As a kid, the start of the Christmas season never came for me the morning after Thanksgiving, the day of the first snow, or even on Dec. 1. Instead, Christmas season started once mom an dad brought up my stack of Christmas picture books from the basement. I was — and still am — a huge reader, and flipping through the pages of those books was like being reunited with good, old friends you hadn’t seen in a year.
Even as I’ve grown older, I’ve still found joy in rereading these stories around Christmastime. They not only transport me back to the carefree days of my childhood, but they also remind me about what’s important about Christmas in an obvious way that “advanced” literature — with its complicated themes and underlying meanings — sometimes struggles to do. It’s easy to say that children’s literature is simplistic, but more times than not I find it’s as valuable as adult literature, and it’s usually more fun.
So today, I thought I’d share nine of my favorite Christmas picture books. They’d make awesome gifts for the young people in your life, but they’re also great to read yourself. Either way, they get us into the Christmas spirit!
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1. Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry
Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree is definitely my favorite Christmas book, even though it’s not as well-known as some of the others on this list. The book tells the story of a Christmas tree that’s too tall for one person’s house, so the man cuts off the top and throws it away. Then someone else finds the top, tries to use it, and once again, it’s too tall, so he cuts the top off and throws it away, too. The cycle continues in a heartwarming story about sharing, giving and appreciating the little things in life.
2. Auntie Claus by Elise Primavera
Another absolute favorite of mine that many of you likely don’t know is Auntie Claus. The story follows Sophie as she attempts to learn what her aunt’s mysterious business trip that she takes from Halloween to Valentine’s Day every year might be. When she suddenly arrives in the North Pole, she must confront her own selfishness and discover the real meaning of Christmas. It’s a beautiful story with clever details, iconic quotes and marvelous illustrations.
3. How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
This book, which everyone I’m sure has read, makes me so happy. It epitomizes the Christmas spirit and reminds us, in the Grinch’s words, that Christmas “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!” It’s a Christmas staple, and I’m pretty sure I have it memorized, I’ve read it so much! (Side note, I’ve heard the new movie adaptation of it isn’t amazing — read the book instead!)
4. The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore
I mean, how can you talk about Christmas books without mentioning this one? If you haven’t read this, first of all, you’re lame, and second, go get it RIGHT NOW! It’s the ultimate classic.
5. The Polar Express by Chris van Allsburg
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the idea that Santa isn’t real, that the North Pole factory doesn’t exist, or that reindeers couldn’t mathematically travel to every house in one night. But what fun is that? The spirit of Christmas encourages us to believe, and The Polar Express emphasizes that aspect of the holiday well.
6. Arthur’s Perfect Christmas by Marc Brown
I was always a fan of Arthur the Aardvark growing up — I even named my first fish after him! — so I naturally enjoyed this book in the series. But even if I didn’t know the characters well, I’d still like this book because of its description of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, and because it proves that even if Christmas doesn’t go the way you wanted at first, it can still be perfect.
7. Angelina’s Christmas by Katharine Holabird
This book gives great visuals of what quintessential Christmases tend to look like: a snowy night, a warm fire, some cookies baking in the oven and a colorful Christmas tree standing tall. You’ll instantly want to be a character in this book, and the story is cute, too!
8. The Jolly Christmas Postman by Allen and Janet Ahlberg
This book was one of my favorites growing up not actually because of the story, but because of the interactive aspect of it. Instead of just describing a plot and including some pictures, the Ahlbergs compose actual pieces of mail, puzzles and even a board game that readers can pull out of pockets within the book. This story becomes a whole experience, and readers will enjoy guessing what new note they’ll pull out next.
9. The Night Before the Night Before Christmas by Natasha Wing
Written with the same rhyme scheme as the original, this spoof provides a humorous take on a chaotic day before Christmas Eve. Even through its silly delivery, the book reminds us that Christmas is about more than just the materialistic things like the tree, the presents or even the photo-ops with Santa.
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