Why did I do it? It's not like I pretend to be the voice of expertise in children's literature; there are dozens of picture book blogs out there and many other well-read folks who can offer counsel on Christmas books too. Frankly these are just my opinions. And my opinions are formed on an appreciation of living, loving and breathing children's books for a dozen years now. I blog about children's books because I have to write about something. I don't write about my own life and kids anymore, either via blogs or Facebook… it's too much of a temptation for me in a number of ways. And I write for Soul Gardening but that doesn't take care of wanting to share my obsessions and opine about books all the time! So I have this blog… and it's a fix for me. And these lists are basically for my own records really… and to sate my own obsession with categorizing things. This blog is for my children to find someday and remember and smile… and maybe even roll their eyes (with affection I hope). But I digress.
Many Christmas books are just plain not worth your time. And many, many more fall solidly into the "good" category. And on top of that, there is the GREAT category! And even that's full! I couldn't have possibly put it into one Top Ten list; who could?! So I broke it up into TEN different categories of Ten. And even that was hard! This doesn't even include my Advent or Epiphany picks! Anyway, I'm such a nerd; I loved every minute of my 'research'! Enjoy these opinions of just one mama/biblio-zealot. Know that there are dozens and dozens more EXCELLENT Christmas stories out there and I'm sure I'll be finding new treasures all the time! I wanted to be a purist to the number 10, so I limited it. My comments will be brief; I've got 100 books to tell you about and many of you probably know about many of these already! But my very special favorites are in bold.
2014 modifications are in magenta; the year introduced me to new books and 'new-to-me' old ones!
Best Actual Nativity Stories
- The Nativity: Six Glorious Pop-Up Scenes: A very special treat to pull out on Christmas Eve. Truly a delight for your eyes! If only it were back in print!
- Bethlehem: Fiona French's stained glass illustrations to the simple Bible words of the Nativity.
- The Story of Christmas: Jane Ray does outstanding, vivid illustrations (love that Mary and Joseph look ethnically believable) and surprise… baby Jesus was breastfed!
- The Christmas Story: Here's one for cheapskates! The classic, basic, no-frills-but-still-sweet Golden Book version of the Nativity, illustrated by one of my favorites— Eloise Wilkin.
- The Christmas Story: The beautiful, biblical text illustrated by the incomparable Gennady Spirin.
- The Story of Christmas: Pamela Dalton takes the words from the King James Bible and masterfully weaves intricate, beautiful paper-cut illustrations into it. My husband calls Dalton's people "hobbits" but I don't fault her for that. I like hobbits! I do however bristle at the 80 year old, balding Joseph in the story. (Mary was a teenager after all; I can handle middle aged Joseph depictions—though I prefer envisioning younger, strapping man… but the great-grandfatherly representation? Not my favorite.) Anyway, if you liked her Brother Sun, Sister Moon, you'll love this.
- The Nativity: Completely scriptural, this is better for slightly older children, or to be used as an actual family reading on the night of Christmas Eve. I love how the wise men show up (accurately) at the Holy Family's HOUSE, rather than stable.
- The Nativity: Mary Remembers: What I like best about this is its first person perspective from Mary. This helps to give a fresh insight on some of what happened that blessed night.
- The Christmas Story: This is the very simple Bible story presented again; it gets a spot on this list for the beautiful few, full-page spreads of Christmas night… and the end picture of Jesus who "grew in grace." I do wish illustrators made the Holy Family a little more Middle Eastern looking but we take what we can get I suppose.
- The First Noel: A Christmas Carousel: This isn't exactly a story… it's a novelty book that serves as a stand-alone centerpiece. The book folds out and can be tied together to form a 3D standing star. Gorgeous paper-cut, pop-ups highlight the five major scenes from the Nativity.
- The Christ Child. Perfect. I'm so happy to have found this for 50 cents at the thrift store. It is simple, biblical and timeless. I love it, a new favorite!
(other books I want to check out in this category: The Christmas Story, Christmas in the Barn —the original version, The First Christmas, My Son, My Saviour: The Awesome Wonder of Jesus' Birth)Best Light Reading or Funny Stories
- Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree: My children cheer whenever we open up this book. Light, amusing and completely satisfying!
- The Christmas Cookie Sprinkle Snitcher: Much like the Grinch story. Will Christmas be the same without cookie sprinkles?!
- Too Many Tamales: Sweet story about a careless child. Makes me want to have the patience and grace of the mother when dealing with children's mistakes… also makes me want to have a ton of tamales!!!
- The Lump of Coal: So clever. This is a hilarious little book that will delight older children especially and the adult reading it with them.
- Cranberry Christmas: Back in print! Vintage, cartoony in the right kind of way and fun as always!
- Who's That Knocking on Christmas Eve?: Jan Brett dials up another beautiful book and this one is sure to win the hearts of polar bear lovers!
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Is there ANY Christmas book list complete without this one?!
- Mortimer's Christmas Manger: Karma Wilson's best book since Bear Snores On. Great fun, vibrant pictures, a satisfying ending… excellent all around.
- Christmas Alphabet: I generally avoid pop-up books. But I can't be a complete scrooge and what better time of year to really allow a special, magical book be enjoyed (gently!) by children?!
- The Night Before Christmas. This was just released again this year and of ALL the editions of this famous rhyme, this one is my very favorite. There is something perfect about a vintage poem paired with vintage illustrations. And the dimensions of the actual book are kind of a fun novelty too.
- Father and Son: A Nativity Story: This is an excellent and novel book offering perspective on St. Joseph's Christmas night… he ponders the irony of being father to the Master of the Universe. So good!
- All for the Newborn Baby: I'm so in love with this book! I love the sweet text, the lovely illustrations and the little details of nature/botany in the margins!
- Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story: This isn't the usual, classic, elegant book one would expect in this category but I really love it. All of creation readies for the newborn Savior: "It's time!" Really nicely done...
- A Small Miracle: Two of my sons' favorite Christmas book of all time! This one's wordless so it's great for non-readers too. So lovely...
- There Was No Snow on Christmas Eve: A very simple story that begs to be read slow and somber… great reminder for folks who live where there is no snow and may feel disenfranchised from all the traditional Christmas scenery.
- The Donkey's Dream: Hands down, my very favorite Christmas book of all time. Enough said.
- The Miracle of St. Nicholas: Of all my Christmas books, this absolutely would be in my Top Three. I love the art. I love the story. I love the reverence and focus on the season. And I especially love the mini history lesson that can happen with this story.
- The Little Boy's Christmas Gift: A little poor boy follows the procession of people bringing beautiful gifts to the newborn Jesus. His is merely one of the first examples we see of "up-cycling"in a picture book. Beautifully illustrated.
- The Legend of the Poinsettia: Lucida searches and frets over having the perfect gift for the baby Jesus but feels like she's coming up short. Little does she know how God will reward her best of intentions. Another version of this story is also done really well in The Miracle of the First Poinsettia.
- A Christmas Story: Brian Wildsmith never disappoints with his artwork and this little story about a girl trying to reunite a donkey with his mother is very sweet. Not quite as memorable/glorious as Wildsmith's Easter Story but still worth picking up!
(other books I want to check out in this category: One Small Lost Sheep, The Shepherd's Christmas Story, Mary's Song)
- Petunia's Christmas: Petunia gets married! But not before having some very funny and touching adventures in saving her beloved gander...
- Merry Christmas Big Hungry Bear: In the same type of narration and spirit as the original; Wood's pictures never fail to delight.
- An Otis Christmas: Bright, vibrant and always fun— Otis saves the day and a new baby (calf) is born!
- Merry Christmas, Strega Nona: Good old Strega Nona gets ready for Christmas Eve… makes for great Advent reading too!
- Carl's Christmas: Carl lovers won't be disappointed in another adventure filled (wordless) day spent with Carl on Christmas Eve. (Try to overlook the fact that the baby is left alone in the care of a dog…)
- Merry Christmas, Curious George: Just what we'd expect from this mischievous monkey: curious bumbles and a happy ending.
- Minerva Louise on Christmas Eve: My daughter's very favorite chicken confronts the jolly, red "Mr. Farmer" up on top of the roof.
- Merry Christmas Ernest & Celestine: Ernest and Celestine are new to me just this year but this duo has been around since the 1980s! Belgiun author Gabrielle Vincent is a splendid watercolorist and I love the warm, cluttered pictures shown in these lovely, very simple stories.
- The Jolly Christmas Postman: The jolly postman is back delivering special Christmas letters (real letters included in pockets!) to nursery rhyme and fairy tale characters. Very fun! Would make an excellent gift!
- The Cowboy's Christmas: This is everything I hoped it would be; it's especially appropriate for the Advent season. The Cowboy books are so, so dear! Know that his imaginary friends don't make much sense in this story unless you have the context of his first book. I hope to collect all these books for my son. He adores them!
- The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey: Probably on everyone's Christmas list of favorites… for good reason. P.J. Lynch is a masterful artist and the story is a delight. The movie is pretty worthwhile as well; we check it out from the library each year.
- The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree: A classic. An excellent story illustrated by my beloved Barbara Cooney really sets the spirit of family and life in Appalachia: so great.
- Light of Christmas: Beautifully staged high in the mountains, this is the story of a young boy giving up his wish to see the Christmas torch lit, to help an old man in need. He is rewarded… and the message is a reminder to all of us adults today: "In your hurry to keep Christmas, you have forgotten Christmas."
- Angela and the Baby Jesus: This is a bit like the Grinch in that it is both funny and evocative… only the former book is more light reading and this latter book is more sentimental reading. My mischievous but well-meaning daughter relates very much to Angela's antics in this story.
- Christmas Day in the Morning: An excellent story to raise up men of virtue! A boy offers up the most precious gift of all to his father. So great...
- Prairie Christmas: A book on what the "spirit of the season" is really about, a sweet story on the transformation of one girl's heart.
- A Christmas Gift For Mama: I absolutely love O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi… but I always remember feeling like it was just a bit too "mature" for lack of better word. There are no children in the tale; the selfless devotion is between a man and his wife. Well, A Christmas Gift for Mama is essentially the same tale, only between a girl and her widowed mother. It's told and pictured in a lovely way and I feel like it's more relevant to children today. Very nice story...
- An Orange for Frankie: Based on a true story and very, very sweet. A lovely book...
- Why the Chimes Rang: Told in the way mid-century stories were often told… this is a genuine and lovely tale that captures what it's all about. Free to read at the Baldwin Project!
- Apple Tree Christmas: Like titles 5 and 7, this is another perfect book to embody what it means to give a truly thoughtful Christmas gift. Beautiful illustrations…
(other books I want to check out in this category: The Littlest Tree, The Christmas Candle, One Christmas Dawn, The Christmas Promise, Christmas Oranges, Gifts of the Heart)Best Toddler Board Book Christmas Stories:
- Gingerbread Baby: Jan Brett shines again in the fun book! Be prepared to have children beg to make a gingerbread man (or baby!)
- The Crippled Lamb: This is a lovely tale about a lamb finding his place…
- Bear Stays Up for Christmas: Wilson's rhyming doesn't lose its cadence or charm in any of her books! Here's another sweet one from this author.
- Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend: Get real with your kids on who's who regarding Santa/St. Nick. Nicely done retelling of one of the St. Nick legends.
- Who is Coming to Our House? The barn animals all get ready for "Someone" to come… toddler perfect.
- Snowmen at Christmas: Bright, vibrant illustrations and rhyming make this delightful for little ones; a sequel to the very popular Snowmen at Night.
- Christmas in the Manger. Simple, easy… nothing grand except that it's child-pleasing.
- B Is for Bethlehem: My very favorite toddler book for Christmas-time! Pure eye candy...
- Night Before Christmas: The Classic Edition: There are many editions of the famous poem on the market; the rich illustrations by Charles Santore make this one stand out.
- Tonight You Are My Baby: A nice perspective of the human side of Mary just savoring her newborn here: "Tomorrow you'll be my king, tonight you are my baby."
- Christmas in the Trenches: The neat, true story about the Christmas truces called on the Western Front during WW1. It leaves you feeling bittersweet though… knowing how each side can recognize and celebrate the dignity of the other while commencing to kill anyway… the ugliest sides of war are carefully avoided though.
- Lighthouse Christmas: Very cool history about the Flying Santa Service: a pilot delivers Christmas packages to an isolated lighthouse keeper and his family. Circa 1929.
- Silent Night: The Song and Its Story: Beautiful, beautiful book that brings you right to the circumstances surrounding the serendipitous creation of this famous song in 1818.
- Christmas from Heaven: The True Story of the Berlin Candy Bomber: I'm so happy to have new, fresh Christmas books still being produced year after year! This one is brand new and an excellent choice for boys, World War II studies, and entire families in general. Really cool history photos thrown in among the story too.
- A Gift from Saint Francis: The First Creche: A very nice and matter of fact story of how the very first crèche came to be in 1223. There are two other books on this exact story look promising that I didn't get a chance to look at personally: Saint Francis Celebrates Christmas and The Living Nativity.
- A Christmas Like Helen's: Included because I'm in love with Mary Azarian. And in love with the nostalgic rural lifestyle of yesteryears that I'll never know. A beautiful book.
- The Christmas Tree Ship: This is "historical fiction" telling the story of the ship that brought Christmas trees to Chicago in the early 20th century. Really lovely illustrations here...
- A Christmas Tree in the White House: A fun, true story from the Roosevelt era. This offers a good look at the "inside life" of a president and his six rascally children.
- The Carpenter's Gift: A Christmas Tale about the Rockefeller Center Tree: A family is just trying to survive the Depression. In so doing, they contribute to the beginning of a national tradition. A beautiful, beautiful book; Jim La Marche was the perfect illustrator for this story.
- Shooting at the Stars. This is another version out this year just like the first title on this list. A bit less sober and a bit more simplified than the other title but the same story, just a preference of versions if you had to choose one. I ended up buying this for my son to complement our WW1 studies.
(other books I want to check out in this category: The Littlest Cowboy's Christmas, Christmas on the Mayflower)
Best Christmas Stories Based on Songs:
- The Little Drummer Boy: Very sweet illustrations to accompany the song's lyrics. I admit this has a soft spot for me since I remember The Little Drummer Boy as being my mother's favorite Christmas song and Ezra Jack Keats renders it beautifully.
- The Twelve Days of Christmas by Gennady Spirin is pure loveliness. But tied for first place is the version done by Laurel Long, which is just a visual feast on every page. Another good one (that I like in the board book format) is The Twelve Days of Christmas by Jan Brett. Collectors of all things Brian Wildsmith should know that he also has a beautiful one and so does Jane Ray.
- The Huron Carol: Illustrated lyrics to the famous carol that St. Jean De Brebeuf wrote to explain the Christmas story to the Hurons. There is another in print version by another illustrator available too; you really can't go wrong with either. Haunting and beautiful.
- Good King Wenceslas: There are a few versions of picture books set to this song. One that is story form (rather than just lyrics) and very nice is Stephen's Feast.
- Silent Night: Just what one would expect from the sentiment this song evokes.
- Ding Dong! Merrily on High: Oh how I love Francesca Crespi! Here is a gorgeous collection of carols accompanied by her outstanding pop-ups...
- Frosty the Snowman: Frosty the Snowman is probably the easiest Christmas song to sing along to a book. This one has bright, fresh illustrations to the classic song. And it comes with Kenny Loggins singing it!
- Away in a Manger: I never exactly jumped on the Thomas Kincade bandwagon but even I have to admit that the "painter of light" is perfectly suited to illustrating Christmas themes.
- The Nutcracker: Not exactly lyrics to a song of course as it was a ballet, but I had to include the most famous Christmas fairy tale of all and Susan Jeffers does it best.
- White Christmas: Good song. Bright, fantasy illustrations complete with snow fairies that look like munchkins from the Land of Oz… what else could one want? (Maybe an accompanying CD of Bing Crosby.) Michael Hague has a bit of a cult following and they can find more of his signature illustrations in his Treasury of Christmas Carols.
(other books I want to check out in this category: Away in a Manger, O Come, All Ye Faithful, Nutcracker)
Best "Just Sweet" Christmas Stories:
Top 11 Out-of-Print Christmas Stories that I Haven't Seen (Yet)… But Would Love to Get My Hands On!
- Mousekin's Christmas Eve: Mousekin is a Charlotte Mason-ers delight with all the beautiful depictions of the natural world. All of these books need to come back in print! Here is a lovely analogy about the one place we can all find a home: at the foot of the manger.
- The Mice, the Monks and the Christmas Tree: I bought this blindly, without knowing or hearing a single thing about it. This is a rare move for me. But after hearing the title and seeing the cover, I could not resist! Since info on it is hard to find online, I'll post more about it separately.
- Santa Mouse: (What is it about mice and Christmastime?!) This is a light and fun little story about Santa's new helper. Little children will like it but what gets it on my list is the darling vintage, Richard Scarry-esque artwork by Elfreida De Witt.
- A Wish to Be a Christmas Tree: An old goat of a tree is sad that he never gets picked to be a family's Christmas Tree. But animals all around get together to show him how much he matters to them right where he is.
- The Christmas ABC: Eloise Wilkins shines her vintage Christmas artwork here. The girl reminds me of my god-daughter which is why I bought this for her this year!
- The Little Drummer Mouse: Mercer Mayer's lavishly illustrated book about a little, unappreciated mouse being the one who is able to make baby Jesus happy.
- Cobweb Christmas: The Tradition of Tinsel: The sweet legend of why we decorate Christmas trees with tinsel… it might be enough to convert spider-haters.
- The Spider's Gift: A Ukrainian Christmas Story: Eric Kimmel always does a great job with fables and legends. What I especially like is that all the emphasis isn't just on spiders leaving a miracle on the tree, but that Christ's birth is still emphasized and celebrated.
- The Candymaker's Gift: The Legend of the Candy Cane: The lovely story behind the favorite candy that is full of symbolism and meaning.
- Drummer Boy. Loren Long nails these illustrations. This is the classic, lost-and-found-toy storyline. I love when sweet books are able to have a subtle hint to the true meaning of Christmas without forcing it.
(other books I want to check out in this category: The Christmas Anna Angel, My Prairie Christmas, Erik and the Christmas Horse, The Gift from Saint Nicholas, Katy's Christmas Gift)
- The Christmas Angel: Joan Gale Thomas wrote the very dear If Jesus Came To My House (not to be confused with the newer version with "updated" illustrations) and "A" Stands for Angel which I love (and is also highly Christmas-relevant!) I'm certain this Christmas story from her has got to be just as lovely as all her work! She also did If I'd Been Born in Bethlehem which I'd love to see too.
- How Six Found Christmas: Something is drawing me to this...
- The Dolls' Christmas: Tasha Tudor and Christmas go together like peanut butter and jelly.
- An Edwardian Christmas: I have an affection for wordless books and this looks lovely.
- Bright Christmas: An Angel Remembers: It's on everyone else's lists of great Christmas books, so it must be good!
- The Secret Santa of Olde Stonington: I love small town mysteries and legends...
- Penny's Christmas Jar Miracle: Published very recently, this book became a big hit and I'm disappointed it went out of print so quickly!!!
- The Christmas Cake in Search of its Owner. I went on a Roger Duvoisin appreciation kick this year and want to see more!
- The Christmas Forest. Same reason as above!
- Mother Makes Christmas. Anything that includes Lois Lenski illustrations is a must-see in my opinion—they are so full of "the good old days" charm.
- A Christmas Alphabet. I love alphabet books! I love Joan Walsh Anglund! It must be a delightful pairing...