Henry and I have been working on a project: each week at the library, we get a large stack of books from the Christmas section, and then we read them and see what we think of them. Here is what we have learned: there are a lot of crappy books in the Christmas section.
I had thought that we’d have to narrow down our favorites to fit them into a reasonable-length post, but in fact the problem has been finding ENOUGH for a post. There are tons of good Christian Christmas nativity-story books, but I was looking for books more about the general holiday: the presents, the tree, the carols, the cookies, the stockings. It was okay if there was a little bit of Baby Jesus (like if the family in the book went to a Christmas Eve service), but we ruled out all the books where that was the exclusive deal. After that, the problem was just that so many books weren’t any fun to read, or were unbearably cheesy, or didn’t make any sense, or just barely related to Christmas at all.
For example, Madeline’s Christmas is weird, and not about Christmas, and it introduces a magical theme into a series I think of as being realistic. (That is, in the Madeline books a child might have surgery or be rescued from a river, but a child does not fly around on a magical carpet. Madeline’s Christmas shakes up that expectation.) Christmas Cricket started out totally charming me with both the pictures and words, but then veered off into lying to children about how cricket chirps are “angel songs,” while I was still thinking “NO, there is just a CRICKET living in your CHRISTMAS TREE, and you are going to end up going BERSERK because those things DO NOT SHUT UP, and now you won’t even be able to get RID of it because you have convinced your child that it is an angel. WAY TO GO.”
Well. We did find a FEW we liked.
Merry Christmas, Merry Crow (photo from Amazon.com). A crow flies hither and thither around a town, gathering a bunch of little items: a lost toy car, the ribbon decorating someone’s mailbox, a scrap of paper, a piece of orange peel. It turns out (spoiler alert!) he’s decorating a Christmas tree for all the animals to enjoy. This was a fun book to read and look at: the crow is sometimes drawn hugely close-up and sometimes tiny and hard to find, and there are Christmas activities (shopping, parade, church service) in the backgrounds.
Olivia Helps With Christmas (photo from Amazon.com). If you already like Olivia books, I think you’ll also like this one. My favorite page is a flap-open one where the mother asks Olivia where she got that adorable little tree for the dining table, and right before she says the word “tree” you open a flap to show her whipping her head around and noticing the living room tree has been beheaded. There is plenty of the usual underplayed comedy: when the children are clearly shouting and stomping down the stairs on Christmas morning, the text says they “noiselessly crept” down the stairs.
Sam’s Christmas Word Book (photo from Amazon.com). This is a “one picture and one word per page” book suitable for babies, but my six-year-olds still like it. The author had to stretch a bit to come up with enough Christmas words, so it’s more like “Christmas and winter”: there is a page for each item of playing-in-the-snow gear, as well as a page each for various snow animals (penguin, polar bear), but also plenty of pages for ornaments and stockings and presents and candy canes.
Minerva Louise on Christmas Eve (photo from Amazon.com). Oh, Henry and I love Minerva Louise books SO MUCH! Minerva Louise is a silly, confident chicken who perkily misinterprets everything she sees. Henry and the twins are 4 and 6 and it’s perfect for their age—but even my 10-year-old looks over my shoulder and is amused.
The Cheerios Christmas Play Book (photo from Amazon.com). This book is so product-placementy, I am embarrassed to even give it space here. But my kids LOVED it as toddlers. We didn’t use Cheerios, I just had them point. “One tree needs ornaments. Can you add some?”—and the child points to each place a Cheerio was supposed to go. A surprisingly successful book, and also nice and sturdy.
Merry Christmas Maisy (photo from Amazon.com). The listing makes me a little nervous because it refers to it being a “mini” edition, but it also says it’s 9×9″. Well, no matter, my point is that Maisy books, like Minerva Louise books, have been a favorite at our house. This is the one I own (9×9, not mini), and it has lots of fun flaps and pull-thingies. Normally I HATE flap/pull-thingie books because they get ripped so quickly, but for a book I pack away with the Christmas things it’s perfect: I can make everyone be careful with it for a few weeks. There’s also a Maisy sticker book (again, normally a book category I don’t like, but perfect as an activity book for the stocking) and a board book.
Rainbow Magic Holiday Box Set (photo from Amazon.com). I haven’t read these so perhaps they’re insufferable—but Elizabeth loves this line of fairy books when we get them from the library, and this is a set of four Christmas-related ones. The price pleases me, too: $7 seems like a lot for one paperback, but this is four paperbacks for less than $17. (Plus a box, but within minutes she’ll accidentally crush that.)
Christmas Mice (photo from Amazon.com). This is a book we got in a Christmas set from Scholastic, and it’s been quite successful. It’s a rhyming story about mice getting ready for Christmas, and they even exchange gifts with the cat. A little cheesy (cheese? mice? see what I did there?), but the kids like it and I don’t mind reading it.
Winter Wonderland (photo from Amazon.com). This was another from a Scholastic set, and it’s been even more of a success, and in fact this was the first time I’d understood how romantic and sweet that song is. (The book is just the lyrics to Winter Wonderland, illustrated with cute mice.) We got this when we had two children, about ages 2 and 4, and I let them each choose a book each night before bed; they chose this one almost every night all December. I don’t have the kind of singing voice that leads people who overhear it to invent lies about angels, but I can get through it okay for the preschool set—and it’s fun to sing a book sometimes, instead of reading it.
The Night Before Christmas (photo from Amazon.com). There are so many references to the Clement C. Moore poem in popular culture, kids kind of NEED to have it in the Christmas book pile so they can get the jokes later on. There are a ton of excellent illustrators to choose from, but Bruce Whatley’s is the one we have and I love the pictures. We also have the Mary Engelbreit one, and I like that one a lot too.
The Christmas Alphabet (photo from Amazon.com). I would recommend pretty much ANY Robert Sabuda book; I chose this one because it’s a bargain book, and I do love bargains. I bought a tin of Robert Sabuda pop-up Christmas cards a few years ago, and I hand them out verrrrrrry stingily. Christmas looks like almost the same book, but with only one letter per page, which might be better. He also has a The Night Before Christmas book and a 12 Days of Christmas book, both of which look really fun.
The Sweet Smell of Christmas (photo from Amazon.com). A lot of us had this book as kids. It gives me a little bit of a weird feeling to see it and read it (and sniff it) again.
Jingle Bells, Batman Smells! (P.S. So Does May) (photo from Amazon.com). Junie B. Jones books have been popular with each of our children as they’ve hit the kindergarten/first-grade age range. Henry’s not quite ready for them, but the 6-year-olds LOVE them.
Merry Christmas (photo from Amazon.com). We’ve had such consistent success with these Priddy Bright Baby books, I’d take a chance on this one without even looking inside. (But why oh why do they have to call them “Bright Baby”?? Every time I buy one, it feels like saying I think my baby is exceptionally bright.)
What are the favorite Christmas books at your house?