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24 Exceptional Picture Books to Carry You to Christmas

We are so excited that is now officially the Christmas season. Our tree is up and decorated and we slowly adding a bit of adornment to the rest of house. Jeremy created a Jesus Story Book advent tree for the kids a couple years back - they are so excited start it again this year, they've been asking for it every night! Since the kids and I are home all day though, and we already in the habit of reading in the afternoon, I thought it be fun to do a picture book advent. I have all my books picked out, now I just have to find the time to wrap them...or maybe I'll just find a cute box to store them in.

We don't do Santa at our house so most of these books are focused on the Nativity or classic carols/stories. There also a few gems, that will hopefully remind us that Christmas is about much more than consumerism and stuff - it's about a sacrifice, thankfulness, generosity, and love. 

1 - The Christmas Star by Marcus Pfiser - using similar foil inlays as those used in his well known book, The Rainbow Fish, Pfiser creates a Christmas book that his sure fascinate children. This book focuses on the Christmas star and the travels of the shepherds and wisemen.

2 - There Was No Snow on Christmas Eve by Pamela Munoz Ryan - the comparison of today's Christmas versus the first Christmas creates a new mystery to the Naivety story. The expressive watercolors are stunning and add a depth to the story. 

3 - The Little Drummer Boby Ezra Jack Keats - Keats rich illustrations bring this time-honored song to life. 

4 - We Were There: A Nativity Story by Eve Bunting - this has become a favorite around our house. Instead of the normal Nativity point-of-view, this book focus on some less-than-loved creatures (spiders, rats, etc) that journeyed to Bethlehem to see Jesus's birth. The illustrations in this book are fantastic and full of detail. My favorite thing about this book though is it's subtle message that Christ did not come just for the beautiful and lovable but also for those who are found in the "dark"

5 - A Christmas Carol illustrated by Brett Helquist - an engaging picture book adaptation of this timeless tale.  This is a very abridged version but it stays true to the tale and Dickens' literary style - it is a delightful read. The illustrations are captivatingly beautiful and despite the dark part of the tale they include a bit playfulness.

6 - The Nutcracker Ballet by Vladimir Vagin - this is not a traditional retelling of E.T.A. Hoffmann's book but instead a picture book form of the ballet. The illustrations are rich, colorful, and eccentric. The decorations, costumes, and landscapes are full of detail giving children plenty to explore. 

7 - The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg -we don't discuss Santa much at our house...this book, however, with it's tremendous illustrations and endearing magic is a must read.

8 - The All-I'll-Ever-Want-Christmas Doll by Patricia C, Missiack - set in the depression era Nella is super excited when her and her sisters get the doll she's been wanting for Christmas. The have trouble sharing it so they decided to just give it to Nella; she's the one who wanted it after all. Nella quickly learns, though, that playing with the doll doesn't compare to playing with her sisters. The exquisite watercolor illustrations are done by Jerry Pickney, a 5 time recipient of Caldecott Honor book award. 

9 - The Gingerbread Doll by Susan Tews - the setting of this book is also during the Great Depression. Rebecca wants a porcelain doll for Christmas. Times, however, are hard for her family so her mom instead makes her a gingerbread doll outfitted with handmade clothes. A few Christmas later she does finally receive a porcelain doll but when she does she realizes that it was gingerbread doll that she treasured the most - a sweet book that gently reminds children that it's the love of others that make holidays special. 

10 - The Friendly Beast illustrated by Anna Vojtech - vibrant detailed illustrations bring-to-life this old English Christmas carol. It depicts the roles/gifts the animals may of had in the Nativity story. This book comes with a cd were Rebecca Saint James reads and sings the carol. 

11 - The Story of the Three Wise Kings by Tomie dePaola - accompanied by dePaola's classic illustrations this book gives a kid friendly version of the three wise men who followed the star to Bethlehem. A few other Christmas themed books of dePaola's worth reading: The Legend of the Poinsettia, The Friendly Beasts, and Birds of Bethlehem

12 - The Legend of Saint Nicholas by Anseim Grun - a newer book but one I'm sure my kids will enjoy. This biographical book gives details of Saint Nicholas background and recounts many of the stories/legends surrounding his life. The illustrations have a softness about them that makes them quite winsome. 

13 - The Night Before Christmas by Jan Brett, Brett's elaborate illustrations and intricate borders bring new life to this traditional poem. 

14 - The Something Wonderful, A Christmas Story by Karen Hill - in a tiny stable in Bethlehem the animals are convinced that something wonderful is about to happen and they must be prepared. At first their preparations go smoothly then things became hectic and no one can agree. Finally, a lamb speaks-up encouraging everyone to be kind to one other - what God wants the most. Next thing they know a wonderful bundle has arrived. 

15 - An Orange for Frankie by Patricia Polacco - another story set in the Great Depression,  Polacco turns to her own family history to share a story of a boy with a giving heart. It gentle teaches the lessons of contentment, generosity, and the importance of family love. The pencil and watercolor illustrations are engaging. This story is a bit a long but once you start I'm you won't want to put it down. 
16 - A Baby Born in Bethlehem by Martha Whitmore Hickman - a biblical retelling of the nativity story. The prose is kid friendly and easy to follow. The illustrations are charming and have a bit of whimsy which should enchant your child. 

17 - Silent Night, Holy Night illustrated by Maja Dusikova. - the soft watercolor illustrations of this book are the perfect accompaniment to this classic Christmas carol. The illustrations span time and the globe which gives the book and all encompassing feel. I also enjoyed the forward, which explains the story behind, Silent Night Holy Night.

18- On that Christmas Night by Mary Joslin - an almost accurate biblical account of the first Christmas. The prose is expressive and articulate and that combined with the enchanting illustrations makes this one of best nativity books I've ever read. 

19 -The Spider's Gift: A Ukrainian Christmas Story illustrated by Katya Kreninia - the protagonist of this story, Katrusya, is devastated when her parents explain they don't have enough money for Christmas. She however, convinces them to celebrate anyways; she'll cut down tree, they'll make presents, and  they won't have to spend any money. The tree Katrusya brings home though is full of spiders. They family decides to keep it anyways, the spiders are harmless, and much to there delight the spiders leave them a magical surprise. 

20 - Christmas Trolls by Jan Brett - as Treva's family sets up for Christmas she notices that decorations, ornaments, and food are disappearing. Finally she spies the two little trolls who are snatching from her and follows them. She quickly realize that they have no clue about Christmas. She decides to teach them and helps them decorate their home and more importantly teaches them how to share. As usual Brett's illustrations are captivating and full of detail. Your children will especially be drawn to the intricate borders which is full of mischievous hedgehog fun. If your children enjoy this book you should also check out Brett's other troll themed Christmas tales: Home for Christmas and Who's that Knocking on Christmas Ever.

21 - The Twelve Days of Christmas illustrated by Laurel Long - the exquisite illustrations of this book give new depth to this classic carol. Long's ornate oil paintings are full of detail, you can  almost get lost in them. The previous gifts are hidden in each new picture, thus the book has a bit of treasure hunt feel to it. The thoughtful publishers were kind enough to add a guide in the back incase if one object(s) gives you a bit too much trouble. 

22 - Humphrey's First Christmas by Carol Heyer - a silly tale about the three wise men's journey to Bethlehem, told through the eyes of a camel. Humphrey is not excited about this trip and to make matters worse he's lost his blanket and is now very cold. Humphrey does his best to make sure everyone knows of his displeasure and finally his master buys him a new one. When they arrive at Bethlehem, though, Humphrey is so taken by the baby Jesus that he offers blanket as gift. Heyer's painted illustrations are stunningly beautifu

23 - The Little Fir Tree by Margaret Wise Brown - a heart warming tale of a little tree and a little boy. A father digs up a fir tree from the forest and plants it in a pot in his bedridden son's room. They decorate is for Christmas and then in the spring the father replants it in the forest. The same things happens again the next year. The year after that the tree anxiously awaits for the father. He, however, never shows...that is until he comes comes out to forest to decorate the tree with his now healthy son. 

24 - Great Joy by Kate Dicamillo - I'm sure most or you are familiar with Dicamillo's chapter books, such as,  The Tale of Despereaux & Because of Winn Dixie. Like those this book is also a treasure. It pulls on your heart strings, as a young girl sympathizes with a homeless organ grinder outside her window. There is not much she can do but she does way to bring him and herself joy. 

PS - We switched up our list, see some of our new favorites here


  1. These are awesome. Thanks for sharing.

    Can you put the ornaments out as a printable?

    1. Thanks Corrie! Here is a link to a should be able to print the ornament pdf from there.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I'm posting a list of 10 favorites in a couple weeks. NONE of ours overlap. But mine are decidedly more secular than yours. Still a couple you might like, though. :)

  4. Have you checked out "The Twelve Prayers of Christmas" by Candy Chand. It goes along with the Nativity!


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