Reading to children — year-round — is one of my very favorite things to do. Add cocoa and a snuggly holiday blanket, and reading gets even higher billing. Kids’ holiday books are special because they’re enjoyed during a special time of year, but also because they usually convey wonderful, caring values — cooperation, sharing, respect, gifting from the heart, and love of family, nature and community, for example.
I recently brought out our collection of winter-holiday books. Some we’ve had since our now-grown children were little. Others have been recently added for the grandkids. I thought I might share some of my favorites with you, in case you’re interested in growing your collection or gifting a book to a child this season. (Books are not only my favorite activity, they’re my favorite gift item, too!)
I was happy to discover that — with one exception — all of the titles I’m recommending are available at Bookshop. Bookshop is an online bookstore whose mission is to support local, independent bookstores. You can read about how that happens here. Because I feel great about recommending them, I have an affiliate account at Bookshop, which means if you follow any of these links and make a purchase, I’ll receive a small commission. (This does not affect your purchase price.) Whenever I’m looking for a book, I always check to see if Bookshop has it first! They usually do, and I love supporting them!
I’ve included recommended ages for each of these books, but I find that once a holiday book becomes a favorite, children enjoy it year after year, no matter how old they are. Likewise, if a book has wonderful illustrations, I find that younger children will often unexpectedly sit through a story written for an older audience.
Wilma decides to grow Christmas trees instead of her usual petunias and sunflowers, and she has just about everything she needs — shovel, string, scissors, time, good brown earth and 62- dozen tree seedlings. Five-year-old Parker (sweetly, the same age as the seedlings) helps Wilma plant and tend the trees year after year. The watercolor illustrations by Barry Root are perfect — engaging and charming— and the intergenerational theme is strong and endearing. Reading level 4 to 7 years.
The Christmas Magic by Lauren Thompson
This is a gentle, quiet book for little ones — a perfect bedtime story. While Santa is often presented as a jolly old elf, in this story we see him as a quieter man, feeding his reindeer parsnips and berries and polishing his bells and his sled. We watch him thoughtfully and lovingly choose toys for each child in the world, then set off in a night that “thrums with magic” to deliver them. We are left with admiration and appreciation for this Santa. The simple, but magical, watercolor illustrations are by Jon Muth. Recommended for ages 2 to 7.
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski
Jonathan Toomey is a talented woodcarver, but he’s a sad and lonely man. When a young boy and his widowed mom ask him to carve something for them and show him grace, kindness, and appreciation, the interaction results in a healed heart. I like the value that the book places on the woodcarver’s talent and the theme of potential for healing through connection. The lovely illustrations are by P. J. Lynch. Recommended for ages 6 to 9 years.
Finding Christmas by Lezlie Evans
In this sweet story, three animal friends — squirrel, mouse, and hare — find a sick swallow in the snow. They nurse her back to health in their little burrow, giving up the presents they intended for one another in the process to help her. Generosity is abundant in this book, which includes themes of friendship and care. The illustrations by Yee Von Chan are muted and textural, just lovely. Recommended for ages 1 to 3 years.
The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie de Paola
Our family has long loved Tomie de Paola’s stories and artwork. (We have read Strega Nona a thousand times, I’m sure! And I’ve seen there’s also a Merry Christmas, Strega Nona title!) This Christmas story is the Mexican legend of how the poinsettia came to be, thanks to the generosity of a young girl gifting the baby Jesus. The illustrations are bright and beautiful, fitting the Mexican story. Recommended for ages 4 to 8 years.
The Little Drummer Boy by Ezra Jack Keats
This is the classic tale of a little drummer boy who joins a procession to Bethlehem. While he has no present “fit for a king,” he instead delivers to the baby Jesus the treasure of a song played on his drum. The rich artwork seems especially fitting for the season, along with the theme of giving meaningfully. You’ll find the music for the well-known song (the lyrics are the text of the story) at the end of the book. (Keats also wrote and illustrated another wonderful winter classic, The Snowy Day.) Recommended for ages 2 to 6.
Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles by Tami Lehman-Wilzig and Nicole Katzman
There’s a lot going on in in this relatable story. It deals with Jacob and his love for his autistic brother, Nathan, but his struggles, too, as he tries to make new friends with someone who finds his brother strange. Jacob prays for Nathan to be like other kids, but, in the end, he learns to use some creative problem solving to embrace the situation — and convince his new friend to be accepting. This is a story of inclusivity and appreciation, especially of those with special needs. Illustrations by Jeremy Tugeau. Recommended for ages 5 to 8.
Night Tree by Eve Bunting
Instead of cutting down a tree, a family gifts the woodland animals each year by decorating their favorite forest tree with popcorn, fruit, and balls of sunflower seeds. They carry out this ritual in the moonlight. If you have a tree in your yard or nearby wooded area, this is something you could do with your favorite little ones. (I’m planning to do this with the grandkids!) Illustrated by Ted Rand. Recommended for ages 4 to 7 years.
Seven Spools of Thread, A Kwanzaa Story by Angela Shelf Medearis
In this parable, seven brothers in an African village are making their family miserable with their quarreling. In his will, their father directs them to, by sundown, transform seven spools of thread into gold — or be cast out as beggars. Using the seven principles of Kwanzaa, the brothers pull together. The story, with its themes of community and the underlying Kwanzaa values, is enhanced by Daniel Minter’s dramatic linoleum woodcuts. Recommended for ages 4 to 8.
The Tree that’s Meant to Be by Yuval Zommer
This is such a beautiful story (visually and emotionally) of a little crooked fir tree not chosen as a Christmas tree but celebrated by forest animals for all its down-to-earth beauty. The book is about companionship, acceptance, and appreciation — of trees and of people. Readers may learn both that you grow to be your best and that you are perfect as you are. The charming illustrations are by the author. Recommended for ages 3 to 7 years.
Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry
In this festive tale of sharing and spreading joy, Mr. Willowby discovers that his Christmas tree is too tall for his parlor. He proceeds to cut the top and pass it along. Well, the tree is passed along again and again — from the upstairs maid to the gardener, to countryside animals — until seven homes delight in the tree, including the mice in a little mouse hole behind Mr. Willowby’s chair. Themes of conservation and recycling, sharing and community abound. Fun illustrations by the author. Recommended for ages 3 to 7 years.
What is Given from the Heart by Patricia C. McKissack
I love this book about giving despite one’s own needs. Mama tells her son James that, although they have difficulties (and they are in dire straits!), they are blessed because they have their health and strength. When another family in the community, the Temple family, loses everything in a fire, James wonders what he can contribute to the church collection for them. Mama sews an apron for Mrs. Temple out of her treasured tablecloth (“stitchin with a loving heart”), and James decides to make a book for Sarah Temple. This is a story full of empathy, resourcefulness, appreciation, and generosity. It also has stellar artwork by April Harrison; I’d recommend the book for the artwork alone! Recommended for ages 4 to 8 years.
Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell
Humans and wolves are, we understand, wary of each other. But with a shared need to return to safety, a little girl caught in a snowstorm and a wolf separated from his pack become close. The girl kindly carries the pup to his lost wolf pack, and the pack in turn helps the girl find her mother. The pen-and-ink drawings are beautiful, and all’s well — and cozy — in the end, thanks to kindness and compassion. Sweet illustrations by the author. Recommended for ages 2 to 6.
Why Christmas Trees Aren’t Perfect by Richard H. Schneider
Small Pine is a perfect little tree who hopes to someday be chosen by the Queen as her Christmas tree. But along the way to growing large, he shelters the animals of the forest, which damages his branches. Happily, the Queen appreciates a different definition of perfection. Acceptance, love, generosity, and appreciation are themes. Beautifully illustrated by Elizabeth J. Miles. Recommended reading level 5 to 10 years.
The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree: An Appalachian Story by Gloria Houston
This is an old-fashioned tale told at a quiet pace, giving listeners time to revel in the beautiful illustrations by Barbara Cooney. Ruthie and her devoted mom have the task of donating the perfect Christmas tree to their town. My favorite part of this story is when Ruthie’s mom performs a “miracle” by making over her wedding dress for Ruthie’s role in the church Christmas play. (My mother performed a very similar “miracle” for me once!) Family ties, sacrifice, and heartfelt giving are strong themes. Recommended for ages 4 to 8 years.
There are so many other terrific holiday books to talk about! What are your favorite kids’ holiday books? Please share!
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