7 Timeless Picture Books for the Christmas Season

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“Aletheia!” A 7-year-old girl grabs my hands and pulls me through the playing kids toward my church’s stash of books. “Will you read us a story?”

The kids at my church enjoy picture books year-round, but—during the holiday season—the stories begin to revolve distinctly around Christmas. Several of these stories are ones I enjoyed when I was young; others contain lessons and art that I’ve grown to appreciate over the years.

Whether it’s sharing these stories with the children in your life or gifting a book to your kids, grandkids, young siblings, or nieces and nephews, here are seven of my favorite Christmas titles.

1. The Christmas Story

This book is a wonderful choice for helping the kids around you see how Christmas began: the birth of Jesus Christ. The words in this book are taken directly from the Gospel of Luke, and the illustrator, James Bernardin, makes the story come alive with serious and tasteful illustrations. Even as a young adult, I enjoy reading this book as a reminder of why I love and celebrate Christmas.

2. The Steadfast Tin Soldier

It took me years to see the substance of this sweet, morally astute book, and now I love reading it to the children at my church. The Steadfast Tin Soldier recounts the story of a tin soldier who, missing a leg, falls in love with a paper ballerina who is balanced delicately on one foot. However, the two are separated, and the tin soldier almost drowns when he falls from his apartment window to be taunted by a couple of street boys and a greedy sewer rat.

Throughout his trials, the tin soldier remains steadfast on his single leg, doing his duty as a soldier no matter what happens. In the end, when a small boy tosses him spitefully into a fire, the ballerina is driven by a gust of wind to his side, and the two burn down into a small heart and jewel.

3. Carl’s Christmas

Aside from two sentences and a few words scattered throughout the illustrations, this story is told almost entirely in pictures. Its illustrations trace the adventures of a dog and his babysitting charge as they navigate Christmas Eve; along the way, the story provides examples of generosity and tender caregiving. While the picture focus makes the story a bit harder to formally “read,” it’s always charming to hear children observe what’s happening in each of the well-drawn pictures. I highly recommend this book (especially if your throat is getting sore from reading out loud too much)!

4. The Twelve Days of Christmas

Using a variety of birds, cats, and other animals, David Delamare brings beautiful illustrations to bear on this classic Christmas song. I know teens and adults (myself included!) who still enjoy singing this throughout the Christmas season, and the small children I read to can often sing along for a few stanzas, at least. It’s a lovely book for the whole family—I highly recommend finding a copy!

5. Christmas Trolls

Christmas Trolls follows two young trolls’ attempt to “steal” Christmas from a young girl, the story’s narrator. When she finds out what the trolls are up to, she tries to help them create Christmas on their own, gifting them her most treasured possession to teach the value of generosity. It’s only at the end of the book that she discovers whether or not her efforts have succeeded.

Throughout the book, Jan Brett’s illustrations have a charming Nordic feel, and the pages’ sidebars and bottoms provide an extra glimpse into what other story characters are doing. (For example, when Brett draws the narrator in the center page, she also shows what the trolls and their friend are doing in the side and bottom of the pages.) The kids I read with are perennially excited to find connections between the side scenes and the main ones—it keeps them extra engaged during story time!

6. The Crippled Lamb

When a little orphaned lamb, Joshua, is left behind while the other sheep travel to a new meadow, he must grapple with feeling lonely and unwanted. Despite his friend Abigail’s encouragement, it takes a strange night in a nearby stable for Joshua to realize that God indeed “has a special place for those who feel left out.”

7. The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey

The Christmas Miracle is a beautifully illustrated and written book that traces the grief and renewal of Jonathan Toomey, a woodcarver who is known throughout the village for his silence and gruffness. When a young widow and her son commission him to carve a special nativity set, Mr. Toomey begins to interact in a new and possibly redemptive way. Without triteness, artistic carelessness, or undue sentimentality, this book explores both the weight of sorrow and the hope that the little child in the nativity set can bring.

All of these books—from ones that revolve explicitly around the Christmas story to ones that deal with the concept of Christmas more broadly—are worth reading. Many are ones I still benefit from as a young adult, and each holds an artistic tastefulness that feels all but nonexistent in standard children’s books. For this reason, I encourage you to explore a few or all of them, using well-crafted books as a way to guide young minds and hearts.

Image credits: Pexels (featured image); Google Books and Goodreads (book covers)

By Aletheia Hitz. Intellectual Takeout