I celebrate Christmas from all angles now as an adult but as a child it was all about Santa. I still adore the Santa side of things but have better respect for the religious side as well. Christmas Eve service at our church is deeply meaningful for me and we try our best to be at home every Christmas Eve so we can go as a family. I know every family who celebrates Christmas does so in their own way and I wanted to gather a book list for families looking for books about Christmas that don’t include Santa.
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Christmas in the Barn by Margaret Wise Brown will sound very familiar to you if you are a fan of her book The Big Red Barn, which both my son and I am. I like this book but my son kept saying ” That’s not right” thinking that this was the other book. They are that similar. In this book though there is something that the other doesn’t have, most notably Baby Jesus. It’s a calm and gentle book about the birth of Jesus in a way only Margaret Wise Brown could accomplish. I would like to read it next year to my son when he can appreciate that it’s not supposed to be exactly the same as the Big Red Barn. Great book for toddlers and preschoolers alike.
Who Built the Stable?: A Nativity Poem by Ashley Bryan is a beautiful illustrated poem all about who it was that built the stable where Jesus was born. The bright colorful illustrations will wow you as will the heart of this book. The vibrant colors are in contrast with the simplistic poem that tells the familiar nativity story from a fresh perspective. What wowed me was the way that Joseph and Mary were depicted as a loving and vulnerable couple waiting for their first child in less than perfect conditions.The book depicts all the people with dark skin which for me is a great opportunity to talk about this with my children since so much of their experience is with the blonde blue eyed Baby Jesus.
The Most Precious Gift by Marty Crisp made me tear up. This touching story of giving is really what Christmas should be about. The book follows Ameer a young boy who works for one of the wise men and is part of the caravan to meet Baby Jesus. We learn of his devoted dog Ra and their deep connection and when it is time to offer something to Jesus Ameer gives him Ra. It is not easy to give away his best friend but he knows it is what he should do, and is blessed because of it. The tender relationship between Ameer and his dog Ra will pull at your heart in all the right ways. Children will also be able to really understand sacrifice and giving because they can relate to how important a dog is to a young boy. This book is a great choice for kids 4 and up.
Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo made me cry. It’s a simple story about children’s innocence and giving hearts. A little girl sees a homeless man, and that’s what she sees , a man in need, instead of the stranger her mother sees. When she leaves to go to her Christmas pageant she calls out to him to come, when he does the true meaning of her line in the pageant comes to life. Which is when I choked up. Beautiful illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline accompany this simple tale.
Din Dan Don, It’s Christmas by Janina Domanska is one of a kind. The books follows the pilgrimage to the manger to see the infant Jesus . It starts with a single duck playing bagpipes, but it builds on it self until they spot the manger and the infant Jesus wakes. The story is simple because there is no need for lots of text , the illustrations are amazing. Every page looks like a cross between a stained glass window and a ornate mosaic in a Orthodox church somewhere in Eastern Europe. My son exclaimed “WOW” many times as we turned the pages of this book, and I know I let out a gasp or two as well, simply beautiful! * When I did a search for a photo I could not find this book in print , so you may not be able to find it in store, try your library though!
Only a Star by Margery Facklam is a calm beautiful book about the first Christmas. A little girl asks her dad about the decorations on that very first Christmas day and readers are reminded that the true origin of the holiday. The illustrations by Nancy Carpenter are stunning, they vary in perspective and unlike so many manger scenes, this one looks like a mom and a baby. They gave me chills coupled with the simple but profound text. A great holiday read .
Cock-A-Doodle Christmas by Will Hillenbrand is a really unique Christmas story. A little rooster is at the center of this book, he is so little that his cock-a-doodle doesn’t wake anyone up. He is very sad about his inability until that night he finds himself in the manger with Baby Jesus and finds his voice. It’s a simple book, with profound meanings. This is a great book for a Christan family or to read at Sunday school.
Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story by Sally Lloyd-Jones is a peaceful book about how all the animals all over the earth passed along the news that Jesus was coming. Every page depicts a different habitat with different animals all chattering in anticipation. Young children will love the pictures of the animals and the beautiful illustrations of the Holy Family. The details are few but the overall ambiance of the book really helps make the point that this birth was ever changing and brought a peace with it. Lovely book.
The Little Drummer Mouse by Mercer Mayer is a beautiful book. The dedication to his grandchild is perhaps my favorite part even though the book itself is wonderful too! Read it and you’ll see ! The story is a retelling of the little drummer boy , but in this book he’s a tiny little insignificant mouse. At least he thinks he’s insignificant until he follows the bright star to the manger on the very first Christmas night! The little acorn drum that this little mouse beats is anything but insignificant and he is thrust into the spotlight as Baby Jesus likes his music best of all ! The illustrations are amazing, they have so much detail I find myself opening this book over and over to just look. Great book, the test is lengthy for toddlers but preschoolers and older will love it.
What Is Christmas? by Michelle Medlock Adams is a great board book for little children about Christmas. It touches on all the fun and cultural aspects of Christmas in a positive way but reminds the readers that really it’s about Jesus’ birth. I like the book because it doesn’t make the rest of the traditions out to be wrong or bad but explains that the holiday’s Christian origin in a simple matter of fact way. While there is a little discussion about Santa , this book really downplays it so I still thought it best for this list.
There Was No Snow on Christmas Eve by Pam Munoz Ryan is very different than many other books about the birth of Jesus, because it’s simple and intimate. Instead readers first see children in winter scenes before seeing Joseph and Mary traveling to Bethlehem in a dessert climate. No one pays much notice to these two until after the baby is born and even then the group is small and simply portrayed. There is little discussion about what this baby will go one to do , instead it’s a look at his birth and I think that is a powerful point of connection for children.
Who Is Coming to Our House? by Joseph Slate is a sweet look at the animals in the manger preparing for Baby Jesus’ arrival. The animals aren’t sure who is coming but at the insistence of the mouse, they clean and prepare the manger until finally a very pregnant Mary on a donkey with Joseph by her side. The next page is probably my favorite image of the Baby Jesus image in any children’s book. Mary’s hair is down, feet bare and Joseph is protective by, the animals are watching and alert. Illustrator Ashley Wolff does a perfect job with this simple but fantastic book!
The Christmas Story: The Brick Bible for Kids by Brendan Powell Smith is actually one of my favorite Christmas books this year. I grabbed it at Costco because my son is all about Lego but I have read it over and over to my kids because it is a great telling of the Christmas story. Now it doesn’t sugar coat much so if you don’t want to read about mean old King Herod and how he ordered babies to be killed then skip it. It really helped explain the story of Jesus’ birth to my 6 year old and the Lego photographs were a great novelty.
Room for a Little One: A Christmas Tale by Martin Waddel is another peaceful sweet book that gets to the heart of the nativity story. The story here is really about how the stable is a welcoming place to be and how Kind Ox shares his space with all who need refuge. The dog tells the cat that he won’t chase her, and the cat tells the mouse that he will be safe in the stable. It’s clear that this stable is a place for all no matter what. The symbolism is obvious but lovely and not sugary sweet. Kind Ox is showing us all how open doors and open hearts can change the world. I love this book and plan to buy it for my own bookshelf.