A Few of My Favorite Things: Christmas Picture Books

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One of my favorite holiday traditions growing up was reading stories on Christmas Eve. I’ve continued this with my own family and because I’m such a sucker for beautiful picture books and there are so many lovely holiday ones, we can’t do it all in just one night. Now we read them throughout the month of December to get in the spirit. Tonight I poured through my holiday book boxes and will highlight my top ten favorites.

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1. An Orange for Frankie by Patricia Polacco

This is a true story set during the depression. It’s about a boy, his large family, his larger heart, and looking out for the homeless. Tender without being manipulative, if this story doesn’t touch your heart, then you don’t have one. Hobos +citrus=literary gold.

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2. How Murray Saved Christmas by Mike Reiss

In this irreverent tale we meet Murray, a Jewish deli owner, who is guilted into taking over for Santa on Christmas Eve. When a kid catches him in the act and demands that Murray name the reindeer to prove he’s Santa, Murray replies, “There’s Dumbo and Jumbo and Mason and Dixon, Cosmo and Kramer and Richard M. Nixon.” It’s laugh out loud funny for kids of all ages.

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3. Room for a Little One by Martin Waddell

My little kids always loved this story about various tired and cold animals making their way into the stable and being told, “There’s always room for a little one here.” The Oxen welcome a dog, a cat, a mouse, and eventually a donkey and a Savior.

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4. Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince retold by Elissa Grodin

This was the story my mom could never get through. It’s the tale of a little swallow who intends to just stay one night sleeping at the foot of a bejeweled golden statue. But the statue asks the bird to take his gems and gold leaf and distribute them to the poor and needy of the town until his finery is plucked clean and the bird is too tired to fly south. Together they transform lives. This version of the story includes a page on homelessness in America and offers way for the reader to help. My daughters now have to finish the book for me when I attempt to read it.

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5. The Nativity by Ruth Sanderson

For those anxious to keep Christ the center of Christmas stories, this lovely picture book uses Matthew and Luke as the text. The iconic pictures and simple language create a visually stunning version of the scripture story of Christ’s birth.

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6. Silent Night, Holy Night by Walter Cronkite

Many of you have seen the beautiful Sainsbury’s Christmas ad about WWI soldiers in 1914 in the trenches. This book is a lovely recounting of that brief miracle, with pictures of actual soldiers on each page. It has rich detail and moving portraits of young men trying to survive and make sense of deathly circumstances.  It includes the best part of the story of the Christmas truce, that it was not just for one night: none of the soldiers who participated would shoot at each other again, and the war there would not recommence until replacements had been brought it in.

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7. The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell

Introduced to the world in 1946, this enduring classic tells about a mischievous cherub terrorizing the celestial streets. But he’s not bad, he’s just lonely and misunderstood and missing his earthly treasures: a box full of rocks and butterfly wings and and old dog collar. A kind angel returns this to him, and when the Christ child is to be born, all the angels are asked to give something spectacular in honor of the baby. Our littlest angel gives his treasure then worries that God will be offended by the meagerness of his gift.  As a child I related to the Angel, knowing that my “best” was often inferior to other people’s. But the truth is our best is always good enough for the Lord. Always. It’s a message that still gives me great peace.

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8. Christmas Tapestry by Patricia Polacco

Yes Ms. Polacco is on here twice. She’s that good. Here she weaves together the lives of a pastor’s family in Detroit (trying to turn a damaged church into a festive place for Christmas worship) with an elderly Jewish Holocaust survivor. They are bound by a tapestry and their good hearts. Miracles ensue. Happy tears. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah.

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9. Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel

Speaking of Hanukkah, this one is a keeper. Ingredients: a town terrorized by goblins, a whip smart tailor, pickle jars, dreidels, and a powerful menorah. If you like good triumphing over evil and doing voices, get this book. Did I say they were all Christmas books? I lied.

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10. Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck

This story still holds up beautifully after 60 years. Rob and his family live on a humble farm. His father is kind but remote. It’s Christmas and Rob wants to get his dad something special. It tells of sacrifice and thoughtfulness and learning how to give a gift from the heart. Warning: this story has been known to inspire children to perform acts of service for their parents.

Honorable mention:

How Santa Lost his Job by Stephen Krensky–A fun backstory for how Santa got all his mad skills.

The Fourth Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke–A classic tale of the other king who got separated from his companions on their way to the Christ child because he could not turn away from those in need.

A Newbery Christmas selected by Martin H. Greenberg and Charles G. Waugh–While not a picture book, I’m including this collection because it has so many great stories. My favorites are “The Hundred Dresses” by Eleanor Estes; “Woodrow Kennington Works Practically a Miracle” by Katherine Paterson; and “Romana, the Sheep Suit, and the Three Wise Persons” by Beverly Cleary. Good stuff.

Now go and read yourself into the holiday spirit!

What are your Christmas favorites?

 

 

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25 Responses

  1. Kimberly says:

    I’m so happy to have some Christmas story suggestions! And hey, Hanukkah too! I’m so looking forward to these!

  2. MargaretOH says:

    I will admit to being a sap and weeping every. single. time I read Christmas Tapestry to my kids. Then I have to pull myself together by reading Three French Hens by Margie Palatani so that I can balance it out with some good laughs and a funny French accent.

  3. Liz says:

    I love the picture book version of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” We read it every year, and every year we all laugh and then tear up at the end. And “B is for Bethlehem” is a beautifully illustrated alphabet book about Christmas.

    I’m going to need to pick up “Christmas Tapestry!”

  4. Ziff says:

    Thanks so much for all the suggestions, Heather! I’m headed to the library tonight, so I’m going to (literally) check some of these out.

    I know it’s so well-known that it’s almost a cliche, but I’ve always enjoyed _The Polar Express_.

  5. Rachel says:

    Thank you thank you for this!

    My mom read us a Christmas story every Christmas Eve as well, and now she continues the tradition by reading to the grandchildren.

    I love many of the more traditional tales, The Nutcracker, Gift of the Magi, Polar Express, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, etc.

    My latest favorites are also old tales, but with new illustrations from loved and extremely talented friends. The first is an abridged version of Dickens’ Christmas Carol, illustrated by Bret Helquist: http://www.amazon.com/Christmas-Carol-picture-book/dp/0061650994/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1417713183&sr=8-1&keywords=brett+helquist+a+christmas+carol

    The second is Unto Us a Child is Born, by Ashley Mae Hoiland. It features scriptural passages of the nativity with bright, powerful paintings. http://shop.ashmae.com/product/unto-us-a-child-is-born-board-book

  6. Emily G says:

    Every year (even though my little kids are big kids now) we wrap all our Christmas books and put them under the tree and open one each night. Thanks to your list I just went and bought a half-dozen more! It will be fun to have some new books to discover this year. Thanks for the recommendations.

  7. Em says:

    I love The Mole Family Christmas. A family of moles learns about Christmas and Santa from a mouse. They work hard to build a chimney (being moles they live underground) so Santa can bring them a gift, but just to be safe, they work on things for each other. They want a telescope so they can see the stars, because as moles they’re too nearsighted. Their letter to Santa includes the words “Us Mols have been good this year” which usually makes its way into our letter to Santa as well. Their nemesis the owl tries to catch them and foil them.

    • Heather says:

      That mole one sounds darling. I’ll check it out. I’m a sucker for animal Christmas stories for littles. My youngest was obsessed with the big hungry bear Christmas book.

  8. Hedgehog says:

    A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens)
    My Mum would read that to us every year, finishing up with the end on Christmas Eve.

    The Tailor Of Gloucester (Beatrix Potter)

    The Snowman and Father Christmas (both by Raymond Briggs)

  9. Bostonkellys says:

    I am the biggest boob when it comes to An Orange for Frankie. Every time. I try to steel myself against the tears and they ALWAYS come!
    Room for a Little One is a huge favorite for our family. It is short and simple but to me it sends a profound message.
    The Trees of the Dancing Goats – another Polacco Hannuka book.
    Jan Bretts Who’s That Knocking on Christmas Eve? – We love the illustrations and naughty trolls!
    And finally, Snowmen at Night – We also love naughty/busy snowmen.

  10. CAS says:

    Do you have an Exponent Amazon link? I’d love to contribute to Exponent by clicking through and buying some of these wonderful books there.

  11. spunky says:

    I love this list! My book list is sorely lacking- I seriously don’t have any of these books!

    BUT- I have a book, The Nativity, illustrated by Julie Vivas. I LOVE her artwork. The Spanish edition has a better cover, but beyond that– the artwork, showing an uncomfortably pregnant Mary, and an excited Joseph, and just an unusual collection of images that make the story more human to me, really just blows me away.

    http://www.amazon.com/Nativity-Julie-Vivas/dp/0152060855/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1417803771&sr=8-1&keywords=julie+vivas+nativity

    Looks like I’ll be doing some amazon hunting for the other books listed here! Thanks for this collection!!

  12. Lily says:

    A Wish for Wings That Work: An Opus Christmas Story by Berkeley Breathed

  13. Nancy says:

    Here are some of my favorite Christmas books:

    • Mr. Willoughby’s Christmas by Robert Barry—a wonderful story about woodland animals sharing a Christmas tree in equally wonderful rhyme (a family favorite)
    • The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Gudden about a Christmas doll and an evil toy owl and an orphan girl, looking for a home (alert: This is a long story, better read in a couple of sittings or for a child with a longer attention span. Plus, it is somewhat difficult to read this aloud without crying. Still worth it, tho.)
    • The Night Before Christmas by Clement Moore, illustrated by Niroot Puttapipat—a retelling of the poem with black paper cut illustrations (plus some color), with a pop-out sleigh as the grand finale; a beautiful book
    • The Night Before Christmas by Clement Moore, illustrated by Grandma Moses—wonderful, whimsical illustrations in color (watercolor?)
    • Wind in the Willows from the book by Kenneth Grahame with illustrations by Michael Hagle; Rat and Mole have a Christmas adventure; included is the wonderful WITW’s Christmas carol
    • Christmas Remembered by Tomie de Paola—beautifully illustrated Christmas short stories
    • Christmas by Jan Pienkowski—the scriptural account of Christ’s birth with gorgeous illustrations
    • The Christmas Miracle by Jonathan Toomey—a lovely story about a woodcarver in a little village (again, beautiful illustrations)
    • The Friendly Beasts by Laura Nelson Baker—especially for the younger set; based on the Christmas carol about the beasts at the manger
    • A Christmas Blessing by Welleran Poltarnees—a sweet book about Christmas blessings with illustrations from the early 20th century (1920s and earlier)
    • And, of course, Eloise at Christmas by Kay Thompson—Eloise trinkles and dinkles through the Plaza with Nanny, Skipperdee, and Weenie

  14. Anne W says:

    — The Selfish Giant, by Oscar Wilde

    My dad read this to us each Christmas Eve.

    “When the curmudgeonly Giant denies the local children access to his expansive garden, a great chill descends on them all. Winter lingers and spring refuses to scale the garden walls. But the children find a way into the beloved spot and the trees, grateful for the company and attention, begin to bloom. Seeing such beauty, the Giant is transformed and befriends his young neighbors, allowing them free rein. Not long afterward, a special boy appears to escort the old man to Paradise.”

    — The Christmas Day Kitten, by James Herriot

    I usually blubbered when reading this aloud.

    “The noted veterinarian and storyteller recalls a Christmas morning when he was summoned to the home of Mrs. Pickering. Usually he called on her Basset hounds, but this time the woman’s concern was for a mother cat that was sick. The cat, a stray that occasionally hung around at Mrs. Pickering’s, had brought her kitten with her and then died. Mrs. Pickering keeps the kitten, which grows up to become a “retriever-cat,” fetching balls and setting them at his mistress’s feet. Portraits of Mrs. Pickering and her animals, elegantly executed by Brown, round out this story about the quiet joy of the miracle of birth. It portrays a holiday spirit usually associated with the past: that the humblest of pleasures are the ones most keenly felt.”

    — The Christmas Mouse, by Miss Read

    It’s not a picture book but it’s one of my favorites.

    “Mrs. Berry is frightened by a mouse and goes downstairs to sit-out the stormy Christmas Eve. While cozily by the lounge room fire, she is disturbed yet again. This time the intruder proves to be a young run-away boy.”

  15. Pandora says:

    Every Christmas Eve since we have been married MB reads Truman Capote’s a Christmas Memory. It is longer although has pictures. He does all the voices in a southern accent. The boys have grown up with it and at a certain place in the story MB and I always start crying. Recently the boys started getting choked up at the same place and we had this moment where they had somehow gone from little boys to grown ups who understood the story in full for the first time.

    This is a wonderful list. Thank you!

  16. Margaret says:

    Santa Mouse and Mr. Edwards Meets Santa Claus from Little House on the Prairie. Thanks for the list!

  17. Daniel Patterson says:

    Wonderful post, Heather! Holiday reading is a staple of the season in our family — Murray has been a longstanding favorite. Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins looks like a must-add.

    Some of our favorites:

    — A Wish for Wings the Work, Berkley Breathed
    Opus and Christmas…what more do you need to say?

    — Crispin: The Pig Who Had it All, Ted Dewan
    A spoiled pig who always gets what he wants for Christmas (and quickly loses interest in the mountains of pointless gadgets) discovers the best present is one that fuels the imagination and brings people together…a giant cardboard box. Beautiful illustrations and a fun read.

    — The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, William Joyce
    While not a Christmas story, per se, Mr. Morris Lessmore is a wonderful story about the gift of books and their transformative, healing power. It’s become one of my all-time favourite picture books (Joyce made the book into a short film — no dialogue, only music — that is brilliant! I dare anyone to make it all the way through without crying).

    Of course there is always The Grinch, The Selfish Giant, and other staples. I’m also a big fan of the Christmas ghost story — when time allows, I try to gather adult friends together for an evening of food, drink, and taking turns reading ghost stories aloud. M.R. James, J.H. Riddell, Washington Irving, Algernon Blackwood…masters at reminding us that before the birth that comes with spring, there’s death and the unknown lurking in the darkness of winter.

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