This is the post I wait all year to write. In truth, I have been training for 20 years for this. Because 20 years ago, I started collecting children’s Christmas picture books. Don’t believe me? You should see the storage totes in my basement. I snagged a couple of books during the post-holiday sales and have added to my collection gradually. I had no kids (not for another 15 years, in fact) but could never resist seasonal picture books. I know many of you feel the same.
I also know many of you have a family tradition of celebrating the holidays with a book advent. Some people take the time to wrap 24 books, some use a reusable cloth bag, and others set them on the floor in an oversized basket. Maybe you’ve just started building a holiday collection of books, or perhaps you are perfectly content placing library holds in early November. However you celebrate the holidays at your house, I hope it involves books. Lots and lots of books.
Of course, narrowing down this list was impossible. Thus, these 16 books range from board books to advent collections and two special bonus reads for older children. Hopefully, there’s something for everyone here!
Christmas Board Books
1 | Make & Play Nativity by Joey Chou
There are two books in this series (one secular, one religious). Both books feature cardboard cutouts with little stands that allow readers to punch out each piece to make a playset of characters from the book. Once assembled, they make an ideal addition to any imaginative play.
2 | Where’s Santa Clause by Nosy Crow
You basically can’t go wrong with this entire series. Toddlers appreciate the tactile, interactive genius behind these whimsically illustrated books, while adults love the ability to add to the storyline, thereby enhancing the minimal text.
Christmas Advent Books
3 | Christmas is Coming! An Advent Book by Chronicle Books
A newcomer this season, this advent book creates a sense of community by evoking seasonal traditions like caroling and exchanging neighbor goodie plates. With little flaps on the front of the book, readers can track each day by singing songs, telling jokes, making crafts, or simply spending time together reading a festive tale.
4 | How Winston Delivered Christmas by Alex T. Smith
Follow a dutiful little mouse named Winston on his mission to deliver a letter to the North Pole in time for Christmas. With 24 1/2 chapters, charming holiday crafts, exquisite illustrations, and recipes for delicious baked goods, this single book is an entire advent experience in and of itself.
Plus, the smattering of British English may introduce you to a few new phrases. We can’t wait to read it again this year!
Christmas Picture Books
5 | Christmas Eve at the Mellops’ by Tomi Ungerer
One December evening, Mr. Mellops reads an article to his sons about decorating for the season. On Christmas Eve, Isador decides to surprise his father with a nicely decorated tree. The trouble is, all four boys have the same idea.
When the boys discover the mistake, they set off to find new homes for their festooned Christmas trees. However, each place they visit (the hospital, prison, and orphanage) already has a tree. At the last moment, they finally find some neighbors most in need of their service. Happy to provide more than just trees, the boys dip into their resources to provide presents and food for others.
This book is a Tomi Ungerer classic, expertly depicted in peach and green illustrations.
6 | Herbie’s Secret Santa by Petra Mathers
Lottie and Herbie are off to buy a Christmas tree. Together the two friends pass neighbors on their errand and stop into the local bakery. When Herbie accidentally eats a decorated Santa cookie without paying for it, he is plagued by the dishonesty of his actions.
Throughout the remainder of the day and night, we see Herbie struggle with his choice and eventually confess to both Lottie and the shop owners. After making amends, Herbie can, at last, enjoy the holiday spirit and exchange gifts with his best friend.
7 | Miracle on 133rd Street by Sonia Manzano
As José decorates the tiniest Christmas tree, he rushes into the kitchen to hear his mama yelling about the roast not fitting into the small kitchen oven as she laments again about leaving her home country. To save the traditional feast, Papa and José head off to find a larger oven at the pizzeria around the corner. Along the way, they chat with neighbors and friends.
At the pizzeria, Mr. Ray cooks the large roast for three long hours. When it is finally done, the trio heads back to the apartment, gathering friends along the way, each enticed by the roast’s aroma. Finally, a multicultural band of old and new friends arrives in the tiny apartment, each eager to share a merry holiday meal.
8 | Pick a Pine Tree by Patricia Toht
“Pick a pine tree from the lot—slim and tall or short and squat.”
With luminescent illustrations evoking twinkle lights and falling snow, this rhyming wonder transports readers to a tree lot excursion, complete with bundled layers and finagling the tree on top of the car. Once home, the familiar rituals of watering, stringing lights, and decorating can begin. With the star on top and lights shining bright, readers can relive one of the quintessential moments of the holiday season in this splendid book.
9 | The Best Christmas Ever by Chih-Yuan Chen
Little Bear’s father lost his job, and the family has just enough money to get through the winter. Still, the three children in the Bear family hope that Santa will remember them. Father Bear collects fallen branches for a tree and sprinkles flour on top of the makeshift creation, and Mother Bear cooks Christmas Eve dinner.
On Christmas morning Little Bear is the first to discover presents left under the tree, one for each family member—presents of forgotten or lost items that had secretly been recovered. With a quiet pace and realistic images, this is a book unlike any other.
10 | The Broken Ornament by Tony Diterlizzi
“Jack wanted this to be the best Christmas ever.” The more decorations and the bigger the tree, the better. Jack and his two parents, clad in matching Christmas sweaters and holiday jammies, trim the tree when Jack discovers one last forgotten box of ornaments. Before his mother can stop him, the once delicate ornament glistens in fragments all over the floor.
What happens next is a story replete with the quintessential magic reserved for Christmas time. Readers will easily be dazzled by the appearance of Tinsel, a holiday fairy, and the ensuing antics of reindeer romping through the house, stoic nutcrackers marching, caroling elves, and the most cheeky bunch of merry snowmen.
After time—and with great childhood empathy—Jack considers his predicament and asks Tinsel if she can fix his mother’s beloved ornament. Grab a tissue for this newfound holiday classic.
11 | The Great Santa Stakeout by Betsy Bird
Freddy Melcher is the kind of kid who dresses up as Santa for birthday parties and other holidays throughout the year. With a collection of Santa posters, figurines, and other memorabilia, Freddy is a certified Santa fan.
This year Freddy plans to capture his most admired target. With a carefully executed operation, each series of steps lead him to that long-awaited Christmas Eve night. The only problem is Freddy hasn’t accounted for falling asleep on his mission. Expressive images and a twist ending make this book a newfound favorite.
12 | The Story Orchestra: The Nutcracker by Jessica Courtney-Tickle
Bringing classical music to life, The Story Orchestra series introduces young children to musical moments of ballet and concerto. There are push buttons on each page, allowing new listeners to hear a sampling of the songs so familiar to older readers.
No doubt you’ll have some impromptu home performances as a result of this lavishly illustrated and interactive book.
13 | The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston
Early in the spring, Papa and Ruthie pilgrimage up the hill to pick a Christmas tree for Pine Grove Church. Together they find the perfect balsam tree and tie a red ribbon to the top branches.
In the summer, Papa is called away to be a soldier, so Mama and Ruthie care for the house and garden, awaiting his homecoming. But when Papa has not returned by Christmas, Mama and Ruthie hitch the sled and head out into the dark night, searching out their previously selected tree.
This longer tale weaves the magic of a bygone era into the hearts of modern readers.
14 | You Can Do It, Sam by Amy Hest
Mrs. Bear and Sam make 12 cakes for their neighbors on Plum Street. After waiting and waiting, the cakes are finally done. Tucking the cakes into little red bags and loading them into the green truck outside, mother and son head off down Plum Street, stopping at the first sleepy house.
When Mama Bear stops, she asks Sam to deliver the cake, right up to the front porch all by himself. Through deep snow he trudges, gaining confidence with each step, certain his neighbors will love their winter surprise. A thoughtful story about giving.
Picture Books for Older Kids
15 | The Candle in the Forest compiled by Joe Wheeler
Follow a young boy, living in the midst of difficult financial times, who traipses off after an elf only to discover an older man once dubbed Santa Claus. With over-the-top cartoon-like illustrations, this tale will mesmerize even the most doubting of holiday believers.
If you’ve never read this, do yourself a HUGE favor and change that immediately.
16 | The Red Ranger Came Calling by Berkeley Breathed
Follow a young boy, living in the midst of difficult financial times, who traipses off after an elf only to discover an older man once dubbed Santa Claus. With over-the-top cartoon-like illustrations, this tale will mesmerize even the most doubting of holiday believers. If you’ve never read this, do yourself a HUGE favor and change that immediately.