Favorite Christmas Books, Old and New

Eliza Clark
December 20, 2017

Ready or not, Christmas is here. Children are opening the windows of their advent calendars, and day-by-day, the big morning approaches. Now is the time to pull out our favorite Christmas books, and read them over and over until the great day arrives.

We've written up our most cherished Yuletide reads before, and we'll repeat our old standbys today because the little ones can never read them too often.  But some families also have a tradition of adding a new Christmas story to their shelves every year. What a wonderful idea! And so we are expanding this year's list to include some of our latest discoveries. Our Savvy kids have had a splendid time picking them out from libraries and bookstores. May you and yours enjoy these books of the season as well!

Little Tree by e. e. cummings and Chris Raschka

This little board book tells a little story that makes a big and lasting impression.  It starts with e. e. cummings' beautiful poem of the same title, and from there tells the story of a small fir tree who dreams of becoming a Christmas tree "with his own little family in his own little house."  The cummings' poem alone makes the book worthwhile, capturing as it does what only a very small child might say to a tree: "who found you in the greem forest/and were you very sorry to come away?/see  i will comfort you/because you smell so sweetly."  But the accompanying narrative is also sweet and lyrical, and we adore the bright geometric watercolors that show the tree's journey from forest to city.

The Golden Christmas Tree by Jan Wahl, illustrated by Leonard Weisgard

What would Christmas be like if all of the beasts of the forest came together to celebrate?  Well, the elephant would carry the tree, the monkeys would decorate, and the giraffe would place the star at the top.  And, just imagine, wolves and antelopes would help each other, and "as it happened before" ... the lion would "lay down with the lamb."  With Leonard Weisgard's masterful illustrations, all of this would create a magical scene.

The Christmas Magic by Lauren Thompson, illustrated by Jon J. Muth

This story reminds us how much children can learn about interpretation and imagination from the simplest picture books.  Who is Santa?  What does he look like, and where does he live?  Is he a rotund industrial type with a great big factory and hundreds of elves making toys all year?  Or does he live in a remote cottage in the snow-bound North, with no one for company beside a few wild reindeer?  Call this book the pastoral version of Santa, the mystical version or, simply, the breathtaking version.

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

This book and the movie it inspired have become such iconic representations of Santa Claus and Christmas, that they need little introduction from us.  The little boy's train journey to the North Pole to meet Santa is every kid's dream.  If your children are still of preschool age, you may not have come to this story yet, but you'll want to, very soon.  Your little ones probably haven't started to question Santa yet, but someday they will.  Think of this book as a gentle vaccine against cynicism and disbelief.  Something we all need. 

The 12 Days of Christmas by Robert Sabuda

Robert Sabuda is the genius and master of the pop-up book.  In his hands, bits of paper become a three-dimensional holiday wonderland.  Reading his books with young children is a bit of a risky endeavor (they can rip, but aren't as fragile as you might think!), but worth it just for the oohs and ahs and wide-eyed amazement.  The holidays are the perfect occasion to treat your family to a bit of book-candy, and sing along to this marvelous, classic carol.  Come December 26, you can put it away and keep it safe from little hands until next year.

Dream Snow by Eric Carle

We generally associate Eric Carle with bugs and plants and sea creatures -- in other words, spring and summer. So isn't it nice to be reminded that he's also created a perfectly beautiful Christmas book? (In typical Carle fashion, it's also a cleverly disguised counting book for the littlest ones.) A bearded farmer dreams of snow blanketing his animals, and wakes to find his dream come true. Dressed in a familiar red suit, he offers gifts to the animals and ornaments to his tree. And for a little Christmas tune, just press a button! Carle's collage illustrations are a snowy delight.

Olivia Helps With Christmas by Ian Falconer

Olivia is back! Do we really need this precocious piggy's take on the holidays?  After all, we don't exactly associate Olivia with the spirit of giving. But that is precisely why we do need her. Olivia (in fine form here, we might add) provides a much-needed antidote to the sentimentality of so many Christmas stories. She doesn't try to pretend that Christmas isn't all about the presents. Why should she?  But as she waits for Christmas morning to arrive, she's eager to help out. And you can just imagine what a help she is to her mother. This send-up of an unabashed egotist's Christmas is as funny as can be, and we all need a good laugh during the season of light.  So three cheers for Olivia!  (Just what she needs.)

The Sweet Smell of Christmas by Patricia M. Scarry.

If you had this book when you were young, you know why we adore it: it's unforgettable. Little ones love Christmastime because it is a feast for the senses -- the lights, the decorations, the music, and yes, the sweet smells. This story captures the delicious childhood anticipation of Christmas like no other. Little Bear knows that Christmas is coming. He smells the apple pie, the piney tree, hot chocolate, minty candy canes, and more. Little readers share his excitement through scratch-and-sniff scents. This book will become bound up in your little one's memories of Christmas and reminds us, amidst all the hubbub, of the kinds of things young children truly cherish about the season.

The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore and Gyo Fujikawa.

Most of us have a preferred version of The Night Before Christmas. All we can do is humbly tell you about our own favorite, the loveliest we've ever seen! The pictures are sweet and old-fashioned, yet fresh and lively too. Children were never so snuggly as they are in Gyo Fujikawa's illustrations, sugar plums never so dreamy, and St. Nick was never even nearly as twinkly. But whatever edition of this classic poem you choose, do be sure to read it, and read it often to your preschoolers this month - they will just love it!

The Story of the Nutcracker Ballet by Deborah Hautzig.

This enduring Christmas fairy tale comes in many editions for young and old. For preschoolers, we like this sweet and simple version. The story retains its magic and drama, but is easy for younger readers to follow. Any little would-be ballerinas in your midst will be especially fascinated, but this story adds to the enchantment of Christmas for all. Wait for your little ones to start wondering whether their Christmas tree will grow in the middle of the night!

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss.

Have you had any grinchy moments yet, this holiday season? Those days when you'd like nothing better than to toss all the cards, presents, wrapping paper, groceries, trees and decorations over a cliff? It's okay - you're not the only one! And unlike Mr. Grinch, you've got your very own Cindy-Lou Who to look up at you with darling, soulful eyes and remind you that whether or not the preparations go smoothly, Christmas will be wonderful so long as you can snuggle together and read this amazing classic, and sing a few carols too!


The Savvy Source is an Amazon affiliate. 

From the Parents

  • Tisa Mantle

    No mention of any books on the real reason for Christmas?

    over a year ago


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