by Elizabeth Kuzina
Enjoying beautifully illustrated holiday picture books can be a great way to get into the spirit of the holidays. They make great gifts for children, and you can start a new tradition by adding one book to your holiday collection each year.
You can also incorporate them into your holiday decorating, displaying them in a basket, or arranging them on the mantle or on a bookshelf. Reading them aloud is a lovely family activity for people of all ages.
It’s fun to return to the beloved classics each year, such as Santa Mouse, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and The Polar Express. Familiar book friends, including Babar, Madeline, Clifford, Arthur, and Angelina Ballerina, appear in special holiday stories. Here are some other holiday books to explore:
Auntie Claus, written and illustrated by Elise Primavera. An untraditional look at Santa’s holiday toyshop! Spoiled Sophie Kringle discovers the spirit of Christmas giving when she becomes determined to learn more about her dramatic, eccentric Auntie Claus. The engaging pictures show the excitement of Christmas in the city as well as the frenzy at the North Pole as the elves hurry to get ready for Christmas Eve.
Cat in the Manger, written and illustrated by Michael Foreman. What happens to a cat and his fellow residents of a humble stable one miraculous night? The watercolor animals are beautifully expressive, and display their wonder at the special baby in their manger.
I Spy Christmas: A Book of Christmas Riddles, photographs by Walter Wick and riddles by Jean Marzollo. Try to find the items hidden in each of these stunningly complex photographs. Children and adults alike might find this is not as easy as it seems! Even without the riddles, the photos are striking and emphasize the fun of the holiday season.
Latkes and Applesauce: A Hanukkah Story, by Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Robin Spowart. A raging snow storm prevents Rebecca and Ezra’s family from celebrating Hanukkah as they had planned, but a dog and cat seeking shelter are an unexpected addition to their holiday. The pictures show the contrast between the eight dark and stormy nights and the glow of the Hanukkah candles, creating a perfect image for the Miracle of Light.
The Legend of the Poinsettia, retold and illustrated by Tomie dePaola. Lucida is eager to participate in the Christmas procession in her village, but she finds herself without a gift to present at the Nativity. The simple folk art illustrations depict an amazing range of emotion as the legend of this unique and beautiful plant unfolds.
The Little Drummer Boy, illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats. There are many book retellings of the Little Drummer Boy song, and this is one of the best. The pictures tell the story of the drummer boy and his gift to Baby Jesus in the stable. The lyrics and music are included at the end of the book.
On Christmas Eve, written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Nancy Edwards Calder. Three children cannot resist getting up in the middle of the night and venturing downstairs to look at their Christmas tree. The muted, gentle illustrations perfectly convey the mystery of Christmas Eve, and being awake when you are supposed to be asleep.
Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story, written by Angela Shelf Medearis, illustrated by Daniel Minter. Medearis tells an original story in the Ashanti tradition about seven brothers who must put aside their differences and learn to work together. The brilliant and lively woodcut illustrations will make this book a lasting favorite.
Snowmen at Night, written by Carolyn Buehler and illustrated by Mark Buehler. This rhyming story solves the mystery of why snowmen look so bedraggled the day after they are made – they have adventures at night when the children who made them are asleep! Young readers will also enjoy searching for the hidden pictures in the illustrations of the snowmen’s frolics.
The Trees of the Dancing Goats, written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco. Trisha and her brother are preparing for Hanukkah when they learn their neighbors have fallen ill. Can they celebrate Hanukkah and also help their friends have a joyous Christmas? This story about sharing and community is based on an event from the author’s own childhood.
The Wild Christmas Reindeer, written and illustrated by Jan Brett. Santa has asked Teeka to prepare his team of reindeer for their Christmas Eve journey, but she struggles to find the best way to convince them to work together in time for the sleigh ride. Wonderfully detailed pictures in the margins show Santa’s elves preparing toys, candy, and Christmas trees as each day passes, making this almost two stories in one.
The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree: An Appalachian Story, written by Gloria Houston and illustrated by Barbara Cooney. Ruthie is overjoyed that she will play the angel in this year’s pageant, and that her family will supply a balsam Christmas tree for the village. Her excitement turns to worry as Christmas grows nearer and her father has not yet returned home after the Armistice, but her mother is determined that Christmas will be as perfect as promised. The pictures capture the beauty of Ruthie’s small village and surrounding mountainside.