It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Advent, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get excited about Christmas!
One of our most-anticipated Advent family traditions is getting out a special collection of favourite Christmas books that only come out in December. I don’t know who gets more excited – me or the kids! I don’t gift wrap them or anything that labour-intensive but we look forward to our favourites intensely. Extended family know we do this so often send us beautiful books to add to our collection and I get a few out of the library on trial runs, some of which we add to our collection for the following year. Others have been spotted second-hand here and there so this is not an expensive indulgence!
Here are some of the our favourites that focus on the real Christmas story, starting with those appropriate for the smallest members of your family and working up to about age 8. We have others in the stack which are just ‘seasonal’. I’ll highlight a couple of the best of those too at the end. Amazon links are simply for reference – I’m not an affiliate.
This book is perfect for ages 1-4. It’s always the one we read first on December 1st. Although simple enough for the tiniest people, the story and theology is carefully thought through so it is a beautiful introduction to the Christmas story.
I really can’t rave enough about this one. Little Owl starts off by sitting in a tree “with a waiting feeling”. He is invited to follow the Christmas star to go visit a special baby. When he arrives at the stable he stretches out his wing to touch the baby’s cheek and the baby wakes and smiles. “The smile went right inside me. The waiting feeling went away” he says. It is such a beautiful picture of us waiting for and meeting Jesus and it still makes me tear up every time I read it even as an adult.
The graphics are simple, creative and bright for young children with added sparkle on a few pages and the language is lovely: “I saw camels plodding softly through sand….sheep mumbling gently”. This is my absolutely top pick for the under 5s. Sometimes only second hand copies are available. Get it anyway. You’ll love it.
The Christmas Story – Usborne Bible Tales
This is not just a very good retelling of the Christmas story, more traditional in style than Little Owl but is useful as a long-term investment or in a family with children of several ages. At the top of each page there is a simple sentence for younger children, e.g. “This is Mary and Joseph’ and then, below the picture is a more detailed explanation for older children wanting more information, e.g.” They lived a long time ago in Nazareth. Joseph was a carpenter. Mary was expecting a baby soon.” The story carries along just fine using either or both tracks of the story and the pictures are detailed enough to keep children interested over many, many readings.
Annoyingly, the link above is to an earlier version than the one we have but you should be able to track it down.
If your children are under 5 and fans of jigsaws, this book is ideal, especially if sitting still for stories is not their thing!
There are six 9 piece jigsaws, one for each double spread and the story is simply told with some rhyming.
I normally find tiny books annoying but my son (aged 2 last year) loved this one, all about the adventure which the wise men go on. It has clever cut out pages which add to the fun illustrations and tells the story engagingly enough to interest a 4 year old. A great value gift or stocking filler for a small person in your life.
This is another one that makes me tear up despite its simplicity (spotting a theme here?!?), possibly because I relate to Babushka’s very practical way of loving people! It is perfect for ages 3-6. There are many tellings of this traditional tale and very different messages come out of the story, depending on how it is spun. However, this version links cleverly at the end to Matthew 26:40 (“Whatever you did for the least of these my brothers, you did for me”).
Babushka is an old Russian spinster, more concerned with keeping a clean house than with welcoming the angels and wise men who pass by her house on their way to the stable where Jesus lies. But, as she sets off to find the Christ child herself with gifts for the baby, Babushka is moved to give away each of her presents along the way to people who need them. She finally arrives at the stable empty-handed but Mary reassures her that the gifts she has given away have been an act of worship too.
The illustrations in this version are fantastic and are in a stylised Russian folk-style. I am a self-confessed sucker for excellent children’s book illustrations and Barefoot Books who printed this story never disappoint.
Saint Nicholas The real Story of the Christmas Legend
I wrote last year about how we have focused on the legend of St Nicholas in our home. That’s definitely got harder since Pigwig went to school! But she has always loved me telling her the story of St Nicholas. We also adore the Veggie Tales St Nicholas DVD but this book takes what is known from the legend of St Nicholas and adds in historical detail to retell the story of how St Nicholas dropped pennies in through the window of a poor widower with three daughters without dowries.
The illustrations are nicely done – you can see the style from the cover – and this is a good read if you want to find out more about good old St Nick. There is further historical detail in the back of the book.
My final pick is good from ages 4-7. It is the story of a little girl and a baby donkey who follow Mary and Jesus to Bethlehem. For children who love animals, this is a lovely way into the story and there is lots of detail in the illustrations to intrigue them. The artwork is utterly stunning and this would again make a very good gift as well as being a good addition to your family collection.
There are a few other stories we particularly enjoy around this time of year that are not focused on the biblical Christmas narrative but are still very special. Last year I discovered an abridged picture version of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe which is a great introduction to Narnia for children (maybe age 5 and up) who are a little too young to cope with the scary bits in the novels (or their length or language) but who would enjoy the story.
We also love a book called Night Tree, about a family who decorate a tree in the woods with edible decorations for the animals. Good for ages 3-7. We also love having The Snowman and the Snowdog on book and CD which keeps our little ones’ focus much longer than having it in just one format. I’ve added The Snowman to my wishlist for this year. And finally, we love The Night Before Christmas I particularly like the illustrations in this version.
I’m sure you have many books you can suggest to add to this list. What are your family’s favourites? If you can add in the ages at which your children enjoyed books, that would be even better!