These Christmas picture books for kids are the best of the best…stories your family will want to read again and again! We got our first real snow this week, and Black Friday ads are everywhere…so it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas from where I’m standing.
We’re holding out on putting up the Christmas tree until after Thanksgiving, but we’ve been listening to Jingle Bells on repeat and we broke out the Christmas picture books last week. I started requesting books from the library weeks ago, knowing that by December 1st, many of my favorites will be backlogged until February.
One of my favorite ways to pass a snowy afternoon with my kids is to turn on the fireplace and snuggle up under a cozy blanket with a big stack of books…Christmas books in particular.
Great Christmas books can be hard to find
I have realized over the years that there are a surprising number of mediocre Christmas stories. Everybody seems to want to capitalize on this magical time of year, so there are a lot of holiday books that leave me feeling a little underwhelmed.
The really compelling, magical stories take some work to find, but it’s well worth the effort. There’s nothing that gets me in the Christmas spirit faster than a well-told Christmas tale.
Finding these Christmas gems has been my goal this year. I’ve spent literally hours sifting through library stacks and book store displays, looking for the best of the best Christmas stories.
In fact, last Friday afternoon I packed up all my kids for an afternoon outing to Barnes & Noble. The older two drooled over Lego sets, my two-year-old was in heaven playing with the train table, and I happily spent the better part of an hour perusing the Christmas book displays.
After all my searching, I present to you my favorite Christmas picture books…ones that are worth buying to read year after year. Some of these I’ve loved for years and remember reading them as a child myself. Others I just discovered recently. I hope you love them as much as we do!
How to use these Christmas picture books
Option 1: If you’re feeling ambitious, you can use this book list to make a 25 day book advent calendar. Buy or borrow books from the library, and then wrap them all individually. Scatter them under your Christmas tree and let your kids pick one book to unwrap and have you read to them each day of December leading up to Christmas! I think this is SUCH a fun idea, and I’ve been wanting to do it for years…one of these days I’ll get my act together.
Option 2: If you love the idea of an advent, but 25 books is a little overwhelming, consider doing 12 days of Christmas–the book edition. You could do this for the first 12 days of December to get your family in the Christmas spirit, or do it for the 12 days leading up to Christmas. Wrap up the books the same way you would for the full advent calendar (only with half the work), number the packages, and read one each day. I think this is going to be my more-realistic-for-me goal this year.
Option 3: If you want a SUPER simple way to share Christmas books with your family, just scatter them (unwrapped) under the Christmas tree. This is what I’ve done for the past several years. It’s a fun way to “decorate” and keep the Christmas books visible. You’ll be surprised how often your kids will pick up the books they see under the tree and ask to read them! (It’s also a great place to store books after you read them for the other two advent ideas if you go that route.)
Our favorite Christmas picture books for kids
NOTE: THIS POST INCLUDES AFFILIATE LINKS TO PRODUCTS I HAVE USED AND LOVED. SEE MY DISCLOSURE TO LEARN MORE.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss
We may as well start with one of the most iconic Christmas stories ever. Who doesn’t love this classic by Dr. Seuss? Read it. Watch the movie (the old, 25-minute animated version, preferably), and feel all the warm fuzzies of remembering that Christmas “doesn’t come from a store.” Christmas, in fact, means a whole lot more.
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
Chris Van Allsburg is one of my all-time favorite author/illustrators, and this classic is no exception. Trains, magic, Christmas…no wonder kids have loved this story for decades. In fact, we like this story so much that this year, we’re hosting a Polar Express themed Christmas party for the neighborhood kids (more details coming about this one…my boys are SO excited).
Dasher by Matt Tavares
You’ve undoubtedly heard Rudolph’s story, but Reindeer were part of Santa’s story long before that foggy Christmas Eve. This charming (and beautifully illustrated) book tells how Dasher, the first of Santa’s reindeer, came to the North Pole and discovered the magic of Christmas. It’s a brand new story (published in 2019), but it already feels like a classic.
Bear Stays Up for Christmas by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman
Usually, I don’t love when popular book series capitalize on Christmas by creating a holiday-themed story. Too often they feel slapped together and forced. However, this one is an exception…Karma Wilson’s Bear and friends story (see the others here) is a sweet story of friends who are determined to celebrate Christmas together…no matter how tired bear gets.
The Night Before Christmas (classic edition) by Clement Moore and Charles Santore
There are many book adaptations of this famous poem, but this one is my favorite. Charles Santore’s beautiful illustrations bring the story to life and make the sometimes-archaic language accessible to even young readers. Perfect for reading on Christmas Eve!
Penguin’s Christmas Wish by Salina Yoon
If you’re not familiar with the penguin stories by Salina Yoon, add them to your wish list this year. They are simple and sweet stories of friendship. This one in particular is a great reminder that Christmas isn’t about flashy decorations or presents. It’s about being with the people you love.
The Sweet Smell of Christmas by Patricia Scarry and J.P. Miller
I have such happy memories of reading this book as a little girl…scratching and sniffing the pages to smell the peppermint, pine, and sweet orange. For every child who asks, “Is it Christmas yet?”, this book is a must.
A Christmas Goodnight by Nola Buck and Sarah Jane Wright
This book is like Goodnight, Moon meets Christmastime. The story goes back and forth between depicting the nativity story and showing a modern-day family preparing for Christmas Eve. It’s simple, lyrical, and perfect for lulling your hyped-up-on-holiday-spirit little ones to sleep.
The Drummer Boy by Loren Long
I love Loren Long (author/illustrator of the Otis the tractor books), so I had to pull this one off the shelf when I saw it at the library. The story begins a little toy drummer boy who accidentally gets knocked into the trash can. But as so often happens, this seeming misfortune is the start of a grand adventure that eventually takes him to the heart of Christmas itself–the babe in the manger.
The Gingerbread Pirates by Kristin Kladstrup and Matt Tavares
I have to admit that when my five-year-old picked this one off the shelf at Barnes & Noble and asked me to read it to him, I silently rolled my eyes. Call me judgmental, but pirates just don’t scream Christmas spirit to me. However, I was WRONG. As the story unfolded, I found myself giggling at the clever wordplay, and in the end I was completely won over by this quirky (but surprisingly sentimental) tale of a gingerbread pirate who is determined to save his crew from being eaten by Santa. Your kids will love it, and you–surprisingly–will, too.
The Missing Christmas Treasure by Gale Sears and Meredith Johnson
This fun rhyming book will keep your kids guessing as the boy in the story searches high and low for his missing Christmas treasure. In the end, the book brings us past all the wrappings and lights to the true meaning of Christmas.
Pick a Pine Tree by Patricia Toht and Jarvis
This sweet rhyming story depicts one family’s tradition of picking out and decorating their Christmas tree. It makes me want to break out the decorations right now!
Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry
Mr. Willowby orders a huge Christmas tree, but when it is delivered he realizes that it doesn’t quite fit. Nothing to worry about though…he just chops off the top! His choice begins a chain reaction that brings joy to many homes nearby. It’s an entertaining reminder that one man’s trash can be another man’s treasure…perfect for opening up discussions with our kids about how we can give to others things that we don’t need anymore (and maybe purge some toys before Santa comes).
The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers
I love how simply this version of the Nutcracker is told: it’s true to the traditional story and short enough to actually keep my kids’ attention. It would be a great way to introduce kids to this holiday classic, especially if you are planning on taking them to see the ballet!
The Nutcracker (New York City Ballet adaptation) illustrated by Valeria DoCampo
This is another beautiful version of The Nutcracker, based on the famous New York City ballet. The whimsical illustrations drew me in and made the magical land of sweets come alive in my imagination. The text is a bit longer than the version above, but it’s still a thoroughly enjoyable read, especially for older kids.
The Wish Tree by Kyo Maclear and Chris Turnham
Charles wants to find a wish tree, and since his brother and sister don’t believe they exist, he heads out to search with his trusty friend Boggan (a sled) by his side. This story will inspire you to take time this holiday season to slow down and look for ways to help those around you. After all, you never know how you might be helped in return.
Little Blue Truck’s Christmas by Alice Schertle and Jill McElmurry
This book is a must-have for toddlers. It’s a counting book that takes the reader on a journey to deliver Christmas trees to all of Little Blue Truck’s friends. It’s short, simple, and the real twinkling lights on the last page will thrill your toddler.
Babushka by Dawn Casey and Amanda Hall
Perhaps I love this one a little extra because of its connection to my own Russian heritage, but it really is a wonderful folk tale that points to the true meaning of Christmas. The story follows an old woman (Babushka) who misses an opportunity to join the wise men in their search for the Prince of Peace, but who later follows their footsteps, spreading love and kindness everywhere she travels.
The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden and Barbara Cooney
This one is LONG, so it’s definitely not one for toddlers. However, for older kids it’s a fabulous tale of Christmas wishes and making them come true by opening our hearts to love others. It’s perfect for snuggling up under a warm blanket and reading by the fire (at least, that’s what we did and my kids loved it).
‘Twas the Evening of Christmas by Glenys Nellist and Elena Selivanova
A nativity story told in the pattern of the famous poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas”, this book is a fabulous way to remember the true meaning of Christmas.
The Three Trees by Angela Elwell Hunt and Tim Jonke
This isn’t strictly a Christmas story (though we do get a glimpse at the baby Jesus), but it’s a beautifully illustrated folktale that follows the stories of three trees with grand dreams. Their hopes are fulfilled, but not in the way they expect…a much-needed reminder for me. Because although life doesn’t ever seem to go as I plan, He who knows me best has a greater plan than mine.
The Christmas Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood and Renata Liwska
Christmas is often a busy time of year, but this thoughtful book reminds us to take notice of the special, quiet moments tucked in between all the hustle and bustle. The text is simple, but paired with the beautiful illustrations it becomes a sentimental gem that left me smiling.
The Twelve Days of Christmas by Laurel Long
There are many versions of this well-known poem/song, but this book stands apart from the pack for me. The illustrations are incredibly detailed, and the previous verses’ items are hidden among the later pages, making it a look-and-find book, too (which my kids always love). Try playing the song and turning the pages as you listen along!
Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer by Robert L. May and Antonio Javier Caparo
Your children probably know and love the song about everyone’s favorite reindeer, so this gorgeous book is a great way to expand their imaginations surrounding Rudolph’s story. It’s a bit text-heavy, so it’s probably best for older preschoolers and above.
The 12 Sleighs of Christmas by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Jake Parker
This book is SO fun, and a definite favorite of my vehicle-loving boys! Santa’s sleigh is broken, so the elves hold a “build off” to see who can create the coolest new sleigh for Santa. My kids were delighted by all the crazy contraptions the elves come up with!
Now it’s your turn? What are YOUR favorite Christmas picture books?
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