If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that there’s nothing we like more than snuggling down to read a good book/set of picture books together, preferably with a hot drink and some biscuits! Christmas is no exception. Over the years, we’ve amassed quite a collection of Christmas-themed books, which are enjoyed Christmas after Christmas. In January, I put them all away and bring them back out again mid-November the following year. The fact that they haven’t seen them for 10 months seems to make them all the more enticing! Refamiliarizing ourselves with these gorgeous books each winter brings in the spirit of Christmas and gets us all into a happy festive mood. Even though they’re now 9 & 10 and proficient readers themselves, they still love to be read to and continue to enjoy the beautiful picture books as much as the older-focussed chapter books available. So, without further ado, here are our favourite Christmas books, aimed at a range of ages from toddlers to tweens.
On Angel’s Wings by Michael Morpurgo
We’re huge fans of Morpurgo in this house: his books are always enticing, beautifully written and poignant. This one of his is another little gem.
A short picture book of the Christmas story but from the perspective of a shepherd’s boy (who is grandpa in the story telling his tale to his grandchildren). As a boy, Grandpa and his father and older brothers are visited by Angel Gabriel whilst tending their sheep one night. The older ones are encouraged by Gabriel to follow the star to see the new-born king Jesus, leaving their littlest son (Grandpa) to watch over their sheep. Once alone Grandpa is feeling angry for being left behind, but the Angel Gabriel comes back for him flying him to the manger for the most precious encounter of his life.
The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder
We discovered this last year and it turned out to be our absolute favourite. The book is in the form of an advent calendar, with a small chapter to read each day of December (about 7 or 8 pages), each revealing a little more of the story.
It follows the tale of a boy finding an old magic advent calendar. Each day when he opens another door, a slip of paper falls out revealing part of a secret story about a girl travelling from Norway to Bethlehem and backwards in time from the present day to the birth of Jesus. She meets angels, shepherds, wise men and other biblical characters on her way, who join her on the pilgrimage. I won’t reveal any more as I don’t want to ruin the story, but it comes highly recommended.
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski
The beautiful and intricate illustrations bring alive this heartening story of the joy being brought back into the life of a lonely man (devastated by the loss of his beloved wife and baby) by a widow and her seven-year old son. The widow asks Mr Toomey, an expert woodcarver, to make her a replacement set of precious Christmas figures for her Nativity scene, lost in her move to the area. Her little boy asks if he can watch him carve the figures and tries desperately to stay still and quiet whilst he looks on, but he can’t help interrupting and telling Mr Toomey how his Christmas figures should look (he reminds me very much of Bean9 as a little boy!).
Over the days, Mr Toomey’s heart slowly warms and on Christmas Day the figures are ready. As a new unit of three, they set off together hand in hand to the Christmas service.
The Snow Sister by Emma Carroll
Along with Philip Pullman, Emma Carroll is Bean10’s favourite author (we have all of her novels!).
This book tells the story of Pearl Granger, a very poor child from a loving family who are still desperately grieving the loss of her precious sister. A letter from Bath requesting the presence of her father at the reading of his estranged brother’s will suggests the possibility in a turnaround in their circumstances. In anticipation, her mother sends her off to pick up ingredients for the Christmas cake. However, after an eventful visit to the local shop, followed by an accident with the carriage of a wealthy but unkind lady, she badly sprains her ankle. It’s Christmas Eve and her road is blocked with the snow, so the rich Mrs Lockwood reluctantly takes her back to her mansion for the night. The next morning, she realises that the already wealthy Lockwoods are in fact to be the main beneficiary of her uncle’s estate. But as she sadly trudges back to her home, she is met with a wonderful surprise: her uncle, having realised in his old age the importance of love and family, has left them something far more precious than money, a new sister in the form of a cousin, Pearl’s age, for them to welcome into their loving family.
The Best Christmas Present in the World by Michael Morpurgo
Another extremely heart-warming tale based on the true story of the Christmas truce between the British and the Germans on Christmas Day, 1914.
The account is related from the perspective of Captain Jim Macpherson. It’s impossible not to be incredibly moved by the story of adversaries setting aside their differences for one special day, coming together on no-man’s land to share German sausage, rum and a game of football before retiring back to their sides to sing Christmas carols to one another. A poignant portrayal of the senselessness of war.
The Nutcracker by E.T.A Hoffman, illustrated by Robert Ingpen
I’m not sure how I’ve managed to get to 40 years old without ever having heard the famous Nutcracker story. And yet it is our first time as a family reading this wonderful and intricately detailed tale: the Beans were completely transfixed. This unabridged translation of the German original includes gorgeous illustrations by Robert Ingpen (although some are a little scary looking, so they might not be suitable for a younger audience). These help bring to life the story of little Marie and her love for the enchanted Nutcracker (a Christmas gift from her Godfather Drosselmeier), who leads the toys into battle against the terrifying Mouse King. On defeat of this antagonist, the Nutcracker turns into a prince and whisks Marie off to the Kingdom of the Toys. This version also includes the ‘story within the story’ as Marie is told The Tale of the Hard Nut by Drosselmeier, which explains the origins of the Nutcracker himself.
As well as reading the book, we’re planning an in-depth study on Tchaikovsky’s famous Nutcracker ballet, based on the story above. We’re planning to complete the SQUILT Nutcracker unit study and visit the Coliseum Theatre in London to watch the English National Ballet perform this iconic piece just before Christmas – we’re super excited (particularly as Bean10 has recently become rather obsessed with ballet!).
Lucy and Tom’s Christmas by Shirley Hughes
Shirley Hughes’ illustrations are so wonderful and evocative of a traditional family Christmas that I just had to include it on this list! A simple story for younger children about Lucy and Tom’s preparations for Christmas Day, baking with their mum, listening to carol singers, wrapping and hiding presents and decorating the tree, followed by the excitement of the big day itself.
Mog’s Christmas by Judith Kerr
They’re both clearly way too old for a Mog book, but there’s something about this story that makes them hoot with laughter every time we read it. The tale really tickles them! Many years old now, it’s a treasured book, which I suspect we’ll be reading for a few years to come!
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
First published in 1843, this remains a Christmas classic about Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly man, who hates Christmas. He’s visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley, his deceased business partner, as well as the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come. Throughout these visits, Scrooge realises the error of his ways and transforms into a kinder and more generous man, more akin to his former self, before greed took over.
Not the easiest of reads given the complexity of the language, it’s nevertheless one not to miss over the Advent period given the importance of the messages contained within.
The Christmas Eve Ghost by Shirley Hughes
More gorgeous pictures from Shirley Hughes bring to life this story highlighting a single mother’s (her husband died down in the Welsh mines) struggle to survive and bring up her two young children, often being forced to leave them alone in the house to complete her work.
It draws on Shirley’s own childhood memories of life in Liverpool in the 1930s. It also touches on the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants in the area. And yet, despite tackling these difficult issues, it’s a heartening tale showing the kindness of neighbours in the form of Mrs O’Riley, who rescues the two young children when they come flying into the street, convinced there is a ghost in the wash house.
The Miracle of Saint Nicholas by Gloria Wheelan
Another inspiring story about a little Russian boy who wanted to celebrate Christmas in his local church. It had closed some 60 years previously when the soldiers had banished the people from practising their faith. As if by some sort of miracle, the villagers gather together bringing with them the church’s cross, candles, wine, altar cloth and painting of St. Nicholas all hidden many years ago. Finally, and with the priest, who had been concealed as a shoemaker for protection, together they celebrate the birth of Christ in their sacred church.
Angel on the Roof by Shirley Hughes
A new Christmas book for this year, it narrates the appealing story of an angel landing on the roof of No. 32 Paradise Street, a heavenly being who lights up the lives of all the tenants in this block of flats, and in particular that of Lewis Brown, a lost soul of a boy socially isolated by his disability. As the angel teaches Lewis to look at the world in a different way, neighbourly acts of kindness and understanding start to permeate through the building’s occupants. A perfect Christmas book highlighting the need for love and compassion throughout the Advent season.
A Christmas Story by Brian Wildsmith
Aimed at a younger audience, this is the Christmas story written from the perspective of a little donkey, whose mother was chosen to take Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. Missing his mother desperately and refusing to eat through sadness, the donkey and Rebecca (the girl looking after him) set out after Mary and Joseph to reunite donkey mother and child. A touching tale with more stunning illustrations.
One Christmas Wish by Katherine Rundell
A charming picture book highlighting the importance of family being together at Christmas time. It’s a fairly simple story brought to life by the beautiful pictures.
Left alone by his parents on Christmas Eve, both of whom have to work, Theo feels very lonely and on seeing a shooting star, he makes a wish not to be alone anymore. Hearing a rustling in the tree, he spins around to see his wish has been granted: four of the Christmas decorations (a robin, tin soldier, angel and rocking horse) have magically come to life. Together they set off on a Christmas adventure. From finding new wings for the angel to seeking out the soldier’s true love, all their escapades seem to deprive Theo of his new companions, but unbeknownst to him, the magic also brings back what he most truly desires: his beloved parents.
Grandpa Christmas by Michael Morpurgo
In our world of over consumerism, particularly throughout the Christmas period, this book is like a breath of fresh air, emphasizing the importance not of more “stuff” but of looking after and loving our wonderful world. Being her guardian for future generations to enjoy.
And that’s it! We have many more Christmas books, but these are our favourites. Added to the pile this year are the following three books:
The Nights Before Christmas, 24 Classic Stories to Share, illustrated by Tony Ross
With a classic tale to read each night before Christmas from these gorgeous selections combined with emotive sketches from the wonderful Tony Ross, what’s not to love?
The Night I Met Father Christmas by Ben Miller
This chapter book was recommended by one of the excellent assistants in our local Waterstones – I trust their advice implicitly; they’ve never failed me yet! We’re looking forward to reading this story about the magical origins of Father Christmas.
Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien
I’m excited to dip into this famous author’s endearing Christmas tradition of writing his four children letters from Father Christmas, narrating enchanting tales of life at the North Pole.
We can’t wait to get started with these new recommendations, whilst rediscovering our well-thumbed and much-loved old Christmas books.
What are you reading this Christmas?