Nothing troubles me more about Christmas than the utter lack of focus on Christ obviously... but a close second is the missing and messing up of the season of Advent: that quiet, somber season of hope. The celebrations and frenzied shopping and indulging in treats are really rather inappropriate during this time of waiting, in my humble opinion. That said, there aren't very many Advent specific books out there... so the list I present to you includes feast day books, and the Christmas books that at least have a significant time spent on the time prior to the 25th... if you can't wait until Christmas SEASON (which BEGINS on the 25th) to read in this genre of books (I certainly can't) than at least try to prioritize your reading list to include the more preparatory books before we begin celebrating Christmas itself.
*** Two years later, I'm updating this list. Look for my new notes in red.***
The Lady of Guadalupe by Tomie de Paola. You'll find that de Paola has a quite a few seasonal gems here but this one shine specifically. The feast of our Lady of Guadalupe is on December 12th and St. Juan Diego is on the 9th. This book tells the true story of this apparition in a lovely way. (I've been to the cathedral where the tilma still exists today!) Let's not forget this story during this time of hope and preparation for the Christ-Child! I still have and like this version of the Guadalupe story… but one that I've since found I love even MORE is this version by Carmen Bernier-Grand.
One Wintry Night by Ruth Bell Graham. I shuffled off The Miracle of St. Nicholas (onto my Christmas list) in order to include this title. This book goes through the entire story of Christmas. The ENTIRE story, from the Creation of the World through the Resurrection of Christ. It includes many snippets of tales from the Old Testament which would line up beautifully with Jesse Tree readings. The art is superb and the story inviting when taken nibbles at a time.
Why Christmas Trees Aren't Perfect by Richard Schneider. Alright, this book gets immediate bonus point for saying the word "Advent." Now the Christmas genre is ripe for overly-sentimental, sappy books. I have some of them. And they are fine in moderation. But my four boys get tired of sugary sweetness sometimes and need something a bit more rollicking. Well, this isn't that book. But it is one of the better sentimental ones that has some interesting action included and not just character dramas. It's a fantastic book with a lovely message. Get it.
Nine Days to Christmas by Marie Hall Ets. I reluctantly bumped off The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey to make room for this book in the Advent Top Ten. (Don't worry, I have other plans for Toomey on a different list.) But this out-of-print gem by Ets is so beautiful and evocative and a perfect tale of Las Posadas and a little girl's hopes coming to life. This book seriously needs to come back in print but until then, a used copy is worth picking up.
Lucia Child of Light by Florence Ekstrand. Well, I really want to include a couple other books on St. Lucy in this list but to be honest, I've not personally read them yet. They are on my wish list and should be on yours too! Lucia Morning in Sweden and Lucia, Saint of Light. Other than that, I found this little book at a thrift store this year and I love it. It's not a typical picture book; it's a medley really. First is a full story of the legend, sans pictures. Then there are tips and such for how to celebrate the day... keeping in mind that the feast of St. Lucy on December 13th is not a "mini Christmas" nor a specific part of Advent. But this little saint of light ought not be forgotten in the shuffle so I encourage you to read up on her!
The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie de Paola. It's always nice to learn about some of the traditions we take for granted this time of year. Here is a sweet story about a young girl's searching for just the perfect gift for the Christmas procession.
The Real Santa Claus by Marianna Mayer. I replaced one of my old titles for this one. This book is absolutely beautiful and helps put the Santa/St. Nick dilemma in its proper perspective—an excellent thing to do on his feast day of Dec. 6th. Being very wordy in between the lovely art though, it's better for older readers, maybe 8+ or so? For younger readers on the same topic, I'd recommend Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend or A Special Place for Santa: A Legend for Our Time.
The Donkey's Dream by Barbara Helen Berger. Again, this one would make my Top Three list overall. It is an incredibly simple story, relaying the walk the donkey takes as it carries the Virgin Mother to where Jesus is born. But the imagery is sublime. And I'm including it in the pre-Christmas list because the analogies in this book could line up perfectly with certain Old Testament readings if you are inclined to do a Jesse Tree during this season. Still probably my very favorite Christmas-time book… would be fitting to read on the feast of the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8th) as it honors Mary so much.
The Clown of God by Tomie de Paola. We really can't get away from this author can we? And trust me, there are more where this came from. But The Clown of God was the very first Tomie de Paola book I ever purchased once I started really thinking about investing in quality literature. Not only is the story a good story and fitting for the Christmas season, I love how it deals with death. De Paola is one of the few authors who'll touch this subject in a real, no holds barred way... but in a way that is still reverent and readable. (A wonderful, wonderful book dealing with the 'circle of life' so to speak is his Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs.) The Clown of God is worth owning.
The Christmas Deer by April Wilson. I fell in love with this author/illustrator when I found her gorgeous book: Magpie Magic. So I had high hopes for this book that I found this year. The art is beautiful, reminiscent of Jan Brett's style with these wintry images. But the major reason this book belongs in Advent and not Christmas is precisely because it's an Advent journey... including a tear out, card-stock calendar in back!