Friday, December 5, 2014

Our Favorite Christmas Picture Books

Each December, we have a giant pile of Christmas books sitting in our window seat, some we own, some from the library.  Anymore there are so many books to choose from at Christmas time, and while most of them are fun, very few are anything I'd consider spending money on, with the exception of the following four:

The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen, Illustrated by Rachel Isadora

We're going to start with a book that isn't even really a Christmas book, because that is how Crislers do.  It's set in 19th century London on New Year's Eve, and if bittersweet is your thing, then this is the book for you.  This was a childhood favorite of mine and my sisters, which for a long time caused me to assume we were all three kind of messed up, but now every time I pull this one out of the Christmas book basket all our kids whisper, "Oh, I love this one," but really, what's not to love?  Neglected, battered children?  Check.  Starvation to the point of hallucination?  Check.  Orphans freezing to death?  Check-check.  Yet somehow, despite all that, this story is gorgeously hopeful, and this edition in particular is very poignantly illustrated.  Just don't even open the front cover without a Kleenex in your hand.

Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree by Robert Barry

Tied with The Little Match Girl for First Place Favorite in our house is this rhyming, happy little book, because sometimes you need a little 1963 frivolity after confronting the harsh realities of 1845.  It starts with Mr. Willowby's too-large Christmas tree, whose top is cut off, with each subsequent lopped-off-top being handed down to increasingly smaller creatures to decorate their own little homes, ending with Mistletoe Mouse and including Miss Adelaide, the upstairs maid.  (Our own Adelaide and Atticus always enjoy this little coincidence, while Caedmon is happily baffled each time I read out the name of his sister in a book.)  If you like your Christmas books charming and lively that will draw in kids both big and little, this one's for you.

Who Was Born This Special Day? by Eve Bunting, Illustrated by Leonid Gore

A sweet, poetic story about the Nativity that our children loved as small children for its text, but we all continue to treasure for its dreamy illustrations.  Really, the photo to the left doesn't do it justice; if you ever see this book in a library or bookstore, pick it up and thumb through it.  Perfect for communicating the wonder and splendor of the Christmas story.

The Christmas Candle by Richard Paul Evans, Paintings by Jacob Collins

This time of year, despite our best efforts to communicate the season's inherent message, we often find our children to be more preoccupied with presents and sweets and pretty much anything that revolves around their own little selves.  This story- a parable, more than anything- helps illuminate our own selfish desires and the importance of treating every stranger as our own mother, each person in need as our own sister.  The illustrations opposite the text of each page are the perfect counterpart, haunting yet also feeling like something you might like to tear out and hang on your wall.  This one's more suited to older children and any adults in your life (hint: all of us) who could use a reminder of what we're called to focus on.

Any strong feelings of your own about which holiday picture book you love and I thoughtlessly left off of my list?  Tell me your favorites, I'm always looking for recommendations!


  1. It is just now dawning on me that my family (when I was growing up) did not have this tradition of reading Christmas books. At least I don't remember it.

    For my own kids, we did read some Hanukkah books. I think my kids' favorite was always "Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins". We also liked "Blintzes for Blitzen" which wouldn't win any storyline or art awards, but it included both Hanukkah and Christmas in one book. In more recent years, I have enjoyed reading Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" to my youngest child. It's a really long story, but great to read aloud.

    Right now, I think that I myself need to read "The Christmas Candle." I do not have the right focus. But that could be because I just got my flu shot.

  2. When I was a kid, we didn't have Christmas picture books either (of course, I'm ancient --that was probably before they were invented), BUT, my dad would read Dickens' A Christmas Carol to us out loud! He's the most fabulous reader, and we'd get one stanza a night, during the four or five days leading up to Christmas Eve. We'd bring blankets and pillows to cuddle up on the living room floor. CHM is so right --it's such a fabulous book to read out loud. And it didn't matter that we were too young to understand all the references at first --as we got older, we just appreciated the book more each year, as we understood it better.

    Emma of course did have a stack of Christmas picture books that we read to her. I don't remember a lot of them, but we had Big Susan, a wonderfully illustrated Twas The Night Before Christmas, Maisy's Christmas, and Silver Berries And Christmas Magic. That last one was one of my favorites because it brought in some of the feminine magic that's associated with paganism and the solstice.

  3. "The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey." Because Christmas is about crying.


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