Hunkering Down with Holiday Picture Books
Down in our basement, along with the Christmas ornaments and tree skirt and advent calendars and various other household decorations, we keep a very special box labeled “Christmas Books.” A while back, I decided that this stash would go away for eleven months of the year so that come December, these books would feel fresh and special and new all over again. So in addition to trimming the tree and cueing the Christmas carols and drinking delectable cups of hot cocoa, one of our traditions is clearing off one of our bookshelves in the living room and setting up an annual display of our holiday picture books.
This is the list of holiday books we have so far:
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss (of course, and my favorite)
- A Christmas Carol, abridged, by Charles Dickens (my… err… other favorite)
- The Jolly Christmas Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
- Santa Mouse by Michael Brown and Elfrieda De Witt
- Santa Mouse, Where are You? by Brown and De Witt
- Auntie Claus by Elise Primavera
- The Christmas Crocodile by Bonny Becker and David Small
- The Little Fir Tree by Margaret Wise Brown and Barbara Cooney
- Llama Llama Holiday Drama by Anna Dewdney
- If You Take a Mouse to the Movies by Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond
We also have little Golden Book versions of the usual classics — Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and The Night Before Christmas — though I have my eye on various editions of those that I’d like to pick up in the years ahead.
It has also become part of this tradition to add to our stash every year with another book or two that the girls can open, along with new holiday pajamas, the night before our family Christmas (which we celebrate on the 24th). I love this tradition. My mom always let us open one gift on Christmas Eve around the fireplace when we were growing up. So the girls will each get to open one book and one pair of warm pajamas, and then we can immediately put both to use and cuddle up in bed with our new jammies and Christmas stories as we say goodnight before Santa comes.
This year, the girls are getting Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry and The Lost Christmas Gift by Andrew Beckham. These have been stashed away in the closet since July, and since it is a very difficult feat for me to keep a secret and withhold a gift for that long, I am giddy that they will finally get to open them soon! Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree is a really sweet story about a grand Christmas tree that Mr. Willowby gets for his home — the most splendid he has ever seen! — but it is unfortunately slightly too tall. So he lops off a couple feet from the top and gives it to the upstairs maid so she will have a tree as well, where it is — alas! — slightly too tall, so she lops some off the top and leaves it in the trash, where it gets adopted by someone else. And so the story goes on.
I first encountered The Lost Christmas Gift at Prairie Lights last December and was so mesmerized by this beautiful book. Andrew Beckham is a book artist who creates hand-bound limited edition works, and The Lost Christmas Gift is adapted from one of these projects by Princeton Architectural Press. It tells the story of a package arriving on December 23rd that the narrator’s father sent to him decades prior when he was overseas and away from the family. Why this package is so late remains a skin-tingling mystery, which deepens as we behold what’s inside the package: a book that his father made recounting an adventure they had the Christmas before the package was initially sent. They march off into the forest to find just the right tree, when it starts to snow. Heavily. What begins as a charming winter tradition turns scary for the young boy, as they have to dig a hole in the snow and cover it with evergreen branches to wait out the storm. As the boy is taking a photograph of their shelter, he sees a strange man who disappears when they speak to him, but not before the boy has taken a picture. They soon see another man — the same one? a different stranger? — and he, too, disappears, though the boy has gotten a photograph of him, too. Those photos, lost these many years, are presented in his father’s book and deepen the enigmatic magic of this outing that the boy and his father had together.
Of course, I am always on the lookout for other books I should be adding to our December collection. What books do you like to read or share with little folks at Christmas time? Or what were your favorite books to read this time of year as a kid? I am already eager to find ones for next Christmas, even though I know it will be torturous to hide them away for so long!
I have always had the fantasy of sitting around with my family and slowly reading ‘A Christmas Carol’ in front of the tree while sipping hot chocolate. This has NEVER happened. No one has the patience to read such a long novella when there are cookies to eat and games to play. (And Dickens, while funny, is also a bit long-winded at at times.) But, I do love to reread it and his other, lesser known Christmas stories: The Cricket on the Hearth, The Chimes, and others. Victorians used to publish Christmas ghost stories all the time, and those are really fun. The Polar Express is another one I love to page through – the illustrations are so gorgeous and captivating.
Kate, that is totally a Victorianist’s fantasy. I would love to do that, too! I haven’t read Dickens’s other Christmas stories; I’ll have to add those to my list this year. What are your favorite Victorian Christmas ghost stories? And yes! The girls don’t own Polar Express yet, though I keep meaning to get that for them.
Your room looks like it’s part of a public library – the highest praise! I love this idea and wish I’d thought of it when my kids were little.
Thank you! I love public libraries, so I take that as a compliment without question!
I have a couple of these on reserve on the library now!
More winter- than holiday-themed, but have you seen the “Snowmen” books — “Snowmen at Night,” “Snowmen all Year”? Those are hits in our house — colorful and clever and fun to read aloud, plus there are hidden pictures in the illustrations. (There is a Christmas one, too, but I haven’t ready it yet.)
Anne, I don’t know the “Snowmen” books at all. The girls are really interested right now in finding hidden objects in images, though, so I bet those would be a huge hit. Thank you for the suggestion!
I love this idea, Laura (and I’m going to copy you on tucking the books away and bringing them out with the decorations). I love kids’ Christmas books, too, especially since my family spent two holiday seasons overseas in a country where people didn’t celebrate Christmas. It felt even more important that we were talking about it and celebrating it at home.
Turns out that I really like stories about Christmas in times past and in rural areas, maybe partly because some of the details in them seem connected to my own past. Cynthia Rylant’s “Christmas in the Country” is great, as is Donald Hall’s “Lucy’s Christmas.” (You might especially like the latter, since Hall is a poet.)
These aren’t Christmas stories exactly, but we like to read Jan Brett’s wintery stories this time of year, too. “The Mitten” and “The Hat” are fun. She also has the more explicitly Christmas-y “The Wild Christmas Reindeer,” but we don’t have that one yet.
I really love the Toot and Puddle stories by Holly Hobbie, especially because one of the little pigs likes to travel so much. The Christmas-themed one is “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”
Another not-explicitly-Christmas story is “You Can Do It, Sam” by Amy Hest. I feel like it captures the Christmas spirit, though, because it’s about a little bear who works hard to secretly deliver cakes to his friends and neighbors.
Joanne, thank you for all of these ideas! I haven’t read any of them except the Jan Brett stories you mention. I do love those Toot and Puddle stories but haven’t come across the Christmas one. And the Amy Hest book sounds like a lot of fun. I’m excited! Lots to check out from the library when we go next!