe better for slightly older kids, but my mom read this one to us every year, starting when we were pretty young– The Polar Express!

    • The Polar Express IS a great book, and unlike the Grinch (which I may actually love more in video form) is FAR better than the movie. Seriously the movie sort of creeps me out with rubbery Tom Hanks running about all over. The book however is a winner 🙂

  3. Big Polar Express fans here, too:-) Thank you for the great list–there are new ones here that we need to add to our collection.

    • Most of the ones you don’t already know are thanks to Alana (SHS Mom) who thoughtfully shared some family favorites that represent a range of traditions 🙂

  4. The night before Christmas!! Every year!

  5. Ohhh, The Spirit of Christmas is my favorite! We found it last year and I cried and cried whenever I read it to our daughter. Another Christmas tear jerker: You Are My Miracle by Maryann Cusimano Love. It’s a darling book about a Mama and Baby Bear getting ready for the holidays!

    • I will definitely check that out! I swear my 6 YO likes me to read Spirit of Christmas because he is perplexed/amused by the fact that I get all blubbery at the end. Whatever works I guess 😉

  6. Thank you for this selection Alexis! This is our first Christmas with our little one (5 month old) and I hadn’t heard of many of these, this is gold.

    • I’m proud of my list too (if you can’t tell I’m totally into books). But fair warning – at 5 months your baby will be more interested in staring at twinkly christmas lights. In fact young babies are almost MESMERIZED by christmas lights. So for the next few weeks you should enjoy this easy peasy baby entertainment for all it’s worth!

  7. Thanks so much for this list Alexis! Looking forward in checking a few of them out.

  8. I found this, and thought, that’ll amuse the sleep-deprived folks over here.

    For those not familiar with the Order of the Stick, it’s a webcomic based on Dungeons and Dragons, and this is Xykon, (one of) the villain(s).

  9. The Sweet Smell of Christmas is great!

  10. I love your list because many are ones we don’t have. I wanted to add Christmas Magic by Michael Garland (good story and beautiful illustrations) and A Wish to be a Christmas Tree by Colleen Monroe (wonderful meaning) to the list. My 3-year-old isn’t quite ready for either of these but they are in my school collection in my 2nd grade classroom.

    • These both look great! Will definitely check these out. I picked up The Pajama Elves new this year and it was disappointing (pictures looked like I could have done them and that’s REALLY saying something).

  11. Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo. Beautiful book, great message.

  12. I’m surprised your list doesn’t include Hallmark’s Jingle All The Way 2011 Animated Christmas Special, which you can download to your iPad (or probably find on YouTube).

    My kid (20 months) will watch this over and over and claps when it’s done — this is very helpful when, for example, your kid wakes up at 5:30am and you want to go back to sleep. Once they know how to re-start videos, you’re golden. Better than books, yo!

    Actually, I think I’m going to add this to my forthcoming book Matt’s Tips for Awesome Parenting.

    • Can I get a pre-release copy of Matt’s Awesome Parenting book for review? I hope it includes useful tips on things like introducing your toddler to tanning the RIGHT way ;P

  13. Favorite Christmas book ever: A Cajun Night Before Christmas. “The chirren been nuzzle good snug on de flo’ and Mama pass de pepper tru de crack on de do’. When out on de bayou dere rose such a clatter, make sound like ol’ Boudreau done fall off his ladder!”

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