12 Favorite Christmas Picture Books

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We have "Kindness Elves" that visit us each year, who do kind things for us and encourage us to do the same. They arrive on the 13th and stay until Christmas Eve, because that's all this mama can handle. They bring a Christmas book for Keira to open every night. Some are the same books year after year, and sometimes new books enter the rotation. Here's this year's lineup of a dozen favorite Christmas picture books, divided into four handy categories.

School Book Order Favorites

Who can resist a Scholastic book order? Not me. Some of it is childhood nostalgia. We didn't order books particularly often through the catalog when I was young, so I may be making up for all the books I didn't buy as a child. Plus, it's an affordable way to try out new titles.

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 1. The Great Reindeer Rebellion
By Lisa Trumbauer and Jannie Ho, 2009

If you like clever books that rhyme, and you'd like to see cats, flamingos, elephants, and kangaroos trying to pull Santa's sleigh, then this is the book for you. It's written in the style of the classic poem, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. Kids love hearing such silly scenes described in a familiar rhyming cadence. 

"Flamingos!" he summoned, 
"It's your turn, let's go!
And I must say your pink
looks divine in the snow.

 

2. Llama Llama Holiday Drama
By Anna Dewdney, 2010

Dewdney captures preschool-age Christmas impatience perfectly, making it easy for kids of any age to relate to. This is a fun read-aloud book, although you will say "Llama" a lot, along with the small handful of words that rhyme with it: mama, drama, pajama.

Too much music, too much fluff!
Too much making, too much stuff!
Too much everything for Llama...
Llama, Llama, HOLIDRAMA!

 

3. A Snowman for Little Bear
By Trace Moroney, 2016

I'm not sure if this will be a year-after-year favorite, but my 1st grader loved it this year. It's right on her reading level. Some words were a little challenging for her, but there's enough repetition in the story structure that she was able to read it pretty smoothly anyway. It's a cute winter story that builds to a sweet ending. (Bonus: there's a template for making a cuddly bear sock puppet at the back.)

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"Along came Little Red Fox.
'Look here, Little Bear--I have just the right thing.
A snowman needs a scarf."

"Of course!" said Little Bear, admiring the colorful,
woolly scarf Little Red Fox's mom had knitted.
"But...I think something is still missing."

The downy sparrows tweeted as fast as they could.
News traveled fast deep in the woods.

 

Little Golden Favorites

Here's another dose of childhood nostalgia for you. I love that some of these vintage stories have been in continuous publication for as long as 65 years! And you can still buy a new copy online for less than $4.

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4. The Animals' Christmas Eve
By Gale Wiersum and Alexandra Steele-Morgan, 1977

First published the year after I was born, this vintage story features timeless illustrations and counts its way toward the birth of Jesus with remembrances from one hen, two white doves, three wise men, four brown horses, and so on. This book was a gift from my sister, and it's a fun rhyming story to read out loud. 

Five gray donkeys speak with pride,
Remembering one who gave a ride:
Our brother donkey went with them
From Nazareth to Bethlehem.

Six spotted calves now nibble hay
Like that on which the baby lay.
"They put him in a manger bed
So he could rest his sleepy head."

 

5. 'Twas the Night Before Christmas
By Clement C. Moore and Corinne Malvern, 1949

This Big Golden Board Book (which is also available in Little Golden format) is definitely BIG, and it out vintages my previous selection by 28 years. The illustrations have a fabulously '50s look to them, although the scenes depicted are from the early 1800s: the dad in the story is wearing a dressing gown, the children have petticoats, and Santa has cloud of pipe smoke around his head. Modern depictions of Santa tend to omit his tobacco habit.

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The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly

That shook, when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.

6. The Christmas Story
By Jane Werner Watson and Eloise Wilkin, 1952

This sweet version of the Christmas story is nostalgia in a book. It follows the Biblical account closely, using simplified language for children. As in the New Testament, the three wise men arrive later on, instead of on the night the Christ child was born. The final page shows Jesus as a cherubic toddler, holding a baby lamb, accompanied by these words:

The child was called Jesus, the name given by the
angel before he was born. And the child grew and
became strong in spirit and full of wisdom. And the
grace of God was upon him.

 

Jesus + Animals Favorites

I didn't realize this was a sub-genre of children's Christmas books, but it turns out I have three lovely books that tell the story of the birth of Jesus from animals' perspective. (Four, if you count the The Animals' Christmas Eve, #4 on my list.) Animals in general are naturally appealing to children, so it makes sense.

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7. Humphrey's First Christmas
By Carol Heyer, 2007

A quirky camel with delusions of grandeur suffers with cold, indignity, jealousy, and the weight of the three chests he must carry on a long journey. He schemes and he grumbles, but in the end, he encounters an unexpected treasure that makes his ordeal worth it. The illustrations are rich and detailed; the self-pitying and tragic expressions on Humphrey's face are particularly well done. He's like a charming, overgrown toddler. 

Beloved
Most Beauteous
and Exalted King of All
should be my name.

Instead, they call me...
Humphrey.

 

8. Room for a Little One
By Martin Waddell and Jason Cockcroft, 2004

Softer and subtler than my previous pick, this book features pastoral scenes and gentle prose. On a cold winter's night, Kind Ox welcomes Old Dog, Stray Cat, and Small Mouse one by one into the warmth of the stable. Then Tired Donkey arrives, carrying a most precious load.

Stray Cat peered in.
She saw Old Dog and she stopped.
Stray Cat arched her back and her fur bristled.
"I'll not chase you," said Old Dog.

"Come inside," Kind Ox said.
"There's always room for a little one here."

 

9. Song of the Stars
By Sally Lloyd-Jones and Alison Jay, 2011

Beautiful paintings of nature scenes accompany the reverent, awestruck prose. From open fields and forests to seas and running rivers, all of nature can sense that something wondrous is happening. It's all-around magical and quite possibly my very favorite on the list.

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The skies shout it to the
seas that thundered it to
the waves that roared it to
the great white whales
that sang it to the starfish
in the deep.

And tiny sandpipers danced it
on shining sands...
"It's time! It's time!"

Christmas Magic Favorites

I like to have a few books in the rotation that are about the general magic of the season, and two of these three faithfully deliver. One of them is a bit of a placeholder for now; I'm always open to new candidates. 

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10. How the Grinch Stole Christmas 
By Dr. Seuss, 1957

No list of children's Christmas picture books would be complete without The Grinch. I practically know all the words, both real and made-up, by heart. Even without the iconic illustrations, the language is so precise, picturesque, and vivid. How adorable is the word "chimbley"?

Then he slithered and slunk, with a smile most unpleasant,
Around the whole room, and he took every present!
Pop guns! And bicycles! Roller skates! Drums!
Checkerboards! Tricycles! Popcorn! And plums!
And he stuffed them in bags. Then the Grinch, very nimbly,
Stuffed all the bags, one by one, up the chimbley!

 

11. The Christmas Wish
by Lori Evert and Per Breiehagen, 2013

Admittedly, part of the appeal here is that Anja in the book reminds me of my own daughter, but I think anyone will find the story magical. The photographs are stunningly styled, timeless, and so REAL, like a glimpse into a Nordic wonderland. Keira stares at them, trying to figure out how the little girl is riding a polar bear, walking under a glacier guided by a musk ox, being pulled through the sky on her skis by a reindeer on her journey to the North Pole. The inscription on the book flap says, "Be Brave. Be Kind. Believe."

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´╗┐Evening fell as they approached a mountain pass.
The sky came alive with the dancing colors of the
Northern Lights. They stood spellbound for hours and fell
asleep, the horse standing strong and solid with Anja
lying across his warm back.

 

12. The Story of the Nutcracker Ballet
by Deborah Hautzig and Diane Goode, 1986

Keira became enamored of the Nutcracker story thanks to the Barbie and The Nutcracker movie, which is torture to watch because of the poor, early digital animation. So I looked for a book version of the ballet, and the reviews of most of them share the same reservation I have about this one: it's a bit too wordy and long for a read-aloud picture book. (It's all about brevity, amiright? This is why The Polar Express did not make my list.) But it's a faithful retelling of the ballet, and Keira enjoys it. If you have another version to recommend, I'm all ears. (I can promise you this Baby Lit version by Jennifer Adams will be short and sweet!)

It was Christmas Eve and Marie and her brother, Fritz,
could hardly wait for the party to start. At last the guests
arrived. The drawing room doors were flung open and a
brilliance of light and color flooded the hall.

"Oh! It's the most beautiful Christmas tree in the world!" 
cried the children. 

THE END

(Note: when the book When Santa Was a Baby arrives, which I discovered through another 12 books of Christmas list and ordered immediately, it has a good chance of unseating one of these. It looks adorable.)

What are YOUR favorite Christmas picture books--from your childhood or currently?

Angie Lucas