When it comes to Christmas books things work this way: A whole bunch of stuff gets published as part of the annual marketing frenzy, and only a tiny fraction stands the test of time. Some are famous titles that everybody knows about. Others endure because they're quality books. Here are five picture books and two chapter books that my family continually uses to celebrate Christmas. I'd love to hear about the books you come back to year after year, too.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
I'm just going to go ahead and lay the mack-daddiest holiday book of all out there first thing. I know you know about it, so I debated writing about it, but I have to be true to what is truly worthy. Theodore Seuss Geisel was a genius cartoonist and picture book author. He single-handedly retooled Dick and Jane into a bunch of early readers that were waaaaay more fun to use to teach kids to read. He also wrote some absolutely brilliant picture books, including this one. The cadence of its poetry (for it is poetry) makes the Grinch a perfect read-aloud. It also tells a universal story of bad guy turned good whilst getting across the meaning of Christmas as more-than-presents. All without beating a dead horse, plus managing to be spectacularly entertaining. Please tell me you own this book.
Toot and Puddle: Let it Snow by Holly Hobbie
I have a thing about picture books and beginning readers that feature friends. Kids seem to find them immensely relatable, as well. You may be familiar with Frog and Toad or Elephant and Piggie. Toot and Puddle are two pigs who share several adventures in a series of picture books (written between 1986-1996) in which they negotiate the twists and turns of friendship. Toot is the adventurous of the two, while Puddle prefers staying at home. In Let it Snow, the friends struggle to find the perfect Christmas present for each other, as they wish desperately for snow. As the gifts are carefully created and the holiday shared, young readers will relate to Toot and Puddle's childlike emotions, which Hobbie tenderly portrays through dialogue and facial expressions. This is a book about the true joy of giving. It's sweet, but not saccharine, and beguiling in a way that parents and kids between ages four and eight will enjoy. I love this endearing pair; Let it Snow strikes the perfect, gentle tone for a family Christmas.
Max's Christmas by Rosemary Wells
Rosemary Wells created Max and his sister Ruby more than 25 years ago. These bunnies have endured the test of time because of Wells' knack for portraying their relationship with a droll humor that recalls many real-life siblings. Ruby, the bossy older sister, cajoles Max along as he manages to cleverly defy her strictures every step of the way. And Max is hilariously funny without saying much at all. In this, my favorite of their adventures, Max sneaks downstairs to the hearth, determined to see Santa arrive on Christmas Eve. Apparently Ruby's classic parental response of "because" to Max's inquiry about why he shouldn't look for Santa isn't enough to sway him. When Ruby comes down the stairs looking for Max on Christmas morning, he turns the tables on his big sister. My children most enjoyed this book as toddlers and preschoolers, but it also works for families because it's hysterical.
The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston and Barbara Cooney
Barbara Cooney was a prolific Caldecott Medal and National Book Award-winning picture book author/artist, whose work ranks among my favorite. She wrote and illustrated children's books for more than 50 years. She was known for meticulous research, a quality that shines through in the authenticity of her work. In 1988 she teamed with educator and writer Dr. Gloria Houston, a graduate of Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, to produce a moving, beautiful story of a mountain Christmas during the First World War. In the warmth of spring, Ruthie and her father carry out the annual task of choosing the village Christmas tree. But when winter rolls around, Ruthie's father is away at war, so she and her mother must undertake the task of trekking through the snowy mountains on Christmas Eve to claim the tree. Interwoven through the story is Ruthie's mother's surprise of gifting her daughter with a new doll dress, made from her own wedding gown. The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree melds art and storytelling to tell a moving story stripped of sentimentality. Modern children ages six to ten can connect to American history and the sacrifices of war, and will be moved by (and perhaps inspired to appreciate) the way in which people who have little material goods are still able to celebrate a meaningful holiday.
Olive, the Other Reindeer by J. Otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh
We've been reading this book every Christmas at my house for many years. Olive is a little doggie who gets a bit mixed up when listening to "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" on the radio while wrapping Christmas presents. Once she determines her name is part of the song, she ventures to the North Pole to become a reindeer. An affable Mr. Claus ties her to his team, and Olive ends up saving the night several times over so that Santa can make sure to get all the gifts delivered on Christmas Eve. Besides the really cool retro illustrations, this story is quite goofily funny. Comical, sweet, and endearing, Olive will appeal to kids of all ages, as well as to their parents.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
If you're a Gen-Xer like me, you remember the iconic 1983 Loretta Switt movie based on this book. I hope you also got a chance to read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, which was originally published in 1973. If you didn't, it's not too late to enjoy a book that is very, very funny. The tale of the Herdmans, a bunch of dirty, cursing kids who have never heard the Christmas story, and how they take over the annual church pageant, has timeless appeal. If you want your kids to be entertained, and perhaps sneak a subtle lesson in about loving the unlovable (just as Jesus did), this is a book you want to share. It's a short read, or listen to it together in this wonderful audio version, which is exceptionally well-executed.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Just in time for Christmas 2014, Penguin has released its new Christmas Classics series, a lovely collection of five illustrated Christmas novellas. I'm thrilled to see my favorite holiday story of all time featured. A Christmas Carol, that famous story of greed and redemption, makes a wonderful (and short) family read-aloud for kids about nine and up. Dickens had a knack for spinning un-put-down-able yarns. While you may have enjoyed the many movie and stage versions of this famous tale, nothing compares to his original words. Bring Scrooge and Tiny Tim in their original glory home to be part of your family Christmas.
Check out more of my recommended Christmas books for kids and families here:
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