Naturally Educational » 3-5 (Preschool), 3-5 (Preschool), 5-6 (Kindergarten), 5-6 (Kindergartners), 6-8 (Early Elementary), 6-8 (Early Elementary), Featured, History and Culture » The Twelve Days of Christmas Picture Books
One of my favorite monthly rituals is opening our boxes of seasonal and holiday books and bringing out these classic stories. December is the time for Christmas decorations and our collection of Christmas picture books. Each year we add new treasures to our library and get reacquainted with old friends. It is always fun to see which books capture the children’s interest the most this year and to share our favorites with the baby.
The Twelve Days of Christmas: This carol is one of my childhood favorites…and it is also perfect for counting! My kids love to sing it and also to read the version illustrated by Gennady Spirin. I like this version because you can see the cumulative gifts on each page and I find the illuminated manuscript style of the illustrations delightful.
A Christmas Carol: The original is, of course, by Charles Dickens. This version, illustrated by Brett Helquist, is short enough for reading in a single night with my four year old and retains the fascination of the original. The illustrations are perfect for capturing a young child’s imagination. As most adult readers know, Scrooge’s journey from miserly bah-humbug to Christmas benevolence is a classic.
The Wild Christmas Reindeer: One of my favorite “new classics,” this book has an important reminder for frazzled parents like me: gentleness and humor work better than frustration and anger. When Teeka is placed in charge of getting Santa’s reindeer ready, she starts ordering around the animals in her eagerness to make everything perfect. Just in time, she realizes she needs to work with the reindeer. A sweet tale by Jan Brett.
Mingus Mouse Plays Christmastime Jazz (Baby Loves Jazz), by Andy Blackman Hurwitz: When Mingus Mouse arrives home late for a gig, he realizes he forgot a present for his mama. After a Christmas Eve dream, Mingus realizes the perfect gift comes from the heart. This sweet story comes with a fun Christmas jazz CD.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, by Dr. Seuss: Almost every Seuss story for children is a classic and this book is one of my favorites. A timeless Christmas message that cuts through the materialism of many modern celebrations to warm even the coldest, most shrunken of hearts.
Christmas Trolls: Another new favorite from Jan Brett, my kids enjoy the antics of the Christmas Trolls. Much like the Grinch, the trolls try to steal Christmas. They soon discover that Christmas must be shared, not taken.
The Light of Christmas: A young boy wishes he could be chosen to light the Christmas flame but has no gift to give. In a variation of the classic story where a poor person unknowingly helps an important traveler in disguise, the young boy helps the Keeper of the Flame. He is rewarded for his generous spirit and learns that the most valuable gifts come from the heart.
The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers: I searched high and low for a preschooler-friendly retelling of the ballet. My daughter is in love with this version. The rich watercolors evoke a Victorian Christmas and the wonder and delight of an imaginary world. Multiple panels contain entire worlds of detail so each read brings a fresh discovery. Ballet costumes are thoughtfully integrated into the images. Even my toddler enjoys the story and the illustrations–especially the battle between the toy soldiers and the mouse king.
A New Coat for Anna, by Harriet Ziefert: When Anna needs a new coat but products are scarce after the war, Anna’s mother trades family heirlooms for the services of local farmers and craftsmen. This story is also a fun one for demonstrating the chain of production and is a lovely seasonal illustration. I enjoy sharing a story from a time when things were less cheap and disposable and a child’s fondest Christmas wish was for a new, warm coat. This may be an opportunity to remind peoplethat many young children are without a coat this winter and to gather gently-used jackets with your children.
Why Christmas Trees Aren’t Perfect, by Richard H. Schneider: When the woodland animals need shelter, the little pine tree sacrifices his perfect beauty. Saddened because he will never be the Queen’s Christmas tree, little pine doesn’t notice the Queen herself is approaching. When the Queen realizes the secret of little pine’s imperfect shape, she selects him for her special tree. Non-Christians may not be comfortable with the religious message at the end (“…living for the sake of others makes us most beautiful in the eyes of God.”) but the message of giving is one to celebrate this season.
The Beautiful Christmas Tree, by Charlotte Zolotow: A heartwarming story about a man who appreciates the beauty in the meaningful. The fashionable denizens of gentrified neighborhood consider Mr. Crockett odd because he buys the most run-down house, cleans his own windows, and buys a barely thriving stick of a tree one Christmas. As that tree thrives and the beautiful songbirds roost, first one young boy, and then the rest of the community, comes to appreciate the quiet dignity of Mr. Crockett and his nurturing spirit. The illustrations are warm and captivating, not saccharine. And the seasonal message is subtle, not preachy. This is a beautiful selection for multicultural audiences that touches on themes of generosity, kindness, and tolerance, without any overt religious message.
The Night Before Christmas: Every Christmas library should include a beautifully illustrated version of the classic poem by Clement C. Moore. Another lovely edition is the paper cut version–a perfect gift.
What are your favorite Christmas picture books?