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)
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.
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.
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.
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…
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 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.
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!
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!
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.
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!