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 Bookshop.org — 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.
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!
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.
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?
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”
The Clown of God-Tomie DePaola
A beautiful story about a simple gift from the heart. I still get caught in the emotion of the end of the story and cry each time I read it aloud.
Thanks for such a great list. I can see we’ll be back to the library soon. This week we brought home “Christmas Farm” which tells the story of Christmas trees being grown to be sold. It’s wonderful.
One of my favorite Hanukkah books that I remember from elementary school, and that I now read to my own 3rd grade class every year, is “Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblin.”
It has a cute/funny story line, but still teaches about some Hanukkah traditions, such as the dreidle game.
Hanukkah! by Roni Schotter is a favorite of ours. Also good for those who don’t celebrate but want to learn. Warm and family/kid centered (get the picture book format, not board book, for best text and pictures)
I love your suggestions. we share a few Australian themes picture books with my little one. they do have talking animals and i believe some people are not a fan of this, but our little ones loves it.
I clicked on this post just to make sure you got Jonathan Toomey on there — it’s a heartbreaker for sure but a total delight. :) The Little Match Girl is another one I love.
I love books! A new tradition we have started is reading “The Legend of the Reindeer Shoes” to our kids every Christmas. It is by a local author and you can order reindeer shoes (similar to horse shoes) to make tracks in the snow. The kids love it!
Song of the Stars.. I bought it for my niece but am tempted to keep it! Its the nativity story told from the perspective of the animals.
We really love the vintage Random House Pop up version of the Night Before Christmas. The illustrations are fantastic.
Thanks for sharing your favorites–there’s a few we haven’t read yet.
The Red Ranger Came Calling
I was all ready to add our favorites in a comment, but you got pretty much all of them! We also love the Polar Express and consider Snowy Day a holiday season must-read, as well as Eric Carle’s Dream Snow. And Jan Brett’s Twelve Days of Christmas! I love ALL of her books; the illustrations captivate adults and children alike even after the hundredth reading. I think we have every book she’s ever published, from the Little Red Hen to her Gingerbread Baby and Mitten stories.
Joyeux Noel to you and your family, Gabrielle!
A couple of our favorites:
Through the Animals Eyes…the woodcuts are just gorgeous.
St. Nicholas….a historical account of St. Nicholas of Myra.
And if you can find a used copy of this one, it is a fun alphabet Advent book:
Christmas A to Z : fun facts for kids
What a great list, and I could come up with twenty more that I love! But here are just a few of the ones that stand out:
“The Night The Stars Sang” this should be mandatory reading for every family at the holidays, it is a compilation of short stories, poems, and songs about the holidays. If you can’t find the book (it might not be in print any more) you should at least look up the following stories on the internet- I’m pretty sure you could find them and they are WONDERFUL. “Trouble at the Inn”, “the man who missed Christmas”, and “The miraculous staircase”
“The Story of Holly and Ivy” a really charming long (my family usually splits it up over two-three nights) illustrated children’s book- illustrated by one of my absolute favorite illustrators, Barbara Cooney (she also did Miss Rumphius, Island Boy, Basket Moon- to name a few). It is about a little Orphan girl and a little doll who both believe in the power of wishing.
I saw someone already mentioned Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins– a really fun Hanukkah story.
Auntie Claus– the story of Santa’s mysterious and fabulous sister who lives in a NYC pent house apartment, and her precocious niece…another gem with GREAT illustrations.
I love any Jan Brett book, and most are set in a wintery scape appropriate for Christmas.
Finally is the “Autobiography of Santa Claus” this is a chapter book, but it is fun because it has twenty four chapters and so one chapter can be read a night leading up to Christmas Eve. It starts with the actual life of St. Nicholas and charts his magical journey through time and the world. You learn how he meets Mrs. Claus, and picks up other interesting characters along the way, including none-other than Atila the Hun!
Well I may have gone a little over board in my own Christmas book list, but it is something that truly brings me so much joy!
Thanks, and Happy Holidays!
I was looking down this long list, to see if anyone else mentioned “The Story Of Holly & Ivy.” My absolute favorite; I loved it as a child and get choked up reading it out loud to my own children.
I always get choked up too! I have to admit, I still consider myself to be on the child side of the equation (I’m a senior in college and always home for the holidays) but I love that my family of six adult kids (and my very mature teenage sister) will still read these same classic every year!
“Dance in the Desert” by Madeleine L’Engle is an all time favourite of our family. It tells the story of Joseph, Mary and Jesus’ flight to Egypt in beautiful ochre and blue tint drawings. It takes you into a night in the desert when all the animals come to worship this toddler, and how he adores them. It is Madeleine at her most poetic and a subtle story that conveys adoration and wonder.
It is illustrated by Simeon Shymin
you should check out _Emma’s Christmas_. It’s a retelling of the song “The 12 days of Christmas.” It’s one of our family favorites (currently out of print so find it on Amazon or at the library)
A Day on Skates; the Story of a Dutch Picnic takes several nights to read, but we love love love it. Maybe similar to Snipp Snapp Snurr? It’s set in Holland about a century ago, and is such a great opportunity to experience life in another culture, time, and country. It’s also a Newbery Honor Book!
Also, A Christmas Dress for Ellen by Thomas S. Monson. I can’t even get close to it without tearing up.
I loved your list and would add Jan Brett’s The Mitten, Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory, and The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston & Barbara Cooney.
The Trees of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polacco
A wonderful book to celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas, it recalls a very special memory from the author’s childhood. This is one of my favorite Patricia Polacco books, sure to warm the hearts of both young and old! The illustrations are lovely too.
I LOVE “This is the Star” by Joyce Dunbar. The illustrations are incredible.
Sarah…my children pick this one often xx
Awesome. Thanks for the Night Before Christmas recommendation. I just ordered 9 new Christmas books, but couldn’t find a Night Before Christmas book that I loved. I think yours is the one.
As a kids, my family would always read The First Christmas: with text from King James version and illustrated by Jan Pienkowski, and Twas the Night Before Christmas. I love Christmas books!
Great list! I’ve learned that no matter the Christmas book, they are made twice as exciting by wrapping them. When taking down Christmas the year before, I (or a sitter) quickly wraps all the Christmas books. Then when unloading Christmas decor the following Dec., there is a stack of presents ready to be placed under the tree. The kids take turns opening 1 or 2 a night all December long. They NEVER forget, so we make sure and read stories around the tree every single night- even on the crazy nights. This is my favorite Christmas tradition.
Love the list.
One of my new to me favorite’s, that I received as a gift 2 years ago, is The Christmas Giant by Steve Light. You will LOVE it!
A great book about friendship and pretty paper :)
Great list! Every Man Heart Lay Down is a new one to me that I’d like to check out. I also really like Peter Spier’s Christmas! I still love taking in all the little details, it really gets me in a good mindset about Christmas.
I second others in recommending the Tree of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polocco, the Amazing Christmas Extravaganza by David Shannon, Wombat Divine by Mem Fox, and Auntie Claus by Elise Primavera.
I also think you HAVE to check out Santa Claus The World’s Number One Toy Expert by Marla Frazee. I can’t believe that no one has mentioned it yet. It’s one of my very favorites! I also love The First Night by B. G. Hennessy for a simple version of the nativity. And let’s not forget that Sarah Jane Wright, who I know you love has illustrated a new picture book, A Christmas Goodnight by Nola Buck.
I didn’t see our current favorites as I scanned the comments–there are two that have done a great job of conveying the meaning of Christ’s birth in a small-child-friendly way, and my two-year old boys really like them! Room for a Little One (which I found nice but somewhat boring, but my boys seem to LOVE the illustrations of the animals, and the more I read the story, the more its simple message grows on me) and Mortimer’s Christmas Manger.
Oh, I love Christmas Day in the Morning too. Makes me cry every. single. time.
Ha, never thought of doing a Christmas book post!!! Our books are scattered through our Christmas posts…
So here you go: One Wintry Night by Ruth Bell Graham
The story of a young boy who gets caught up in a wintry storm and takes shelter in the home of a lovely old lady who tells hime the story of Jesus from Adam and Eve… all the while plying him with hot chocolate – lovely!!!
The Jesse Tree by Geraldine McCaughrean. It is the story of a grumpy carpenter that is carving a jess tree day by day until Christmas… pestered by a small boy who wants to know more… as the story progresses so he pesters less and the old man gets less grumpy!!!
We love The Christmas Carol, illustrated by Quentin Blake – just such a beautiful book!!! Love it!!!!
Two I would highly recommend are Papa Panov’s Special Day by Leo Tolstoy and The Last Straw by Fredrick H Thury, both beautiful Christmas stories. Thank you for a wonderful list to add to mine.
I was looking through the comments to see if anyone else had recommended Papa Panov’s Special Day. It’s one of my favorite christmas stories.
One of our favorites is Snowmen at Night. Those snowmen do some crazy things when we’re asleep!
I love that you have The Best Christmas Pageant Ever on your list! I gave my old copy to my nephews and they’re reading it right now. :) My very, very favorite Christmas book as a child was The Doll’s Christmas by Tasha Tudor. It’s about these girls who put on a huge Christmas party for their dolls and their friends with dolls – everything is miniature size, and the boys in the family serve the girls at dinner, and it’s just as sweet as can be. :)
The Dolls’ Christmas is my daughter’s very favorite. She slept with it next to her bed for a year when she finally got her own copy.
We love Allen Say’s Tree of Cranes. A story of a Japanese mother sharing bit of Christmas with her small boy. We read it all year.
Thanks for asking about Hanukkah books! I’d love to tell you about my favorites. First off, anything by Eric Kimmel is worth checking out. But more specifically:
My first favorite is Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, by Kimmel
Next is The Trees of the Dancing Goats, by Patricia Polacco.
Another is A Hanukkah Treasury, edited by Eric Kimmel
The Borrowed Hanukkah Latkes by Linda Glaser
Celebrate Hanukkah by the National Geographic Society
Two with more serious themes are:
The Tie Man’s Miracle by Steven Schnur, about a Holocaust survivor
The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate by Janice Cohn, a true story about a town in Montana that fought against religious hatred
After my daughter was born, I celebrated Hanukkah with a book gift each night.
Zlateh the Goat by Issac Bashevis Singer is a classic collection of stories for Hanukkah illustrated by maurice sendak
And everyone, the library is a great resource for books to share at holidays. Free, green, and lots to choose from! Our library also has a used book shop benefitting the library which is also great for kids titles.
Gabby! Living in France you MUST read The Family Under the Bridge this Christmas! It’s about a homeless family under a bridge near the Seine River. So beautiful, my whole family loves it. Merry Christmas!
You definitely need “mr willowby’s Christmas tree” and “the nativity” by Julie vivas, both are must haves!
One of my faves, not listed by anyone else is Tolkiens “Letters From Father Christmas” . It’s a collection of letters that Tolkien left his children each year, supposedly from Santa. For older kids, but I loved it growing up and my 7yo just read some of them last night and loved it.
Already replied up there about loving The Story of Holly & Ivy, by Rumer Godden. That’s my absolute favorite. Also, for older children who love Harry Potter and fantasy, I highly recommend “The Dark Is Rising,” by Susan Cooper. It’s a series of volumes, but the actual “Dark Is Rising” book takes place on Christmas Eve, and is just wonderful — about the forces of good (light) vs. evil (dark). I plan to read it this season with my 9 year old, if I can find my original copy somewhere. (Also, it’s clear this series had some influence on J.K. Rowling!)
My favorite is “The Story of Holly and Ivy.” Such a sweet story.
Hannukah and Christmas and so very much holiday spirit: the Trees of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polacco (everything she writes is magic, also try The Keeping Quilt, and Pink and Say).
Pink and Say is one of my all-time favorites to read aloud to middle school students! The only problem is I cannot make it through the book without bawling….but it makes a big impression on hard-to-impress tweens!
I love to read “The Crippled Lamb” by Max Lucado. Beautiful illustrations as well as a touching story.
Have you ever read the holiday story called Holly and Ivy? It is out of print, but you can find it. The story will have you sobbing.
Do you mean The Story of Holly and Ivy? Because that is one of my favorites! It is available through Amazon.
I love “The Jolly Christmas Postman“! It’s fun and interactive.
I’m also doing a Christmas book advent. My kids are 4-and-a-half and nearly-3, so our choices are simple picture books and even a couple of board books. This year we added Every Man Heart Lay Down (on your recommendation last year) and a Robert Sabuda book to our collection. I’ve also picked up several at the library. Last night we read Bright Christmas: An Angel Remembers, by Andrew Clement. My kids enjoyed it, and I loved it! We are reading A Night Without Darkness on Christmas Eve. Are you familiar with it?
A new favorite of ours this year is Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo. A winter book that is a favorite (not Christmas though) of my 3 year old, is The Story of the Snow Children by Sibylle Von Olfers. A winter favorite of mine is White Snow, Bright Snow by Alvin Tresselt.
I was hoping to get some help. I used to read this Christmas bok when i was a kid and cannot remember the name, or find it. It was about a little elf that lived with santa. And i remember at towards the end he was super happy in santas pocket with his whistle (ithink it was made of thistle). It is not: the pocket elf, elf on the shelf, or the tiny elf. Ive already checked them out to no avail. I was really hoping someonehere might know as everyone in my family remembers the book but not the name :(
Thank you so much for your help!!!
I have already left a comment but have remembered a few others I would love people to read and enjoy. The Silver Donkey by Sylvia Hartnett, The Trees Kneel At Christmas by Maud Hart Lovelace and The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazeell.
Charles Tazwell also wrote The Small One and if there is an opportunity for you to listen to an old record of both these stories told by Loretta Young and Bing Crosby then make sure you do – absolutely beautiful. Another story which is perfect in every way is Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince and though not a Christmas Story, his perfect story The Selfish Giant.
“The Father Christmas Letters” by J.R.R. Tolkien. It’s the collection of letters written by J.R.R. Tolkien to his children from the time his oldest was just a few years old. It is the replies to the letters they wrote to Father Christmas. It includes illustrations, stories from the Polar Bear (who was always trying to help Santa, but seemed to end up bungling things) explanations of how the bad black goblins were trying to steal the presents, etc. It also shows the envelopes and stamps he would create. It’s amazing and one of my favorite Christmas books.
If you’re not too tapped out on this conversation yet? :)
Just want to chime in with a few more favorites…
** The Littlest Angel, by Charles Tazewell (I always get choked up when reading it aloud. Such a sweet and tender story!)
** Letters from Father Christmas, by J.R.R. Tolkein (I LOVE LOVE LOVE the concept, imagination, and sheer magic of the letters Tolkein wrote for his children)
** Auntie Claus, by Elise Primavera (In my secret dreams, I AM Auntie Claus. So charming)
** The Animals’ Merry Christmas, by Richard Scarry (As a child, I loved the detail and imagination of these illustrations)
** The Christmas Witch, by Steven Kellogg (Another book that entranced me as a child because of fantastical illustrations)
Love, love, love “Who is Coming to Our House.”
The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree, by Gloria Houston, is another favorite.
Love The Best Christmas Pageant Ever – I’ve been reading it with my kids for years. And I feel the same about the Polar Express movie and LOVE the book.
We just named our baby girl Olive and my mother in law got her Olive the Other Reindeer as a gift. Our toddler loves the pop up in the back!
A wonderful Advent book (with a bit of the mystery story told every day up to Dec 25) is “The Christmas Mystery” by Jostein Gaarder. We’ve been reading about Elisabet as she journeys back through time with various members of the Christmas Story (Wise Men, shepherds and angels) and also through Europe- from 1950’s Norway to Bethlehem at the time of Jesus birth.
This book is gold- the true message of Christ at Christmas with history and geography thrown in (we are tracing her journey on a big map of Europe). And of course there is the slowly unfolding mystery…
It’s not a picture book, it’s perfect to be read aloud. My 7yr old loves it, its probably great for ages 6 and up. Just magic!