Tuesday, November 14, 2017

SV Toddler's Picks: 20 Great Christmas Books to Read with your Child

(Originally published in December 2015)

Last December, I shared another blogger's post about creating a unique Advent calendar with Christmas books -- you wrap 24 of them, and let your child open one each evening in December. I love traditions and I love books (and bizarrely, I love wrapping), so this seemed right up my alley, and I immediately started collecting Christmas stories.

I quickly realized, though, that this tradition is an impractical one for our family. We're not "read it once" folks. If Toddler X likes a book, there's a good chance we're reading it daily, or at least every other day, for weeks at a time. Also, we don't read a single book at bedtime -- it's usually at least 3 or 4.

Under the "a Christmas book a day" concept I had read about, in the early days of the month, we'd have a very limited selection of Christmas books available to choose from (the rest would still be wrapped). Even worse, some of the great books I had so carefully selected wouldn't be opened until mere days before Christmas. I LOVE to go all-out with Christmas in the month of December -- I'm fine not reading anything but Christmas stories the whole month through -- but come January, I'm ready to move on. That means that a brand new Christmas favorite, opened on, say, December 22nd or 23rd, would only have a week of availability before it was packed up and stored for next winter. Not ideal at all.

So I decided to modify the tradition to fit our needs, and I'm delighted with how it worked out last year, and is working out this year (I'm almost two weeks in). Rather than wrapping the books (I've amassed over 20 of them since last year, and have several checked out from the library right now as well), I created a dedicated Christmas book shelf in the living room, right next to our tree. On December 1st, I filled it with our books and made it a part of the room's holiday decor. Now, each evening, we select our bedtime books from the shelf and read them next to the tree, sipping on warm milk or tea or whatever festive drink suits our fancy. We will read each book at least once during the season, and add at least one new one each night, but our daily picks will be dictated by our mood (sometimes you just want lighthearted board books, while other times you're up for more thoughtful fare), and favorites can be chosen again and again for weeks on end. It's the perfect tradition for us.

Whether you decide to wrap 24 books, create a holiday book shelf like mine, or you simply want some Christmas books to read with your children during this festive month -- well, have I got some suggestions for you!  We've read dozens and dozens of Christmas books, and I'm pleased to report that I've found some wonderful stories, from simple, colorful board books that young toddlers will love, to endearing stories of holiday spirit and generosity that everyone from older toddlers to adults will really enjoy. Some of these books are out of print, but even those can be found used via my Amazon links.

Please let me know in the comments if you have additional recommendations - there's always room for more books on our shelf!

Here are my TOP picks, in no particular order (I've read dozens more, but these are the ones that stand out as too great to miss). I'm happy to make recommendations for a specific child or situation if you'd like to ask. Hope this is helpful!

Bear Stays Up for Christmas by Karma Wilson
Bear Stays up for Christmas. This is an adorable story of a sleepy, ready-to-hibernate bear doing his best to stay awake to celebrate Christmas with his little animal friends. It's a warm, familial crew of woodland creatures that supports Bear in his efforts to avoid sleep, and he thanks them by providing some Christmas surprises while they slumber. Ultimately, when he can stay awake no longer, his friends give him the perfect gift as they part ways 'til Spring. A very cute book about celebrating with friends.

Merry Christmas, Big Hungry Bear by Don and Audrey Wood
Merry Christmas, Big Hungry Bear. I absolutely love this book, which is a follow-up to The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and The Big Hungry Bear -- one of our favorite read-aloud books ever. The Christmas version includes the same narration style (talking to the little mouse protagonist) and the same darling illustrations, but with a very sweet, generous Christmas twist that reminds us of the true meaning of the holiday. Check out the final page for a few hidden references to the original book -- I just discovered them last night, after having read this story at least 20 times, and they definitely made me smile.

Snowmen at Christmas by Caralyn Buehner
Snowmen at Christmas. We read this book for the first time last week, and I just loved it -- it seriously skyrocketed up towards the top of my favorite Christmas books list, and we've read it three more times since. As we started our initial reading, I was actually kind of concerned that the concept -- snowmen coming alive and roaming the town at night -- might frighten Toddler X a bit (he's been unpredictable with stuff like that lately), but as soon as he saw the snow dogs and snow children (including little ones holding hands with mom and dad and swinging, "One, two, three...jump!" style), he was sold. The story is cute and happy, and the illustrations and bright and fun to look at (again, looking for the snow babies and kids was a highlight for us). I would put this on a "must have" list for fun Christmas books -- it's a gem.

The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen
The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish. This is another really cute book with fantastic illustrations and a nice message. The perfectionist Pout-Pout Fish is sad and stressed because he can't find the right gift for each of his fish buddies in stores, and he considers not even going to the reef's Christmas party because of this perceived failure. Fortunately, a kind friends talks him down and lets him know that a perfect gift is one that comes from the heart. It's a good reminder to all of us.

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
The Polar Express. A very kind reader sent this book to me last December after I mentioned in my blog post that we didn't own it, and I am so glad she did. If you haven't read The Polar Express...well, you should. It's a lovely book about believing in the magic of Christmas -- well-written and beautifully illustrated. I'd recommend this one more for ages 4 and up, though Toddler X really enjoyed it last night. Oh, and I dare you to read the end without tears in your eyes. :)

The Christmas Mouseling by Dori Chaconas
The Christmas Mouseling. I love this book -- I just love it. I cry every single time I read it (including when we first discovered it at the library -- Toddler X was bewildered by mama's blubbering). It's the story of a little mouse born on a blustery winter night, and his mama mouse's efforts to find him shelter and warmth. Various animals offer the mouse family their shelters because they're "off to see a king", but one by one the shelters blow away, and the mouse and her shivering baby have to move on. Finally, they see a small shack exuding warm light, and...well, you can guess where the story goes from here. While the story is not overly religious -- there's no talk of miracles or angels or praise, no mention of god or Jesus -- it obviously references Jesus' birth scene (the manger, the animals, the gentle mother figure, etc.), so if that's not something you're comfortable with, skip this one. I'm not a religious person, but I enjoy the Christmas story and, particularly as a mother, I love the comforting message of this book.

How do Dinosaurs Say Merry Christmas? by Jane Yolen
How do Dinosaurs Say Merry Christmas? We really enjoy the How do Dinosaurs...? series, and this is actually one of my favorite volumes. It's so much fun watching the "bad" example dinosaurs doing all the things they aren't meant to do -- searching for their presents, pulling down the tree, dumping out stockings, eating Santa's cookies -- before the contrasting good dinos are introduced. The usual fun illustrations (I always love the parents' facial expressions) and well-structured rhymes. I'd definitely put this on the must-read list for light Christmas fun.

The Last Christmas Tree by Stephen Krensky
The Last Christmas Tree. A sweet little book about a Charlie Brown-esque Christmas tree -- small, sparse branches, kind of hunched -- with lots of Christmas spirit who is devastated as all the other trees in the tree lot are chosen, leaving him all alone (and decorated with a "Free" sign instead of the ornaments and lights he'd hoped for) on Christmas Eve. But before you get too sad for him, know that there's someone who recognizes a spirited little tree when he sees it, and that someone welcomes the little tee into the most Christmas-y home of all. Sweet book with cute illustrations. (Toddler X can't get enough of the monogrammed stockings hanging by the fireplace on the last page -- do you know who they're for?)

The Christmas Bears by Chris Conover
The Christmas Bears. Another really fun one! Beautifully illustrated with full spread pictures between every page of text, this one follows a big bear family as they prepare to celebrate Christmas. There's lots of joy and togetherness, helping to prepare a meal and working in the workshop with papa to make toys. It's sweet and non-commercial, and it seems to celebrate family and togetherness more than anything else -- a very authentic Christmas. Worth adding to the shelf.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Who doesn't love this book? Our copy of the Grinch resides in the midst of a big book of Seuss classics, and it's definitely my favorite to read. If you're searching for a story with an actual Christmas moral, here's your winner -- the Grinch's realization that maybe Christmas is about something more than presents provides an excellent reminder for us all. This is a no-brainer for any Christmas reading list.

Little Blue Truck's Christmas by Alice Schertle

Little Blue Truck's Christmas. If your toddler enjoys the first Little Blue Truck books, he or she will like this one as well. Often I find Christmas versions of popular series to be total let-downs -- I didn't like Merry Christmas, Stinky Face at all -- but this one is very cute. Blue is in charge of delivering Christmas trees to his animal friends, with a toddler-friendly countdown motif and the same cute illustrations and rhymes as in the original. There's no deep storyline, but it's a fun read for a 1-3 year old. The surprise on the last page will delight toddlers.

Llama Llama Holiday Drama by Anna Dewdney

Llama Llama, Holiday Drama. I've always loved the Llama Llama series, from way back when my now 9 year-old niece was a toddler and I first read the Red Pajama book. The Christmas version of Llama's adventures is written/illustrated in the same style, and is very cute. It addresses all the anticipation and busyness of the weeks leading up to Christmas, and how easy it is for someone -- particularly a child -- to get overwhelmed. Fortunately, Mama Llama has just the cure of the "holidrama", and it's an ending that will remind you to pause, hug your little one, and be grateful for the quieter, more reflective moments of the season - you know, like the ones spent reading a book by the tree.

Fa La La by Leslie Patricelli
Fa La La. A great pick for younger toddlers, this is Leslie Patricelli's take on the Christmas book genre. Like all of her books, Fa La La features a cute little diaper clad toddler and his happy parents, in this case choosing a tree, making presents, visiting Santa, and caroling, among other holiday activities. It's actually a very cute little board book, definitely a good pick for a one or two year old.

Carl's Christmas by Alexandra Day
Carl's Christmas. What a great book! Our elderly neighbor, who has a vast collection of Christmas books, brought this over for Toddler X to enjoy, and we've read it -- or looked at it, actually, as it doesn't have any text -- many times over the past few weeks. It's about a lovable rottweiler who is charged with babysitting the family's toddler for the evening (don't think about it too much), and who then sets off on a sweet Christmas adventure with his young charge. Again, there's no text, so you tell your own story based on the pictures -- take some time to soak in the details, as they're delightful.

Olive, the Other Reindeer by Vivian Walsh
Olive, the Other Reindeer. A kind gift from a reader last Christmas, this was the only Christmas book that stayed on Toddler X's bookshelf throughout the year because he loved it that much. Admittedly, it is a cute book about a little doggie (maybe a Jack Russell?) who realizes she must be a reindeer after misconstruing the words to a Christmas carol, but after about 40 reads, I needed a break. Fortunately, he forgot about it from summer onward, and we were able to pull it out again last week and have it feel new. Nothing particularly deep here -- just a silly story that your toddler may love.

Jingle-Jingle by Nicola Smee
Jingle, Jingle. Toddler X loved this book last year, and he loves it again this year. It's a light, easy read, about some happy animals cruising around on a sleigh. Toddler X loves the repetition, the sound effects, and the imagery -- this is a fun one to read. It's a board book, so good for even the youngest toddlers, but I'd say most 3 or 4 year olds would still enjoy this book too.

Deck the Walls! by Erin Dealey
Deck the Walls. This was a library find this year, and Toddler X enjoys it so much that it will probably be added to our permanent collection. It's a goofy take on "Deck the Halls" (if you haven't already figured that out), with kids celebrating the holiday in wacky fashion. (An example: "Deck the walls with mashed potatoes, fa la la la la, la la la la. Build a snowman with tomatoes, fa la la la la, la la la la.) Like most preschoolers, Toddler X loves it when words to songs are changed or pictures depict out of the ordinary occurrences, so this book is lots of fun for him. Overall, an enjoyable read with an older toddler/preschooler.

My Penguin Osbert by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel
My Penguin Osbert. This is a really cute book for preschoolers and beyond about a little boy who gets more than he bargained for when Santa grants his Christmas wish for a real, live penguin. Lots of humor in it for parents, and I guess a good lesson for kids about not asking for something you can't handle.

Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree by Robert Barry
Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree. This fun book follows a grand Christmas tree through many iterations as its top is chopped off to help it fit in one person/creature's living space after another, and eventually brings it full circle. It's sweet to see how the recipient of each smaller and smaller portion of the tree is grateful for and excited about his or her share. Again, a good message about gratitude and appreciation of the special things in your life, even if they may not be as grand as someone else's.

The Christmas Wish by Lori Evert
The Christmas Wish. The jaw-dropping pictures/photos in this book are the big attraction, taken by the author's photographer husband (who's worked for National Geographic, Audubon, etc.) of their adorable daughter interacting with polar animals (don't worry -- I think there was some photoshopping going on, and she didn't really lie down to nap with a bear or cruise on her skis behind a reindeer). Anja's beautiful blond braids and bright red clothes stand out against the backdrops of snowy white, as she leaves her home to go join Santa as an elf. This is a beautiful book to look at, and would be a neat gift for party hosts or a family you're visiting over the holidays -- adults might even like this book more than kids.

I'll keep adding to this list as I discover more great books, and I'm always open to suggestions! Wishing all my readers and your families a wonderful holiday season!

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  1. Such good books. My littlest loves The Little Drummer Boy by Ezra Jack Keats and my oldest loved reading St. Nicholas by Demi. (Those both had more religious themes than the ones on your list.) My middle child's favorite is The Gingerbread Pirates.

  2. Check out Pete the Cat saves Christmas. It's one of our favorites and comes with a song. :D

  3. Love your list! We also enjoy "Little Santa" and "The Animal's Santa." When I was a kid, my mom gave me a book every year for Christmas. I still have most of them and now my daughter gets to enjoy them too. I'm carrying on the tradition with her and your list will help us add to our collection.

  4. Have you found the old Golden Book of Anabelle's Wish? That's one of my now- - year - old ' s favorites--I read it again and again and gave since she was 2. This year my son is getting into it too (he's now 2.5). I think you have all if our other favorites with the exception of Rudolph. That one I got so tired of reading, I found an app that reads it for them. Ahhhh, happiness. ;)


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