Design Mom’s Favorite Christmas Books

The Best Christmas Books featured by top US lifestyle blog, Design Mom: image of a child reading How to Grinch Stole Christmas

Tis the season to read holiday books while snuggled up on the sofa. Here’s a list of our top family favorites — and a few new-to-us titles too. 

Some of these books are good for older readers (even grown ups) and some for the littlest listeners. Some are religious and sentimental, others are completely secular. But altogether, I think they make a really good collection.

For each title, I’m including links to — it’s an online option that supports local independent bookstores. I’ll also include an Amazon link for each title, because I know some of you have credit there you’d like to use.

A great book-related idea: My sister-in-law Erin wraps up 25 Christmas books and uses them as an advent calendar — her kids unwrap one each day and read it as a family. (If you don’t have 25 Christmas books, you could start with what you have and borrow some from the library.)

You’ll notice this list is focused on Christmas books — because that’s the holiday my family celebrates, and it’s the one I know best. But obviously, there are lots of winter holidays that are celebrated across the world, so if you have recommendations for non-Christmas holiday books, I’d love to learn about them. Feel free to add links or titles in the comments.

Design Mom’s Favorite Christmas Books, in no particular order:

A Child’s Christmas in Wales
It’s enjoyable to read, but I think I like it even more as an audio book, so I can hear his lovely accent.

The Christmas Alphabet
I love a good pop-up book — they feel like magic! And all of Robert Sabuda’s pop-ups are excellent. I can’t believe this one had a 20 year anniversary.

Christmas Day in the Morning
It’s a great story for helping kids imagine what a meaningful gift of service might look like.

The Secret Society of Saint Nicholas
New this year! This book came to be when the author was remarrying and combining two families — one family believed in Santa Claus, the other did not. “This is a story for kids (and their parents) who are heartbroken by certain terrible information about Santa Claus. Think there’s no more magic in the world? Oh, the truth is much more interesting. It’s time to embrace a deeper magic.”

A Christmas Carol
All those Scrooge movies your kids have watched? (I’m looking at you, Muppets!) This is where it all comes from. If you have young kids, and you think the original might be too hard for them to understand, look for an adaptation for young readers, or you can also try an illustrated edition. The other fun thing about A Christmas Carol is that there are tons of pretty gift editions out there to choose from — with fancy covers, or gilded edges.

Dream Snow
This is an Eric Carle book made for very young children, but we still read it every year because it’s just so sweet and magical — the little button at the end is pure twinkly genius. Get the hardcover, not the boardbook!

Silent Night
This is a beautiful book; a reverent and accessible adaptation of a favorite carol. It was out-of-stock last year, but is happily available now.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Still an all-time best Christmas book — and the book is better than all the movie versions.

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey
Another story of a change of heart.

A Christmas Wish
It’s a sweet and simple story, but even if it wasn’t, we would love this for the photographs.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
This is a chapter book. We like to read it aloud, a couple chapters at a time over a few nights — it’s a great one to finish on Christmas Eve.

The Gift of the Magi
A story of a young and foolish but loving couple who just want to give each other the best Christmas gifts ever. This is another old story, so there are tons of gift versions available.

Every Man Heart Lay Down
The Christmas story set in Liberia; originally published decades ago and it was long out of print.

Twas The Night Before Christmas
There are lots of versions of this story so you can look around for one that suits you. In my opinion, the best ones have vintage drawings. This one was illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith who is one of my very favorite children’s book illustrators.

Pick a Pine Tree
All about the all-important family tradition: the Christmas Tree.

Olive, the Other Reindeer
The song lyrics: All of the other reindeer, sound like Olive, the Other Reindeer. That’s the basis for this charming story and it does not let you down.

The Polar Express
I’m not a fan of the movie, but I adore the book. It’s even a Caldecott winner!

The Snowy Day
Not holiday related, but a great winter time book that we like to keep with the Christmas titles. It’s another Caldecott winner.

The Nutcracker
There are dozens of versions of this famous story too. You can pick one with illustrations that you think your kids will especially like.

Who is Coming to Our House?
It’s a board book for very young children and it’s super sweet. You get to watch the animals as they prepare for a little baby visitor.

The Twelve Days of Christmas
Ours is basically it’s the lyrics to the song, with illustrations to match. There are lots of versions of this one, so look for an illustrator you enjoy.

Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree
Christmas is here and Mr. Willowby’s tree has arrived. There’s just one big problem: The tree is too tall for his parlor! What will happen next?

Amazing Peace
This is the book I want to add to our collection this year. The text is a poem by Maya Angelou.

That’s the list! I first published this post in 2011, and try to update it regularly.

One thing to note: I didn’t include much in the way of “character books” like Eloise at Christmastime or Richard Scarry’s Best Christmas Ever or Peppa Pig’s Christmas Wish, even though some are really good, because there are literally dozens and dozens. But if your kids have a favorite character or author, why not get the related holiday book?

Lastly, I’m sure you have favorites that didn’t make my list — I may not even know about them! I hope you’ll include any of your picks in the comments.

162 thoughts on “Design Mom’s Favorite Christmas Books”

  1. My favorite is a glimpse into simple past celebrations (which many have strayed very far from). We are reading Little House in the Big Woods aloud at bedtime (again). The children cherished their small parcel of simple gifts more than anything. For those not familiar with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories, you are missing out on treasures—so grab one of them from your library.

    1. These books left such an impression on me as a child that to this day I smile when I see a “Christmas orange” and think of how the Little House girls were thrilled to get a single piece of candy in their stocking. We have much to be thankful for. Thanks for reminding me!

    1. I was literally coming here to comment that one!! I find myself summarizing it for my husband every year we go to get our live Christmas tree, but I should just get myself a copy! (My mom has the copy I grew up with)

  2. we are doing the christmas book advent thing this year. and my kids are loving it. but i definitely need some different books for next year (i’m not loving a few of the ones i chose, or happened to already own). so thanks for the tips. so far, i think my kids’ favorite was snowmen at night. and i’m glad someone else thought a snowy day was a good choice. my kids haven’t opened it yet, and i don’t think they’ve ever read it so it should be a fun surprise.

    1. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is made even more magical (er, HILARIOUS) by listening to Elaine Stritch narrate the audiobook. The Herdman’s are the humanity we need right now.

  3. Thanks for your list! As I’ve been going through my Christmas books, I’ve realized that most of our Christmas books are about Santa, and that they have just magically accumulated. I have no idea where they all came from! Here’s to a conscious effort for worthwhile Christmas story accumulation :)

  4. We love Olive the Other Reindeer! We have some great Hanukkah ones at home I will post later.

    If you are Jewish and don’t know about PJ Library check them out. They send age appropriate books monthly for free to folks who are members of an affiliated Temple. Some are religious but some just have Jewish characters. All have been great.


  5. A lovely lot of choices (and I used your picture book list to choose some Christmas presents for my nephews, so thank you for that, too!).

    I’d also recommend:
    The Fourth Wise Man (unbelievably touching – I remember reading it for the first time and crying. It’s difficult to find now, as attested to be the extortionate price on UK Amazon, but you might have better luck on the US version or in some big American book stores.)

    The Lion, The Unicorn and Me by Jeanette Winterson (a Nativity story, focusing on the donkey and how he was chosen above all the grander animals. It’s got a lovely message.)

    Also, the UK Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, has some Christmas poems in picture book form, and Another Night Before Christmas is especially great for children (a girl waits up to try and see Father Christmas – it’s all about the magic of the season. This edition has a stunning cover, too. The Christmas Truce would be great for older children as well, it’s about the famous, peaceful Christmas celebrations between German and British soldiers during WW2.)

  6. I’ve been looking for a nicely illustrated story of the nativity, I see one mentioned in the comments (We were there; Eve Bunting) but does anyone know of any others, my children are under 5

  7. Growing up my mother always bought new picture books for my brother and me, we have a massive collection. As an adult looking back Santa Claus and His Elves was and is my favorite. The illustrations are wonderful and so detailed and the story of how Norwegians celebrate Christmas north of the Artic Circle is very entertaining.

  8. I’m excited to try the books on your list we haven’t read :) My very favorite Christmas book is PEEF, the Christmas Bear by Tom Hegg. Several years ago when my kids were younger, my mother made each family a PEEF bear and gave it to us with the book on Christmas Eve. It’s one of the books we read every year! Love it!

  9. “Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus”-gifted to my sister and I in 1976/1977 and read every Christmas Eve. It is sadly out of print, but is a rare treat. If you can find it, I think you will appreciate it-both for the message and the fun retro illustrations.

  10. Thank you for posting this wonderful list! I have been so looking forward to it as your Top 50 was so helpful in finding new titles to add to our library. I know you said you avoided listing “character” books as there are so many out there, but one of our family’s favorites is ‘Petunia’s Christmas.’ In this story, Petunia the goose shows us the meaning of Christmas by simply loving another with all her heart. Such a sweet, charming and hilarious tale!

  11. I’m a picky book reader as is my 3 y.o. boy. I put our holiday books away last year with the decorations and took them out again last week to include in our advent activities (a “new” book to open is one activity that reappears several times).

    My own personal childhood favorite is “The Sweet Smell of Christmas,” with scratch and sniff stickers (oh the 80s!). It’s a sweet story too.

    We also really like “Duck Skates” and “It’s Snowing!” by Olivier Dunrea and keep them with our holiday stuff since they are so wintery.

  12. So glad to see Dream Snow on there, it was one of our favorites. My son is 14 now, but I am gonna try to sneak it in one night. He is probably too cool for it. Just rolls his eyes at his silly mom.

  13. Christmas in Exeter Street – by Diana Hendry, illustrated by John Lawrence.
    A story about hospitality – the house is full to the rafters and there is even a baby sleeping in the kitchen sink. Funny and sweet and absurd and touching.

    The Best Christmas Present in the World, Michael Morpurgo (Children’s Laureate, UK).
    Your middle/older children would like this. It is about the English and German soldiers laying down their weapons and sharing and playing together in December, 1914. You may need a Kleenex at the end.

    Fantastic books both…check them out.

    I love the list and suggestions…I’m going to add some of the titles to our family’s collection.

    Thank you!

  14. We read Christmas/Winter books every night starting Dec. 1. Our favorite author/illustrator is Jan Brett. She has beautifully detailed illustrations. Great coloring pages on her web site too.

    1. We love Jan Brett as well! Lots of details to pore over. She has many titles that are winter themed, including Three Snow Bears.
      Other old (might need to get from the library) favorite winter (not holiday specific) books:
      Happy Winter (about two young sisters enjoying the season, and a winter birthday)
      Winter Poems (illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman)

  15. Wow. There are hundreds of Christmas books. Even with our children grown and out of the nest, my husband and I still buy a new Christmas book each year and read it together. (some we share with the grandchildren) I love your list and one of my favorite from your list is *Christmas Day in the Morning.* The one I want to buy from your list this year is *Who is Coming to my House.* Looks like a great one for the grandchildren.

    Two of my favorites are by Carolyn Lynn Pearson:
    *The Modern Magi* and *A Stranger for Christmas*
    I’ve shared these books with the old and the young. Classic! A beautiful Christmas message in each of them.

  16. I forgot to mention one that was printed in 1954–I received it as a child (in 1954) and have kept it for all these years and now read it to my grandchildren. It was originally published in Family Circle Magazine.

    *The Most Beautiful Tree in the World*

    It’s about a family whose tree (from their yard) is chosen to be the Rockefella Center tree. Talks about their feelings of giving up their tree.

  17. julianna richman

    The best Christmas book we have is called I Believe in Santa Claus by Diane G. Adamson (you can get it on Amazon). My mom gave it to all us married kids one year and my oldest has it memorized by now. It goes thru all the attributes of Santa like ‘his hair is white, he comes in the night’ and then compares them to the Savior, ‘His hair is white, He came in the night’ It rhymes which makes it all the easier to memorize. It is darling! I highly recommend it!

    1. Julianna, I love that book! I found it a few years ago just as all my kids were hitting their teenage years. Bought copies for several other families at the same time. I just love it!

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