A Few of My Favorite Things: Christmas Picture Books
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?