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24 of the Best Children’s Holiday Books for Advent Countdown

When Lainey was about two years old, one of my friends had the brilliant idea of hitting Barnes & Noble the day after Christmas to scrape up as many kids’ holiday books we could get our hands on, for 75% off. The goal was to stash them away in a closet and pull them out each night in December the following year. I started a great collection that year and have since expanded our compilation slowly so that we now have 24 of our very favorite winter and Christmas-themed books.

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This year, our advent calendar is going to be focused on reading together before bed–books that celebrate everything we love about the season. Even though the kids have already seen several of the books, I wrapped each of them up to add the excitement of surprise and opening a gift together. To bring a little more fun to the tradition, several of the books have added treats and instructions on where and how the book should be read…

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Hot cocoa and a fort for one…

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Popcorn under the stars for another…

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And a S’mores kit for a reading session under our twinkle lights on the lanai.

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Since 24 books can be a hefty cost (we built our collection over the years), a few tips if you’re interested:

*Buy paperback books if available: much cheaper, and they shouldn’t get too much wear and tear if you tuck them away after the holiday to save for next year.
*Buy used books: While it might take a little longer to receive and cost you a few dollars for shipping, it often still works out to be a great deal–many used books on Amazon cost literally only pennies.
*Rotate books: Find a few mom friends who want to join the tradition and each commit to buying 4-5 different books and rotating them at the end of the week. Let your kids wrap them up for the next recipients.
*Check them out at your library. If you’re a regular library visitor, check out 7 each week, and swap them out every Friday.

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I can easily gush about children’s literature–kids books are one of my great loves–and I’ve included a list of the favorite Christmas books in our collection at the end of this post, but first: a few ideas to bring a little holiday sparkle to your book ritual.

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*Buy an extra copy of one of the books (preferably an inexpensive one) and have it sent to a family member or friend far away. On the evening that book is opened, include the instructions: “For tonight’s book, Grandma is waiting for a FaceTime call. She will be reading you the story while you follow along.” I had one sent to my mom in New York and can’t wait to hear her read it to the kids while we’re snuggled together looking at the pictures.

*Have fun with changing up where the book is to be read and who reads it. Beds are cozy and an obvious choice for bedtime reading sessions, but kids will love the excitement of changing up the instructions: “Take a flashlight and a blanket outside, and read this book under the stars.” “Get a bubble bath ready. Mom will read this one to you while you’re in the tub tonight.” “Dad reads tonight, but build a blanket fort in the living room first. He’ll meet you there for the story.”

*On the outside, tape snacks or treats to be enjoyed while you read–cocoa packets, microwave popcorn, Hershey’s kisses.

*Try the audio version for a couple (especially longer/wordier stories). You’ll love quietly relaxing while you listen with your kids (don’t fall asleep!), and if you’re lucky, you might get a great reader (see James Earl Jones for one of them below!).

*Include a fun activity: “Run around the house two times before the book tonight.” “Make up a dance to Jingle Bell Rock.” “Cut these sheets of paper into snowflakes and hang them over your bed before the story.” Or, my personal favorite: “Warning. Tonight’s story will be read in a British accent.”

Also, very important: Skipping activities or anything extra is just fine because BOOKS ARE MAGIC JUST AS THEY ARE. And even more magical? Snuggling together to read them in a huddle.

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Cue Drummer Boy’s pa-rum-pa-pum-pum…
Our 24 Favorite Christmas books

1. A Winter Story, Brambly Hedge. I’ve expressed my love for Brambly Hedge on social media before, but truly these books are magical and, sadly, many out of print. You can easily find them used on Amazon though (see third-party sellers), and you’ll be happy you did when you open the book to find Jill Barklem’s enchanting miniature fantasy land of mice. This cozy story will take you inside the tree home of the mice during a snow storm and make you wish you were attending their Snow Ball. Your kids will get lost in the illustrations and surely dream of the magical Brambly Hedge at Christmas.

2. Christmas in the Big Woods (Little House picture book) Whether you’re a Laura Ingalls fan or not, this sweet picture book version of Christmas at the Ingalls cabin will bring out all the good feels.

3. The Polar ExpressA holiday classic, this one is a great book to be followed by the movie. All aboard!

4. Splendiferous Christmas (Fancy Nancy). Expand your Christmas vocabulary and get your fancy on with this favorite.

5. Almost a Full Moon. Newly published this year. The illustrations capture all the enchantment of winter, and the simple text of a winter gathering story is perfectly combined to evoke warm feelings of togetherness.

6. The Jolly Christmas Postman. If you’ve read the original Jolly Postman, you’ll know the fun that’s tucked inside this book–tiny envelopes that open and reveal pull-out treasures. Follow the Christmas postman as he makes his mail journey, delivering holiday letters to all our favorite fairy tale characters.

7. The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree. I found this book at a little cabin store nestled in the mountains of North Carolina, and the illustrations took my breath away. Every time we read it, I remember that little shop and how the illustrations in the book represent that cozy setting. It’s a bit of a longer story, but my kids love it, and we stop at every page to point out all the winter magic in the pictures.

8. Eloise at Christmastime. The Plaza Hotel in New York City. Christmas. Eloise. A trifecta of holiday fun.

9. The Snowy Day. A little boy in the city and all the possibility that lies in the first snowfall. If only we could read this in Florida and dream of waking up to school canceled from our first snow.

10. Charlie and the Christmas Kitty (Charlie the Ranch Dog). My kids love the adventures of the Pioneer Woman’s ranch dog, Charlie. This is Christmas version is one of Dash’s favorites.

11. Winter Poems. Snowy landscape paintings accompany 25 different poems of winter from the world’s greatest poets.

12. How Santa Got His Job. A cute story about how Santa met the elves and found his dream job.

13. A Very Marley Christmas. Another one of Dash’s favorites (rambunctious lab is his spirit animal).

14. A Wish to Be a Christmas Tree. An overgrown pine tree has his wish come true with help from his woodland friends. The illustrations make me want to book a ticket north, just to walk through the woods in the snow.

15. Room for a Little OneA sweet version of the nativity story, the simple text and warm illustrations of the stable animals are a delight, especially for little ones. “There’s always room at the inn.”

16. The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey a long story but a truly meaningful one that captures the importance of caring for others. This anniversary issue comes with an audio narration by James Earl Jones as a complimentary download. Let him read this one. In fact, anytime you ever have a chance to have James Earl Jones read anything to you, go with it.

17. Jenny’s Winter Walk: A Kids’ Yoga Winter Book. A fun winter story that will have you practicing stretches and yoga positions. Nella is going to love this one.

18. Snowmen at Night. What do snowmen do when we all go to bed? Why, they come alive and have fun. A kindergarten favorite.

19. The Mitten. My kids have heard me read this story so many times, but they never tire. The part they wait for? The giant, overly dramatic AH-CHOOOOOOOO!

20. The Sweet Smell of Christmas. Great for little ones, this book is full of scratch and sniff stickers that invite kids to experience the story with their senses–pine, cookies, peppermint, etc.

21. Madeline’s Christmas. Another classic, we like to read this story with our best French accent.

22. The Most Perfect Snowman A touching winter story about kindness and what perfection is truly about. We love this one.

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23. Owl Moon. A Caldecott medal winner, and one I save to the end because I love it so much. The illustrations, the descriptions (snow that’s “whiter than the milk in a cereal bowl”), the truth of finding magic in the simplest acts in nature. Jane Yolen dreamily captures the imagination with this winter tale that engages all the senses.

 24. The Night Before Christmas. A Christmas Eve tradition, but the real predicament is which version to choose? The Classic illustrated version or the sweet Holly Hobbie one?

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The countdown begins two weeks from today. We can’t wait to start our tradition and end our evenings cuddled up, lost in story.

Did I forget one of your holiday favorites? Do tell.

Comments

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  1. This is such a great idea! Thanks for sharing

  2. Kelle. I love your Instragram pictures and these blog posts. This is a wonderful idea. Waiting for your Christmas gift ideas, Last year I got several of them for my kids. God bless you and your family.

  3. I love Alison utley – little grey rabbit’s christmas – – all about the joy of sharing and including :)

  4. Paula Koziol says:

    Angela and the Baby Jesus by Frank McCourt is one of our favorites. Our book came with a CD audio version as well. Even though my daughter is a tween we still snuggle in bed to listen to this beautiful story.

  5. Don’t forget the Bear Snores On series! They have a special Christmas book that we love. Also the Rod Green Santa Clause and Santa’s Reindeer books- priceless!
    Oh how I wish I did this beautiful idea when my son was younger! Think 14 is too old to start? Can I come to your house?

  6. We came across the book “The Tale of Three Trees” this summer. It’s a traditional folk-tale about three trees that dream of becoming something great, and while each tree is made into something less than they wished, they are made into items greater than they could have imagined; Jesus’ manger, fishing boat, and cross. It’s a beautiful story.

  7. I LOVE all these ideas! I was just picking up a Christmas picture book from the library yesterday!

  8. Phyllis at All Things Beautiful says:

    You make me wish I had little ones again! I love all of your ideas! Fantastic post!

  9. The Night Before The NIght Before Christmas…I read this one on the 23rd. It will crack you up as a busy mom. :)

  10. Love your blog and all your beautiful, creative ideas! A book we love is Olive, the Other Reindeer. I think your kids would love it!

  11. Kelle, you must get Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl Buck. I am a school librarian and love it almost as much as The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey. It’s beautiful. My own kids are 15 and 13 and still love to read it each year. Here’s the link: https://www.amazon.com/Christmas-Day-Morning-Pearl-Buck/dp/0688162673/ref=cm_sw_em_r_dp_w_d_aXClybJSJPJV5_tt

    Blessings to you and yours this holiday season!

  12. I love this, my kids are 17, 14 and soon to be 10. I feel these sweet traditions are passing us by. Maybe I can still convince them to read with me by the glow of the Christmas tree. <3

  13. Renee Sebestyen says:

    I was an elementary school teacher for almost 30 years and my students (and my own children) loved these older books: A Letter to Santa Claus by Rose Impey and Sue Porter, A New Improved Santa by Patricia Rae Wolff, Santa Claus and His Elves by Mauri Kunnas (a long story but with wonderful illustrations), Night Before the Night Before Christmas by Natasha Wing, and Mrs. Santa Claus by Penny Ives. Enjoy!

  14. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. We read a chapter a night. Maybe better for slightly older children. The message!! Oh, so perfect.

    • A Certain Small Shepherd by Rebecca Caudill. I am a retired school librarian and first grade teacher (39 years)! I love, love, love this book! Make sure you have a tissue nearby for the reader!

  15. This has always been my family’s advent tradition – I love it! Auntie Clause is a favorite that didn’t make the list, and also McDuff’s Christmas, both of which I can recite from memory!

  16. Was planning to return library books on my lunch break today. Looks like I’ll be popping in to check out more! Thank you for the great suggestions–and those in the comments as well.

  17. Thank you for sharing this fun and wonderful idea! I’m a new mom and I’m looking forward to starting new Christmas traditions with my son.

    This is a great list of books! As a 1st grade teacher, I always loving reading “Fletcher and the Snowflake Christmas” by Julia Rawlinson (beautiful illustrations) and “Tacky’s Christmas” by Helen Lester. All of the Tacky books are so fun to read and require lots of voices. :)

  18. One of my fave Christmas traditions! I love the special ideas!
    Check out Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo.

  19. Love this idea and these stories! The long distance reads especially, as my little nieces are hours away. To add to your list – if you haven’t read Kate DiCamillo’s ‘Great Joy’ – go read right now! Beautiful little story, read with tissues. Keep spreading the cheer!

  20. Thank you so much for taking time to do this! Do you mind sharing details of the lighted garland that’s pictured?
    Thanks!

    -Laura

  21. I flipping LOVE this idea. Thank you! My little guy’s still a bit young for this but you better believe I’ll be stocking up after the holiday’s and launching this tradition next year.

  22. Jen Phipps says:

    Donkey Daniel in Bethlehem. My favorite since I was three. :-) I can recite it to my girls.
    https://www.amazon.com/Donkey-Daniel-Bethlehem-Luke-Children/dp/0570060532

    Thank you for this lovely list!

  23. Love this idea–we do the same! Here’s my list, with quite a few that aren’t on your list–hope you find some new favorites! http://theirchronicles.blogspot.com/2014/04/book-week-seasons-holidays.html

  24. There are so many sweet things you do with your wee ones that I’ve tucked away into the file in my brain titled “Things I Will Do One Day With My Future Children.” But now I’m choking up a bit, because now I have my own 11-week baby boy that I can actually start my own traditions with, and this will be the very first one.

    Even if right now he is a little potato and isn’t much into books yet.

    Thank you for sharing!

  25. SHANNON Brown says:

    OMG Kelle~I have got to stop reading the blog at work. I had all the feels and am crying! My kids are now 25, 20, and 17 but I have many of these classics and just love them so much!!

    Two other faves of mine are Auntie Claus by Elise Primavera and Dream Snow by Eric Carle–check them out!!

  26. What a fun idea! Two of my favorites that didn’t appear on your list are Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree and The Christmas Cookie Sprinkle Snitcher.

  27. tracey robinson says:

    “Christmas in the Country” by Cynthia Rylant

  28. We keep a box of Christmas stories packed away until the beginning of December. We love reading How The Grinch Stole Christmas! together. You have made me so excited to break out the books next week!

  29. I am 57 years old …. and to this day, my favorite is Still …. ” Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree ” by, Robert Barry.
    It is SO Wonderful ….. try it :0)

  30. I am a children’s book lover too! You have a great list!

    We love The Christmas Wish (think Kiki and Coco, but in Norway at Christmas).

    Holly and Ivy. Your girls will love it!

    The Nativity illustrated by Julie Vivas.

    The Red Sled. (Very few words, but funny.)

    We love the Holly Hobie Night Before Christmas too!

  31. I saw this last year and started it as well! I saved most of my books from childhood and was able to put together enough right away. We even start thanksgiving night because we have so many! I haven’t done extra activities but my kiddos are little so I think I’ll do that as they get older. The first night they do get to open their new Christmas PJs with their books though!
    This year I’m putting a numbered calendar up and numbers on all the books for my little one who is learning her numbers to match up.

    Also, Jolly Christmas Postman is one of my favorites! Christmas Parade by Sandra Boynton is a fantastic read aloud for littles!

  32. You need Night Tree by Eve Bunting! A family decorates a tree in the woods with fruit and nuts for the wild animals.

  33. Thank you for this post! You always have such awesome ideas :)

    Here’s two favorites that you MUST add:
    1. The Night Before Christmas: A Pop-Up ~ I received this book as a gift and it is by far the most beautifully crafted pop-up book I’ve ever held in my hands. I am a teacher AND a mother and year after year it never fails – kids BEG to explore this book! A little spendy, but worth every penny. ISBN: 0-689-83899-9
    2. But of course…How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Who doesn’t love Dr. Seuss? 😉

  34. I was wondering where my Christmas excitement was, it’s a little late this year, but then I read this post. Books and Christmas. Perfect.

  35. We’re doing a book advent this year also – I love how you’ve added little extra details to the books in order to share the experience of it a little more. I’m sure you and your family are going to thoroughly enjoy this each day.

    We love The Polar Express, The Jolly Christmas Postman, and of course The Night Before Christmas.

  36. I’m checking tonight to see how many holiday books we have in stash already. Love this idea! My two oldest received the hallmark dogs Jingle and Bell along with corresponding holiday books a couple years ago. They love when the dog barks in response to the story.

  37. I just love this! I’ve been thinking about advent ideas and this really speaks to me. Thank you!

    We picked up Over the River & Through the Wood: A Holiday Adventure (by Linda Ashman) at our local bookstore last year and really enjoyed it. My transportation-loving toddler especially enjoys all the vehicles.

  38. So many good ones! Some more favorites in no particular order:

    Auntie Claus (okay that is a particular order, it’s the best!)

    Too Many Tamales

    Merry Christmas, Curious George

    Mr. Willoby’s Christmas Tree

    Santa’s Favorite Story

    Humphrey’s First Christmas

    Silver Packages (get the tissues ready, sister)

    I love your idea of taking it a step further with a special instruction or addition each night- what a way to build a love of reading in your sweet children!

  39. Thank you for sharing these beautiful ideas and titles!

    Angela

  40. We have done a much less fancy version of this for 7-8 years now, and I encourage anyone who wants to try it to just wrap books, even library ones, in the lamest, unfanciest way you need to and go for it. All props to you, Kelle, for the popcorn and other extras. For those of us without that extra mojo, this works year after year for me with the exact same books wrapped last January in the wrinkled salvaged leftover paper from Christmas morning. The kids get to pick and unwrap a story that you read to them. That right there turns out to be a rather high level of awesome. Our collection now will go from Advent through the twelve days of Christmas so we can keep the magic going extra long. This is such a good tradition. Doooooo it!

  41. Mary Playter says:

    This is such a great post Kelle! When the kids are older, our favorite chapter book is “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”. You won’t be able to read it in one night, but perhaps over the few weeks before Christmas. The message is wonderful!

  42. I love, love, love “Reindeer Christmas.” Each year after reading to my students, we make feeders for the birds. Peanut butter on pinecones covered in birdseed. Beautiful story. Lovely illustrations.
    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1416961089/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o09_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

  43. I LOVE this idea..thank you so much :) I have many Grandchildren to read to. I am looking forward to this.

  44. My two favorites-whose illustrations evoke the coziness of the season SO well-both Toot & Puddle stories, Let It Snow & I’ll be Home for Christmas. The sweetest lines are in both stories.

  45. Melissa Morse says:

    Winter’s Gift by Jane Monroe Donovan

    Cry each time we read it:). Story makes your heart swell and the illustrations are stunning. We’ve given this as a gift many times.

    https://www.amazon.com/Winters-Gift-Jane-Monroe-Donovan/dp/158536231X

  46. We have Star Bright on our list. Also new this year, Wish Tree, and the Great Spruce. Another favorite of mine is Jan Brett’s The Gingerbread Boy, or really anything by Jan Brett.

  47. Jan Brett’s The Animal’s Santa, and Gingerbread Baby…you just don’t get better illustrations/works of art! They are just stunning!
    If You Take a Mouse to the Movies by Laura Numeroff….not sure it’s winter but it’s snowing on the cover and I love her books so much.
    You Are My Miracle by Maryann Cusimano….one of my favourites!!
    Georgie the Gingerbread Fairy and Rosie the Ruby Fairy and the Christmas Mail Mix Up. I buy my daughter a new Christmas/winter book every year and put a label on the back to and from and the year.

  48. You are AWESOME! It is really incredible how you make me a better mom everytime I read you! Your kids are sooo lucky!

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