Book Notes: Christmas Picture Books

Book Notes: Christmas Picture Books

Today I finally put away the Nativity scene and the Christmas books and took down the Christmas cards from the wall. I also did some major decluttering of various shelves and the front closet.

This list of Christmas books is super late for Christmas, of course; but before I put the Christmas books away for the season. I wanted to make a list of what we have. And while I’m bothering to type up a master list, I might as well share it. Because I know there are those of you out there who love book lists as much as I do.

1. The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden illustrated by Barbara Cooney

This is one of my favorites and Bella and Sophie and Ben all love it too. The story is just lovely: a little orphan girl longing for a home with a grandmother, a doll longing for a little girl to take her home, and a woman longing for a little girl to celebrate Christmas with. (Though this is a pretty long story; we usually read it over a few days.) And the illustrations are just beautiful too.
(More book notes on this title here)

2. This Is the Star by Joyce Dunbar illustrated by Gary Blythe

A cumulative rhyming tale along the lines of The House That Jack Built. Not my favorite and Dom loathes the repetition. But the girls like it. The illustrations aren’t my favorite either. I guess I’m meh about this book. I don’t love it but I don’t dislike it enough to put in the give-away box. At least not this year.

3. Silent Night

illustrated by Susan Jeffers text by Joseph Mohr

Beautiful illustrations of one of my favorite Christmas carols. Sophie’s Christmas present this year and her favorite request. Ben loves it too.

4. Bethlehem: Revised Standard Version of the Holy Bible, Catholic Edition illustrated by Fiona French text from Revised Standard Version of the Holy Bible, Catholic Edition

One of my top picks. I love the illustrations, patterned after stained glass windows. The text is very short excerpts from the Gospel stories, almost like captions to the pictures rather than a narrative. Preserves the language but simplifies the story. I feel like it’s an easy way to reinforce the basic Gospel story that should be repeated over and over in the Christmas season. The girls love this book and requested it often
(More book notes on this title here)

5. The Twenty-four Days Before Christmas: An Austin Family Story by Madeleine L’Engle illustrated by Joe De Valesco

Bella really latched onto this one and we read through it a couple of times. It’s a long story so we’d read a few pages every night. The Austin Family is expecting a baby to come. Vicky really hopes it’s arrival won’t ruin Christmas by keeping mother away in the hospital. I love the way the family does one thing each day to get ready. Most often adding one decoration; but sometimes baking a treat or another special way to mark the season of Advent.

6. The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski illustrated by P. J. Lynch

A sweet story about a Scrooge-like woodcarver, a widower who has lost his faith in Christmas, who is asked by a little boy and his widowed mother to carve them a Nativity scene to replace the one that they have lost. It seemed to me that Bella asked for it less this year than she did last; but Dom says he read it to her a few times.

7. The Christmas Story from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke

edited by Marguerite Northrup with illustrations from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The text is from the King James Bible, the illustrations are Medieval paintings and woodcuts. Beautiful. We read it once or twice; but I think the girls really liked to flip through and look at the pictures.

8. The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen illustrated by Rachel Isadora

One of Bella’s favorite stories. I find it very poignant, though Dom thinks a story about a girl who dies is a bit morbid. But the focus of the story is the happy ending of the girl going to heaven to be united with her grandmother. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to remember that the real happy ending we are all longing for is a happy death. (I do edit as I read to cut the line about her father beating her.) This version is also beautifully illustrated.

9. Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend by Julie Stiegemeyer illustrated by Chris Ellison

I want the girls to know about the historical Saint Nicholas as the real root of the Santa tradition. However, I’m still looking for a Saint Nicholas story I really like. Both this one and the next one are sort of non-denominational. Neither refers to him as a saint or as a bishop. I guess they’re versions that Protestants would be comfortable with. In this version he’s referred to as “Pastor Nicholas” and his ministry is baptizing them, giving them the Lord’s Supper, and reminding them of God’s love. Which is true as far as it goes; but a very protestant version. No mention of the Mass or the sacraments. This version of the story felt a little strange to me and I didn’t really understand why until we got a second version (see below) this year. Here there’s no real explanation about why it takes Nicholas so long to figure out how to help the poor man and his daughters. He prays and prays for a long time before he decides to slip money in at the window. Why? I’m also not as much of a fan of giving the girls and their family members proper names. I prefer the fairy tale atmosphere of the other book where they are just the oldest youngest and middle daughters.

10. Saint Nicholas: The Story of the Real Santa Claus by Mary Joslin illustrated by Helen Cann

In this version of the story, St Nicholas is simply referred to as “the leader of the church” who performs a wedding ceremony. However, this version is a bit more satisfactory to me as it explains why there’s a time lag between Nicholas recognizing the family’s need and tossing the coins down their chimney: He’s given the three bags of coins by three grateful people who are thankful for services he’s performed for them: a man whose elderly mother Nicholas visited when she was ill, a mother whose son he taught to read, and the father whose daughter’s wedding Nicholas presided at. The story opens on three young girls begging in the streets who observe a wedding procession but are sad because they are too poor to be invited to the wedding much less to have any hope of ever being married themselves. I prefer that the girls and their father aren’t given names. It’s more like a fairy tale. But I know that’s just a personal preference. I’m sure some people would like the version in which they are named. I also like the fact that the coins land in the girls’ shoes and stockings which have been put by the fire to dry, thus explaining the various traditions. Since we put out shoes on St Nicholas’ feast day and hang stockings for Christmas, this fits rather nicely with our family’s customs.

11. Merry Christmas, Strega Nona story and pictures by Tomie de Paola

I was a bit of a hard sell on this one. I’ll admit the love potions kind of put me off. But I love Strega Nona’s advent wreath and the fact that she goes to Midnight Mass and chats with the Bambino in the manger. It is a liturgically correct book and very Christ-centered. Magic has no place at Christmas because Christmas has a magic of its own, repeats Strega Nona. I love the details of all the Italian customs too. It reflects our family’s Italian (Sicilian) heritage.
(More book notes on this title here)

12. The Huron Carol illustrated by Frances Tyrrell text by St Jean de Brebeuf

This is a beautifully illustrated book. I was thrilled to find several You Tube videos of this carol for us to listen to this Christmas season, which added greatly to our enjoyment of the book. Written by St Jean de Brebeuf in the Huron language, this is the oldest North American Christmas song. It translates the nativity story into terms the native Americans would have understood but also celebrates the universality of Christ’s saving mission.

13. The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore illustrated by Douglas Gorsline

What would Christmas be without this classic poem? We’ve got it almost memorized. I love the classic woodcut illustrations.

14. Who is Coming to Our House? by Joseph Slate illustrated by Ashley Wolfe

A sweet book mainly aimed at the younger set, though Bella still requests it occasionally. All the animals in the stable prepare for the arrival of a mysterious guest.
(More book notes on this title here)

15. My First Story of Christmas by Tim Dowley illustrated by Roger Langton

With stiff cardstock pages and cartoonish illustrations, this book was one I got to read to the toddlers. Not my favorite rendition; but it gets the job done in retelling the story in very simple language.

16. The Christ Child as Told By Matthew and Luke by Maud and Miska Petersham

A beautiful book, now out of print, that tells not just the Nativity story but the full infancy narratives with the presentation in the Temple, the flight to Egypt, the finding of the child Jesus in the temple. I think the language is from the King James Version.

17. The Legend of the Poinsettia story and pictures by Tomie de Paola

The story of a a miracle that transforms a bunch of weeds into beautiful flowers. The heroine is Lucida, a girl in Mexico whose mother gets sick just before Christmas and therefore is unable to finish weaving the blanket for the statue of Baby Jesus that is to be carried in the Christmas procession. She offers the weeds in desperation wanting something to give to Jesus.
(More book notes on this title here)

18. Angela and the Baby Jesus by Frank McCourt illustrated by Raul Colon

The true (and very funny) story of how McCourt’s mother, Angela, took the statue of Baby Jesus from the church when she was six because she was afraid he’d be cold. I always choke up at the end when Angela’s brother, Pat, offers to go to jail in Angela’s place. Watching my girls play with the figures in our Nativity makes this story even more endearing to me. This one is a favorite with the girls.
(More book notes on this title here)

19. All for the Newborn Baby by Phyllis Root illustrated by Nicola Bayley

I made up my own tune for this cradle song that Mary sings for baby Jesus and Sophie and Bella adore it. The illustrations are done in the style of illuminated medieval manuscripts with elaborate borders full of flowers and insects. The verses are inspired by legends of various animals who offer gifts to the newborn baby.
(More book notes on this title here)

20. Silent Night, Holy Night by Werner Thuswaldner and Patricia Crampton illustrated by Robert Ingpen

The true story behind the classic hymn. I find the narrative style to be way over the top, treacly, sentimental and rather icky. To me it feels like the idea that Jesus is the real meaning of Christmas gets lost behind the myopic focus on the song itself. It almost seems it’s the song that brings people hope and joy, not a means by which they find the hope and joy of Christ. The illustrations are lovely, though.

21. The Very First Christmas by Paul L. Maier illustrated by Francisco Ordaz

A mother reads and discusses the story of Christmas with her son who doesn’t like to read stories that aren’t true. Truth be told, not one of my favorites. (edited 2015: We haven’t pulled this one out of the box the last few years. Too many other, better books to read.)

22. Good King Wenceslas by John M. Neale illustrated by Tim Ladwig
(Book notes on this title here)

22. Christmas in the Manger by Nola Buck illustrated by Felicia Bond (board book)

This is a really sweet little rhyming board book that introduces the various characters in the stable: the donkey, the ox, the star, Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus. It ends saying Jesus is the reason for Christmas day. One of my favorite Christmas books for toddlers after using it with several toddlers now.

23. The Little Drummer Boy illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats (board book)

A sweetly illustrated version of the Christmas song, one of our very favorite board books. Truth be told I can never make it through this song without getting weepy. Ben carried this around for months and has come back to it year after year.

24. A Medieval Christmas Francis Lincoln and Ignatius Press in association with the British Library

Uses Medieval manuscript pages from various Books of Hours to illustrate the RSV translation of the nativity story from the annunciation through the flight to Egypt. This gorgeous book is one of our family favorites. The art is so captivating even for very small children. Toddlers love looking at the detailed pictures and trying to find people and animals.

Join the discussion

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • I am so glad you are doing this!  I have a similar new years “intention” (resolution=failure for me).  I’m tring to write briefly about the books I read but am keeping it old school in a spiral notebook but am fairly pleased at my progress so far.  I’ve really enjoyed the books I’ve read that you’ve blogged about.  Thanks !

  • Oh, I hope you will get back into Pickwick eventually. I am trying to remember when I stopped forced-marching myself through it—I know it took me at least three tries to get past hating it. I think it is really Dickens at his best: whimsical and hilarious, intricately interwoven, with all the bathos confined to anecdotes told by characters so it doesn’t mar the story itself.

    I am thinking about picking Three Men In A Boat back up after reading your post on it.

  • Melanie, I so enjoy your lists.  I recently devoured Room per your suggestion. (I loved how you said you eat books whole.  Alas, I do the same thing.  No, slow digestion for me here.) It was an interesting read. 

    I have a bunch of other books in my que that you mentioned but I don’t know which to choose next.  smile  I’m a sucker for a great story.  I’m also reading Unbroken right now via Jen @Conversion Diary’s suggestion.  It is a fascinating page turner.  If you like true stories of harrowing survival, this is a must read.  Thanks again for the book recommendations.  God bless you!  Colleen

  • Thank you for directing me to Dr. Nagai.  I have now read Paul Glynn’s biography, which I enjoyed and now want my husband to read.  Nagai’s own books will follow.

    I’ll also be looking for Rumor Godden’s autobiography… she is another Catholic convert.

    I read Pickwick in little bits over the course of about two years.  It was my bathroom book, and to be honest, that was the best way for me to read it.  It is episodic rather than just being a single story, although a plot eventually emerges, and I did get to a point where it was the book I carried around with me in hopes of a moment – but that was a long way in!

    Please do keep posting your reads… they are varied and interesting.

  • Thanks, everyone, I’m surprised there’s so much interest in my book lists. That does give me extra incentive to keep posting them.


    re Pickwick, I’m about halfway through and was making good headway for a while. Though so far I’d still not classify it as one of my favorites, I’m willing to give it a chance.  But I jumped ship I think for a book club book or something that came in from the library and getting back into it is hard with no deadline. Especially when I keep getting more books coming in that do have deadlines.

    scotch meg, yep Pickwick is currently in the bathroom. But underneath three other books in there, so that isn’t helping it much.

    One bit I was happy to see in the Godden book was an explanation of her first name.


    I haven’t read it. Sadly, I think I’ve already read all the De Wohl available in our local library system. I’m going to have to start buying them, and I rarely buy books. But I’ll be sure to add it to my wishlist.

  • Melanie –

    A previous book post (maybe a meme?) of yours pointed me in the direction of Connie Willis. I have since inhaled Blackout, All Clear, and The Doomsday Book. Loved them all.

    Keep the recommendations coming.

    – Kelly

  • I was intrigued by your list of Louis de Wohl books, so checked the B&N Nook store.  What do you know, they have 9 titles available!  I know what’s going on my wish list.


  • I was going to try a ‘read all of Dickens’ thing a few years back (adoring Copperfield as I do) but alas for the project I began with Pickwick and could. not. get into it. And I have a very bad habit, with Dickens, of beginning but not finishing—except for Two Cities, Great Expectations, and dear darling David C.

    Am solidly in the midst of my Willis binge now: Doomsday devoured, now reveling in To Say Nothing of the Dog. Oh, delicious, delicious.

    I love your booklists and commentary.

  • Lissa, Have you read Bleak House? It’s still my favorite Dickens. Followed by Our Mutual Friend. I’ve only read David Copperfield the once and enjoyed it though it didn’t push out Bleak House for top spot. I think that’s mostly about the time of my life when I read it though. High school, more than a week on the couch doing absolutely nothing all day long but read and eat and read and eat. Bliss.

    Am sinking happily into Willis’ short stories: The Winds of Marble Arch. I’ve never liked short stories as much as novels; but hers are delicious.

  • Bleak House is one of my began-its. Loved what I read, but set it down at some point and forgot to go back. I did the same thing with Copperfield about five times—-until sometime in my early 30s when I got the chicken pox and spent a week in bed.

    I really think my problem with finishing Dickens is his sheer availability. He is always there, waiting—-on the Kindle, on the iPod, on the shelf. No urgent need to read before due date. It certainly isn’t HIS fault—-he utterly charms me. Well, except Pickwick, but I’m sure that’s my fault.

  • I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with “availability”. My reading habits have changed so much in the past five years. Blogs that recommend books (like yours) plus being able to put books on hold at the library by opening a new window and clicking away mean I’ve always got a pile of books to be read with a deadline. So I’ve got books I received for my birthday in August that I still haven’t cracked. Previously, I usually only went to the library when I had run through my piles of books at home. Now we’re going anyway to do story time for the kids or to return their books. A very different experience of the library.

  • I have been enjoying my complete TBR-list amnesty since CYBILs judging ended at Christmas. I canceled (nearly) all my library holds and decided to just read what came to hand. For a while. What I didn’t cancel was Connie Willis and the new Jenni Holm (which won the Newbery Honor two days before it arrived on the hold shelf for me), TURTLE IN PARADISE—-a charming book, btw. Delightful.

    It feels positively luxurious to read without a sense of obligation. I’m not thinking ahead at all, past the Willis. It’s like stretching out in bed just after you’ve put on nice fresh sheets. Mmm…. smile

  • I think once Anthony comes I’m going to make myself stop putting things on hold and just start a list of books that I want to check out. Maybe on Evernote?

    Oh perfect simile! I put new sheets on my bed and even washed all the blankets this morning. That plus Connie Willis and a big cup of hot cocoa and toast with Nutella… best nap in a long time!