When my kids were young I looked forward to December just so we could start reading from my collection of holiday books. I’ve continued to add to my collection since they left home, and these are my current Top 10. It’s not too late for you to read these stories to a loved one and rekindle your childlike heart.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson
Originally released in McCall’s magazine and now also performed as a play, it’s the story of what happens when the Herdman kids take over the Christmas pageant and, somehow, help everyone see the true meaning of Christmas. Each year intended to stretch this short chapter book over a week, but somehow we always finished it in a day or two because we had to hear what the Herdmans would do next.
How The Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss
As a child, I did not like this story. But when I became a parent, I gave it another go and fell in love. It’s a story of transformation, and the older I get, the more I want a big ol’ serving of redemption with my roast beast.
A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
This classic is not only a tale of transformation, but a ghost story too. I did not share this one with my kids until middle school, when they had to read it. The language will get stuck in your head the way a good poem does. There are several unabridged audio versions available, but I like the one read by Jim Dale, who also did the Harry Potter audio series. For film adaptations? There is only one: The Muppet Christmas Carol.
Auntie Claus, by Elise Primavera
From the transformation of a Grinch and a Scrooge, we move to the transformation of a little girl. Sophie isn’t sweet or even particularly pleasant. But when she discovers her connection to the Claus family, she becomes more selfless. This story is mostly set in New York and evokes the beauty of the city at the holidays.
Silent Night, by Will Moses
If you prefer the quiet beauty of the countryside, this story set in old-timey rural Vermont is written and illustrated by Will Moses, a descendant of Grandma Moses. The carol “Silent Night” forms the structure of the book, as Little Andy awaits the birth of his sister on Christmas Day. His dilemma? What do you get a newborn baby? You’ll never hear the song again without seeing these illustrations.
The Legend of the Poinsettia, by Tomie DePaola
In Texas, where I live, Mexican culture is woven into everyday life, including at the holidays. At Christmas, that means many communities hold Las Posadas, in which a group of parishoners re-enact the bible story and travel house to house, looking for shelter. The tradition is at the heart of this legend of a girl who makes a gift of weeds to the Christ child on Nochebuena. Her offering is miraculously transformed into a plant with beautiful red stars. DePaola is known for his ability to bring legends to life, and this book is no exception.
Madeline in America, by Ludwig Bemelmans and John Bemelmans Marciano
I would not be a true Texan if I didn’t include this holiday book with the Alamo on the cover. It’s not my favorite Madeline book, but Miss Clavel and her young charges go to a ranch, eat chili, visit an oil field, shop at Neiman-Marcus, and receive assistance from a Texas Ranger. Yee haw.
The Night Before Christmas, by Clement Moore, illus. Jan Brett
No Christmas is complete without the iconic poem, and I love this edition’s Ukrainian-inspired illustrations. Like many of Brett’s books, this one includes both the main action in the middle of the page and small action in the corners, looking back at what has happened and ahead to what will come.
The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg
I bought my copy of this book before I had children, knowing I would want to read it to them someday. It’s about believing — an ability children seem born with but can lose. Adults can read this book and believe again. I wish it had not been made into a movie because it’s perfect just as it is.
The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margarey Williams, illus. William Nicholson
This iconic story is not technically a Christmas story, but the Boy receives the bunny on Christmas Eve, so over time the book has made its way to holiday shelves. It’s a story about what it means to become real, but there are two levels of Real. Christmas is the one time of year when we don’t take things at face value. This book takes us by the hand, into the moonlight, where we can leap and play forever.
What are some of your family’s favorite holiday books? Share in the comments! And then make time to read to each other before the close of the year.
Browse more Top 10 books
“Megan Willome’s The Joy of Poetry is not a long book, but it took me longer to read than I expected, because I kept stopping to savor poems and passages, to make note of books mentioned, and to compare Willome’s journey into poetry to my own. The book is many things. An unpretentious, funny, and poignant memoir. A defense of poetry, a response to literature that has touched her life, and a manual on how to write poetry. It’s also the story of a daughter who loses her mother to cancer. The author links these things into a narrative much like that of a novel. I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro
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