During a recent trip to Target, I was alerted to the fact that Christmas is fast approaching. Never mind that Christmas is still more than a month away. As my 4-year-old son and I strolled down the aisles, giant, iridescent baubles hung from the ceiling above us, lively Christmas carols played and — before I knew what had hit me — I found myself eyeing a cute set of Christmas towels while my son enthusiastically pointed out the matchbox cars he hopes to receive for Christmas.
In the face of nigh-irresistable Christmas glitz, it seems to require a little effort — or at least forethought — to make Christmas a meaningful holiday for children.
This year, my family is celebrating the advent season with this bookish advent calendar. I have selected twenty-five stories that I am looking forward to sharing with my children during advent. Each day, my children will unwrap a book, and we will read it aloud together.
I hope that this new holiday tradition will ensure that we set aside quiet time to be together as a family and reflect.
I borrowed most of the books for this advent calendar from my local public library. Alternatively, you could invite friends and family to each purchase a book to contribute to your child’s advent calendar.
1. Toot and Puddle: Let it Snow by Holly Hobbie. Here is my pick to kick off the advent season. In this tender story, best friends Toot and Puddle anticipate Christmas, go cross country skiing and make thoughtful gifts for each other. Ages 3+
2. Wombat Divine by Mem Fox and Kerry Argent. A humorous story in which Wombat, Emu and others prepare for the nativity play. Ages 3+
3. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. The classic, Caldecott-winning story of a boy whose belief in Santa is restored when he takes a train ride to the North Pole. Ages 4+
4. What’s Cooking Jamela? by Niki Daly. A lively Christmas story set in South Africa. Jamela is charged with raising her family’s Christmas chicken. When Jamela befriends the chicken, she must find a way to keep it from being eaten for Christmas dinner. Ages 4+
5. The Trees of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polacco. A beautiful tale of kindness between Christian and Jewish neighbors. Patricia’s family is busy preparing for Hanukkah. When Patricia discovers that her Christian neighbors have scarlet fever, Patricia’s family helps them celebrate Christmas. December 5th is the last night of Hanukkah this year. For those interested in learning more about Hanukkah, Akhlah: The Jewish Children’s Learning Network is a great resource. Ages 5+
6. Olivia Helps with Christmas by Ian Falconer. One of my favorite books in the Olivia series. In Olivia Helps with Christmas, Olivia goes to great lengths to help with Christmas. Predictably, chaos ensues. Ages 4+
7. The Twelve Days of Christmas by Jan Brett or 12 Days of Christmas by Rachel Isadora. Two wonderful books for young musicians. Jan Brett’s version of The Twelve Days of Christmas features intricate, Scandinavian-influenced illustrations, while Rachel Isadora’s version features colorful scenes from various African countries. Ages 2+
8. Christmas Tree Farm by Ann Purmell and Jill Weber. A warm, colorful description of the Christmas season from the perspective of a family who owns and operates a Christmas tree farm. Ages 3+
9. Franklin’s Christmas Gift by Paulette Bourgeois and Brenda Clark. A story about an issue that arises at my house this time of year. In Franklin’s Christmas Gift, Franklin struggles with choosing a toy to give away to the Christmas toy drive. Ages 3+
10. Christmas in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Renee Graff. The true story of Laura Ingalls’ family’s simple 1860s Christmas celebration. Laura and her sister Mary relish a rare visit from cousins and gifts of candy canes and red mittens. Ages 3+
11. Mooseltoe by Margie Palatini and Henry Cole. A hilarious (ask any kid) story about a moose who plans his family’s Christmas celebration in great detail but forgets to get a Christmas tree. Kids will get a kick out of Moose’s solution. Ages 3+
12. The Christmas Magic by Lauren Thompson and Jon J. Muth. An unexpectedly calm depiction of Santa. While others depict Santa and his elves frantically churning out toys, Thompson and Muth depict Santa methodically feeding his reindeer, polishing his sleigh bells, darning his socks, carefully selecting toys for each child on his list and patiently waiting for the Christmas magic to come. Ages 3+
13. Christmas Cookies: Bite-Size Holiday Lessons by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jane Dyer. A book that teaches kids new vocabulary words and life lessons. Each lesson is creatively tied into depictions of kids baking Christmas cookies: E.g. “Reciprocate means, today I’m making cookies at my friend’s house, and then next time I’ll invite her to make them at my house.” Ages 3+
14. Olive, the Other Reindeer by Vivian Walsh and J. Otto Seibold. A funny, off-beat story about a lovable dog named Olive who, mistakenly thinking she is a reindeer, joins Rudolph and the gang to deliver presents. Ages 4+
15. Night Tree by Eve Bunting and Ted Rand. A memorable story about a family who decorates a tree in the woods with Christmas decorations for the animals. Ages 3+
16. The Night of Las Posadas by Tomie de Paola. A lovely story to read on the first day of Las Posadas. A miracle occurs that saves the Las Posadas celebration. December 16th is the first day of Las Posadas, a nine-day celebration with origins in Spain, now celebrated chiefly in Mexico, Guatemala and the southwestern United States. Here is a great video to share with children about how how one family celebrates Las Posadas: Las Posadas Navideñas by Maura Wall Hernandez. Ages 4+
17. Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry. A jaunty tale, first published in 1963, in which Mr. Willowby’s Christmas tree is shared by a fun cast of characters. The original cover nails it: “Small boys and girls will laugh with delight.” Ages 3+
18. An Orange for Frankie by Patricia Polacco. A heartwarming story with gorgeous illustrations. Patricia Polacco’s stories, with themes of kindness, gratitude and the importance of family, are the perfect antidote to holiday consumerism. Ages 4+
19. The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers. The perfect picture book to read before seeing The Nutcracker ballet. The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers features lush illustrations and succinctly tells the story of The Nutcracker as it is typically depicted by ballets. See also The Story of the Nutcracker Ballet by Deborah Hautzig. Ages 3+
20. Lili on Stage by Rachel Isadora. The story of a girl Lili who gets to perform in The Nutcracker ballet for the first time. Ages 3+
21. Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and John Schoenherr. A beautifully-illustrated, poetic description of a girl and her father venturing into the forest on a cold, crisp winter night in search of an owl. Owl Moon does not mention Christmas. Instead, it centers on the relationship between a dad and daughter and their outdoor, winter adventure. Ages 3+
22. The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie de Paola. A Mexican folktale about a girl who offers weeds to Jesus. The weeds miraculously turn into poinsettias. Ages 4+
23. Who is Coming to Our House? by Joseph Slate and Ashley Wolff. A story about barnyard animals anticipating and preparing for Jesus’ arrival. Simple rhyming text and woodcut illustrations make this a good read for young kids. Ages 2+
24. Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore and Christopher Wormell. If you do not have a favorite version of Clement Clarke Moore’s Twas the Night Before Christmas, may I suggest checking out Christopher Wormell’s version. Ages 3+
25. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss. Last but not least, here is my pick for Christmas Day. With its entertaining story, fun wordplay and message about the meaning of Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is the perfect story to read aloud to friends and family gathered together on Christmas Day. Ages 3+
And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling: ‘How could it be so? It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!’ And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
‘Maybe Christmas,’ he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!’