The magic of the holidays can beckon even the biggest kids back to your lap (or pretty close) to share in the stories that bring us all back to our own childhoods this time of year.
Of course, there is a myriad of options when it comes to stories about Christmas, but some stand head and shoulders above the rest. So, light a fire, grasp your mug of hot chocolate, cozy up in your winter snugs, and settle in for these classic Christmas books with your family.
‘The 12 Days of Christmas’ by Laurel Long (Dial Books)
The classic English Christmas carol that counts the gifts “my true love gave to me” over the course of 12 special days comes to life through the stunning oil paintings of Laurel Long in this beautiful book. As the familiar song cumulatively progresses and new gifts are added each day, the illustrations become more elaborate and readers can revel in searching for the hidden gifts in each.
Complete with a brief history of the well-known carol, along with sheet music, this version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is a must-have and would make a wonderful gift as well.
‘The Gift of the Magi’ by O. Henry, illustrated by P.J. Lynch (Candlewick)
The young husband and wife in the story each sacrifice their most prized possession to give the other a wonderful gift. The surprising mix-up at the end shows their unfaltering love for each other.
This classic tale of sacrifice and love by American writer O. Henry, gracefully illustrated by P.J. Lynch, will give young and old alike an appreciation for what truly matters.
‘The Polar Express’ by Chris Van Allsburg (Houghton Mifflin)
In this modern classic, pretty pastel illustrations evoke the magic inherent throughout the enchanting tale of a boy who steps on a train journeying to the North Pole on Christmas Eve and is taken on an adventure that solidifies the spirit of Christmas in his heart forever.
As you probably know, this critically acclaimed book was subsequently adapted for the big screen into an entertaining and high-flying adventure starring Tom Hanks. The movie is great fun, but the book can be enjoyed in contrast as a calm, peaceful, and magical read.
‘The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey’ by Susan Wojciechowski, illustrated by P.J. Lynch (Candlewick Press)
Possibly a bit too heavy a story for the littlest readers, “The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey” is an absolute treasure for those 4 and older. This beautifully written and illustrated tale of Christmas depicts a journey of hope brought forth by the simple request of a young widow and her son to a gloomy woodcutter at Christmastime.
While perhaps not as well known as the other titles on this list, this one isn’t to be missed.
‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens, illustrated by Robert Ingpen (Penguin)
When you’re talking great literary classics, my preference for my children is to present them with the true and unabridged version, rather than a watered-down approximation whenever possible. This is surely possible with Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.”
This edition features just enough illustrations to keep younger readers interested, while providing the complete, masterfully written tale.
Obviously, this pick calls for a greater investment of time and can be read chapter by chapter or enjoyed as an audiobook. You can find readings on LibriVox.org for free or enjoy a particularly well-done recording by actor Tim Curry via iTunes. The audiobook would make a great accompaniment to any long drives to visit family.
‘The Night Before Christmas’ by Clement C. Moore, illustrated by Ted Rand (NorthSouth Books)
If there’s one book you simply must read this year, it’s this one, and on Christmas Eve, of course.
While we have numerous versions of this on our shelves, this is my favorite, as it’s a sturdy board book that will stand the test of time and the illustrations are just perfect. Other noteworthy editions to look out for are Jan Brett’s and the nostalgic Little Golden Book publication illustrated by Corinne Malvern.