Christmas is the perfect time to be reading living books. Even those of you who are not Charlotte Mason homeschoolers, please take time during this holiday season to read special books with your children. To give you a hand with this we are listing some of our favorite Christmas books. We highly recommend all of the books listed here, so if you are looking for superlative stories for nieces, nephews or your own children, click on the book titles and save yourself some shopping time! –Dana
Some of my most precious Christmas memories revolve around books. Every year, my Mom would unpack her Reader’s Digest collection of Christmas stories and place it on the coffee table. Every year, I would pick up the heavy, hardbound anthology and read it as if I had never read it before. I also had a well worn copy of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and I don’t think a movie version was ever made that rivaled my imagination, which swirled with a combination of frightening images and tender vignettes as Scrooge learned to love and be loved.
However, the hands down favorite for me was my father retelling of O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi. My father was not a great lover of literature, being much more concerned with science and facts, but for some reason O. Henry’s irony held Dad captive. To this day, it is my favorite O.Henry story and I will never forget how romantic the couple’s sacrificial love seemed to me as an adolescent girl.
Imaginatively illustrated, simply written children’s picture books can create cherished family memories as well as prized gifts. If you’re looking for some new story treasures for your family, consider some of these favorites. You can purchase them from Amazon by simply clicking the links in the titles.
- Shoemaker Martin written by Leo Tolstoy, illustrated by Bernadette Watts – This picture book actually became one of my favorites after I had my own children, even though it was originally written in the 1800s. The author, Tolstoy, also wrote the most acclaimed novel ever published, War and Peace, and yet, later in life became a Christian and wrote this beloved short story. With the focus on Christ, it’s an ideal story for Christmas although it’s not generally known as a holiday book. Character Lesson: Tolstoy’s main point, as presented in this picture book, that Jesus reveals Himself through us in every day life isn’t overly challenging for a young child to understand and yet, it’s an excellent stepping stone for a mature discussion of how the things we do, as believers, affect everyone around us. The illustrations in this particular version are detailed and captivating while the text, translated from Russian, maintains its simplistic story telling quality.
- The Gift of the Magi written by O. Henry – O. Henry is another one of those late 1800s story tellers, although he wrote mainly about American life. As I previously noted, this short story holds a special place in my childhood memories. We didn’t have the picture books, when I was a child, now available with their glorious original paintings. Both of the versions that I have read recently, one illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger and the other by P.J. Lynch, are very comparable in their presentations. P.J. Lynch, one of my absolute favorite illustrators (you will see the name several times in this blog alone) and his soft, but realistic paintings almost tell the story on their own. It’s no wonder that Lynch is a two time winner of the prestigious Kate Greenaway award. Yet, Zwerger’s tender illustrations in this particular book actually seem to give off the romantic gaslight qualities of the time period in which the story was written. You’ll have to make the decision or better yet, buy them both! 🙂 Character Lesson: Talk about the sacrifices of the young husband and wife in selling their most prized possessions to provide a loving gift to their precious spouse. Related Christmas activity: Discuss how you could exhibit sacrificial love in giving gifts to your family members and others this year. Are there things you could sell to earn money for gifts? Are there other ways to sacrifice, such as spending time with a shut in, doing some snow shoveling or yard work, home repair, watching a young mother’s children, or making a meal for someone?
- We Believe in Christmas written by Karen Kingsbury and illustrated by Daniel J. Brown – This modern picture is ideally suited for younger children. The text clearly expresses one family’s reasons for celebrating Christmas, rather than “the holiday season.” The vivid illustrations with bright colors and a realistic presentation make it easy for younger children to understand. Related Christmas activity: Make a book with your children revealing why your family believes in Christmas. Focus on what your family does each holiday season and how your traditions relate to your family’s belief in Christ and celebrating His birth. It could be as simple as pages stapled together where you write main ideas on each page and your children illustrate them. For a more sophisticated project, an older child could design the book on the computer.
- The Christmas Miracle of Jonathon Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski and illustrated by P.J. Lynch – Along a similar, but less dark, story line as A Christmas Carol, this is the tale of a reclusive, yet talented, wood cutter who comes to life after being asked to create a Christmas nativity for a mom and her young son. One of my favorite qualities of this story is the flowing language that the author uses including when she describes Toomey, “He went about mumbling and grumbling, muttering and sputtering, grumping and griping.” More creative phraseology occurs when Wojciechowski expresses, “He traveled until his tears stopped.” As usual, Lynch’s illustrations bring life and feeling to the sentimental story with vibrant details including a wood tone shading to match the main character’s gifted profession.
- The Gift of the Christmas Cookie: Sharing the True Meaning of Jesus’ Birth written by Dandi Mackall and illustrated by Deborah Chabrian – In this story, a depression era mother shares a family tradition with her son, Jack. The tradition involves baking cookies and giving them to others to share the story of Christ. When Jack receives an angel cookie as his only Christmas gift, he decides to give it to a stranger and share what he believes. Illustrations of warm watercolors appropriately accompany this simple, but essential story and the author even includes a Christmas cookie recipe. Related Christmas activity: Make Christmas cookies of angels and other Christian symbols to take to a homeless shelter, children’s hospital, orphanage or other institution where children can enjoy them while you and your family share this sweet book. You could also leave your copy of the book for the children to read repeatedly.
- A Christmas Carol written by Charles Dickens and illustrated by P.J. Lynch – Yes, another book illustrated by Lynch! I would recommend this book for older children due to the seriousness of some of the illustrations. Although the illustrations are darker in places than his other books, this particular story requires them at certain points to maintain the integrity of the original plot.
- Christmas Day in the Morning written by Pearl S. Buck and illustrated by Mark Buehner – Pearl S. Buck is best known as the author of the classic novel, The Good Earth. This is the first time this story has been published in picture book version since its original conception in 1055 as a short story. Its realistic human qualities feature a teenage boy suddenly discovering how much his father loves him. With that realization, the son works to come up with a gift that his father will truly appreciate. A tie in with the nativity moves this story from a simple feel good plot to the real reason behind Christmas. With sincere expression and homey illustrations, this book is sure to become an inspiration for many children to honor their parents in practical and helpful ways. Character Lesson: The character lessons here are obvious! Discuss how you, as parents, sacrifice for your children in ways perhaps they are not aware. How might your children make sacrifices for their parents, or perhaps, their grandparents? (Depending upon their geographic proximity, it might be to do things for them or write them letters.) How about for others they know of in your community or church?
I hope that my reviews of these favorites provide you with a tool for choosing some new Christmas books for your family, trigger meaningful activities and save you some shopping time this holiday season.
This is an edited and updated post, originally written by Beth Hempton, formerly of Train up a Child Publishing. You can now find Beth happily teaching online classes for homeschool students at Classes by Beth Plus.