24 Days of Christmas Books: an advent calendar tradition
Ten years ago, we began a tradition of reading one Christmas book every night for the month of December until Christmas Eve. My religion aside, Christmas to me means family traditions – those are the memories that will last. Kids will long forget the various gifts they receive, but the traditions are what they will pass along to their own children. The 24 Days of Christmas Books is an easy and inexpensive tradition to add into your family’s holiday season. Start collecting now, adding a few new books each year!
As the years go by, I update this post, freshly updated now for 2019. I’ve removed some and added new ones, but our classics have stayed. If you have a favorite Christmas book I should add to the list, please feel free to drop it in the comments!
- A Wish to Be a Christmas Tree by Colleen Monroe
This charming tale of an overgrown pine always being passed by for Christmas, and what his woodland friends do to help him, is sure to become a Christmas classic. With delightful illustrations by wildlife artist Michael Monroe and enchanting text from Colleen Monroe, the birds, deer and squirrel of this story help make their special friend’s wish come true.
- Winter’s Gift by Jane Monroe Donovan
It may be Christmastime but on a small, forlorn farm the holiday season is best forgotten, along with painful memories of loved ones lost. Mother Nature has other plans, however, and a chance snowstorm brings together two unlikely hearts, one human and one beast, yet both yearning for comfort, companionship, and that most elusive gift of all, hope. This lustrous jewel of a story, quietly told and perfectly complemented by soft, evocative paintings, reminds even the most cynical of readers that the heart indeed can recover and go on.
- Tree of Cranes by Allen Say
When the young Japanese narrator comes home with a cold after playing in a forbidden pond, his mother “barely looks at him” and puts him into a hot bath and then to bed without so much as a story. She’s busy folding silver paper cranes; later, she brings in the little pine planted when the boy was born and decorates it with candles and the cranes, explaining for the first time how she celebrated Christmas in California, where she grew up. The boy is allowed to light the candles, and next day he receives a gift–a kite he especially wanted–for his first Christmas.
- The Christmas Tugboat: How the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Came to New York City by George Matteson and Adele Ursone
Nothing says Christmas like a Christmas tree, and the Rockefeller Center tree in New York City has said it beautifully since 1931. But how does the tree get there? One year, the tugboat captain (and author) George Matteson, his wife, and their daughter traveled by tug to fetch the giant tree. This dramatic picture book tells the story of their real-life journey up the Hudson River, and James Ransome’s striking paintings capture the excitement of the trip and the pride of the young girl who helped steer the tug into New York Harbor.
- The Last Straw by Fredrick H. Thury
Everyone has heard the Christmas story before, but THE LAST STRAW is a unique and unforgettable new telling. Voices roll across the desert sands to Hoshmakaka, a curmudgeonly old camel, whispering that he has been chosen for the great responsibility of carrying gifts to the new baby king. With reluctance, Hoshmakaka accepts his task. Every day in the heat crossing the desert, his pack grows ever more burdensome as the crowds of people, anxious to welcome the new king, give him their gifts to carry. He is as strong as ten horses as he proudly tells the younger camels. But, oh, his gout! Oh, his sciatica! Nevertheless, Hoshmakaka plods on until he reaches Bethlehem. In the end he realizes the great honor of his task and never again is there a burden too heavy for him to carry.
- The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
For twenty years, The Polar Express has been a worldwide bestseller and Christmas classic. A perfect keepsake for any family, this beautiful edition can be handed down to each new generation of readers. In 1986 The Polar Express was awarded the prestigious Caldecott Medal and hit the New York Times bestseller list. Since that time, more than six and a half million copies have been sold, and every December it faithfully reappears on national bestseller lists.
- Smudge and the Book of Mistakes: A Christmas Story by Gloria Whelan
The monastery of St. Ambrose is situated on the Irish island of Morcarrick. Here, monks old and young live quiet lives spent in prayer and service. One day the Abbot decides that Brother Bede, their finest illuminator of manuscripts, will illustrate the Christmas story. It will be magnificent, praised throughout the world (as will St. Ambrose). Unfortunately, young Brother Cuthbert has been chosen to assist Brother Bede in this project. Cuthbert is impatient, lacks discipline, and even worse–is known for making mistakes. His nickname is “Smudge.” How can someone so ill-suited assist in the creation of the greatest book of all? Award-winning author Gloria Whelan shows that sometimes, when given the right task, someone’s greatest weakness can prove to be his greatest strength.
- Humphrey’s First Christmas by Carol Heyer
We have all heard the story of the three wise men, who brought their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus. But what about the camels who carried them? Here is the imaginative story of Humphrey the camel and his long, cold journey to Bethlehem. In addition to an engaging text and gorgeous, whimsical artwork, this story reminds readers of the importance of Christmas and the true meaning of gift-giving.
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Robert L. May
Rudolph, a youthful reindeer buck who possesses an unusual luminous red nose, is harassed mercilessly and excluded by his peers because of this trait. One particularly stormy Christmas Eve, Rudolph manages to prove himself after Santa Claus catches sight of his nose and asks him to lead his sleigh for the evening. Rudolph agrees, saving Christmas, and is finally treated the way he deserves by his fellow reindeer!
- Dasher: How a Brave Little Doe Changed Christmas Forever by Matt Tavares
Dasher is an adventurous young reindeer with a wish in her heart. She spends her days with her family under the hot sun in a traveling circus, but she longs for a different life — one where there is snow beneath her hooves and the North Star above her head. One day, when the opportunity arises, Dasher seizes her destiny and takes off in pursuit of the life she wants to live. It’s not long before she meets a nice man in a red suit with a horse-drawn sleigh — a man named Santa. And soon, with the help of a powerful Christmas wish, nothing will be the same.
- The Last Christmas Tree by Steven Krensky
Among the grand balsam firs and pines at the Christmas tree lot is a little hunched tree that is missing several branches. Still, no tree is more filled with the spirit of Christmas. As the weeks go by, many others are selected but still the little tree keeps up its hope of finding the perfect family. On Christmas Eve, now the last tree in the lot, a special visitor (Ho, Ho, Ho!) might just give the little tree what it wants most of all.
- Bear Stays Up for Christmas by Karma Wilson
Bear’s friends are determined to keep Bear awake for Christmas! So they wake Bear up and have him help them find a Christmas tree, bake cakes, hang up stockings, and sing Christmas songs. Bear stays up—by discovering that giving is one of the best Christmas presents of all!
- And Then Comes Christmas by Tom Brenner
From icicles clinging to roofs and houses strung with colorful lights to visiting Santa and hunting for the perfect tree, this classic-in-the-making celebrates all of the holiday’s excitement. Evoking both winter’s changes to the world outside and well-loved traditions taking place within, here is a story to encourage readers to curl up with their loved ones and bask in the magic of the Christmas season.
- Madeline’s Christmas by Ludwig Bemelmans
That old house in Paris that is covered with vines’ still holds the irrepressible Madeline, who here manages to keep things going when everyone is sick abed Christmas Eve….The pictures are vintage Bemelmans — brisk, energetic, and strikingly composed.
- Nightmare Before Christmas: The 13 Days of Christmas by Tim Burton
Everyone knows which gifts a true love need grant his beloved during the twelve days of Christmastide. A partridge in a pear tree is required. Leaping lords and dancing ladies are expected. Of course the season would not be complete without French hens or swimming swans. And, above all, he must not neglect to present the all-important five gold rings. But not every true love has the same ideas about what will make appropriate gifts. And so when Jack Skellington, the charmingly frightful hero of Tim Burton’s classic film The Nightmare Before Christmas, takes over the holiday we see a very different side of the gift giving tradition. Join Jack and his fellow citizens of Halloween Town as they celebrate the thirteen days of Christmas as only they know how.
- Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin
From the time he was a small boy in Vermont, Wilson Bentley saw snowflakes as small miracles. And he determined that one day his camera would capture for others the wonder of the tiny crystal. Bentley’s enthusiasm for photographing snowflakes was often misunderstood in his time, but his patience and determination revealed two important truths: no two snowflakes are alike; and each one is startlingly beautiful. His story is gracefully told and brought to life in lovely woodcuts, giving children insight into a soul who had not only a scientist’s vision and perseverance but a clear passion for the wonders of nature. Snowflake Bentley won the 1999 Caldecott Medal.
- The Night Before Christmas: The Classic Edition by Charles Santore
Since it was first published anonymously in 1823, “The Night Before Christmas” has enchanted children with the story of St. Nicholas climbing down the chimney and filling all the stockings before springing back to his sleigh. Many families read the poem every year, and now they have an edition to treasure. The cherished verse, faithfully reproduced here, is accompanied by Charles Santore’s lavish illustrations
- The Christmas Wish by Lori Evert
Long ago, a brave little girl named Anja wanted to be one of Santa’s elves. So she leaves a note for her family and helps her elderly neighbor prepare for the holiday, then she straps on her skis, and heads out into the snowy landscape. From a red bird to a polar bear to a reindeer, a menagerie of winter animals help Anja make her way to Santa. A generous trim-size, matte cover, and foiled title make this a special book for the holiday season.
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Suess
“Every Who down in Who-ville liked Christmas a lot . . . but the Grinch, who lived just north of Who-ville, did NOT!” Not since “’Twas the night before Christmas” has the beginning of a Christmas tale been so instantly recognizable. No holiday season is complete without the Grinch, Max, Cindy-Lou, and all the residents of Who-ville, in this heartwarming story about the effects of the Christmas spirit on even the smallest and coldest of hearts. Like mistletoe, candy canes, and caroling, the Grinch is a mainstay of the holidays, and his story is the perfect gift for young and old.
- Deck the Walls: A Wacky Christmas Carol by Erin Dealey
Deck the halls with boughs of holly, Fa la la la la la la la la. How wonderful the old carol sounds. A vision of warm family gatherings peacefully celebrating the holiday season comes to mind. But wait, this doesn’t sound like a peaceful family get-together. What is happening here? Deck the walls with mashed potatoes! Fa la la la la la la la la. Make a snowman with tomatoes. Fa la la la la la la la la. Author Erin Dealey has taken the old holiday classic and turned it on its head. In her riotous, raucous rendition of a family meal gone hilariously awry, you’ll find food hockey, vegetable sculptures, crashing dishes, and grown-ups wondering what has gone wrong. From “Feed the dog our peas and carrots” to “Food tastes better when you wear it,” readers young and old will never forget this new take on an old holiday carol!
- The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers
New York Times bestselling artist Susan Jeffers has created a Nutcracker unlike any that has gone before, with a lovely spare text based on the ballet. This is the perfect gift to share with children before they see The Nutcracker. Everyone who has seen the ballet will cherish it—as will anyone who enjoys stories where love triumphs. Come, take a front-row seat. The world’s most beloved holiday fairy tale is about to begin.
- Pig the Elf by Aaron Blabey
From the Pig the Pug series. No one loves Christmas more than Pig. And the world’s greediest pug will stay up all night to get his presents! When Pig yips at Santa and finds himself joining in on the flying sleigh ride, things quickly get out of hand in a way that is pure Pig pandemonium.
- Auntie Claus by Elise Primavera
Auntie Claus is just another eccentric New Yorker–or is she? Young Sophie has often wondered about her unusual great-aunt, Auntie Claus. She lives in penthouse 25C at the Bing Cherry Hotel and is so curioso! After all, Auntie Claus serves Christmas cookies all year long and her tree is always the best-decorated in the city. And then there’s her annual “business trip,” right around the holidays. This year Sophie is determined to get to the bottom of Auntie Claus’s mysterious ways. Put on your mittens and bundle up for an adventure beyond your wildest dreams.
- The Twelve Days of Christmas by Dan Andreasen
The traditional English carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” has been sung and enjoyed throughout the holiday season for centuries. In keeping with its courtly tone, most illustrated treatments of the song use a formal art style. Now, a new version is geared specifically to young readers, using playful images of animals romping and cavorting to the song’s lyrics. Imagine beret-wearing French hens, four “calling” birds chatting on the phone, or frolicking frogs as the lords-a-leaping. Colorful, lighthearted scenes by acclaimed illustrator Dan Andreasen bring a whole new interpretation to the holiday carol. From the first day to the twelfth, readers of all ages will enjoy this rendition of counting down the days of Christmas.
What favorite Christmas books of yours should I add?