1. How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
The story: The Grinch, a grouchy, selfish creature who lives in a cave above the town of Whoville, grows annoyed at the Whos’ joyful Christmas celebrations and decides to stop Christmas from coming by disguising himself as Santa Claus and stealing all their presents and decorations on Christmas Eve.
Why you should read it: Dr. Seuss’ critique of the commercialization of Christmas is just as relevant now as it was when the book was published in 1957. The small-hearted Grinch’s transformation reminds readers young and old that Christmas is about much more than gifts.
2. The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers
The story: On Christmas Eve, a young girl’s nutcracker doll transforms into a prince who battles an evil Mouse King and escorts the girl to the magical Land of Sweets.
Why you should read it: The popular ballet’s story is simplified for young readers and accompanied by incredibly beautiful illustrations.
3. The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski
The story: Grumpy Jonathan Toomey, known to children as “Mr. Gloomy,” is the best woodcarver in the valley but is always alone, hiding a tragic secret. When a widow and her son move to town and ask him to carve a Nativity manger scene for them, the woodcutter’s life is forever changed.
Why you should read it: The tale of the morose woodcutter’s transformation through the healing power of friendship and the magic of Christmas is truly moving. Make sure to grab some tissues before reading.
5. Carl’s Christmas by Alexandra Day
The story: Carl the dog is tasked with taking care of his family’s baby on Christmas Eve.
Why you should read it: Although this is a book with very few words, the charming tale of Carl and his little charge’s Christmas Eve adventures is easily understandable and extremely adorable.
6. The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston
The story: In the Appalachian town of Spruce Pine, one family is responsible for providing the town with a Christmas tree each year, and this year it’s Ruthie’s family’s turn. Ruthie and her father choose the tree early in the spring, but by the time winter comes, he’s in Europe, as the Great War has just ended. Through sacrifice, the power of family, and the magic of Christmas, the village gets its perfect tree and Ruthie gets a perfect holiday.
Why you should read it: This story of resilience and love will appeal to parents and children alike. Despite their lack of money and resources, Ruthie and her mother find joy and create Christmas magic. The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree gently reminds readers of the meaning of Christmas and the importance of family. The lovely illustrations perfectly complement the heartwarming historical tale.
7. The Snowman by Raymond Briggs
The story: A little boy builds a snowman on a wintry day, only to find later that night that his creation has come alive…and it can fly!
Why you should read it: This is another wordless book and therefore technically impossible to read aloud, BUT it’s a perfect story to share with children of all ages — the beautiful illustrations guide readers through the story in a way that’s both enjoyable and open for interpretation.
8. Room for a Little One by Martin Waddell
The story: On a cold winter’s night, a kind Ox invites all kinds of visitors to take shelter in his stable near the inn. As predator and prey shelter in peace, they find themselves welcoming two human visitors and, eventually, the baby Jesus.
Why you should read it: This simple, beautifully illustrated book is a perfect introduction to the Nativity tale for young readers.
9. Snowmen at Christmas by Caralyn Buehner
The story: On Christmas Eve, the town’s snowmen come alive for caroling, dancing, and celebration to await the arrival of the snowman Santa Claus.
Why you should read it: The story and artwork are absolutely delightful. Children will have fun looking for the hidden pictures on each page and everyone will enjoy the silly, sweet adventures of the snowmen.
10. Angelina’s Christmas by Katharine Holabird
The story: When Angelina sees that Mr. Bell, the retired postman, is alone at Christmastime, she decides to make sure the old man has the best Christmas ever.
Why you should read it: This tale of a community coming together to include a lonely old man in their Christmas celebrations is touching and charmingly illustrated.
11. The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola
The story: Lucinda’s mother is asked to weave a new blanket to cover the church’s statue of baby Jesus, but when she falls ill, Lucinda accidentally ruins the work while trying to finish it. Ashamed, the little girl is afraid to go to the church on Christmas Eve because she has no beautiful gift, until an old woman reminds her that the baby Jesus will love anything that she gives with love. Lucinda’s humble gift of weeds and her prayers cause a miracle to take place within the church.
Why you should read it: This profound Mexican legend reminds readers that the size or cost of a gift is not as important as the love with which it is given. Tomie dePaola’s gorgeous illustrations bring the story to life.
12. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
The story: On Christmas Eve, a young boy boards the Polar Express, a mysterious train to the North Pole. When he and the other children on the train arrive, he meets Santa and is offered the very first gift of the Christmas season.
Why you should read it: No book captures the magic and childlike wonder of Christmas the way that this classic tale does.
13. Morris’s Disappearing Bag by Rosemary Wells
The story: On Christmas Day, Morris and his elder siblings open their presents and immediately begin to play with their new toys. Morris is sad when his sisters and brother don’t want to play with him and his new teddy bear, but he becomes the object of everyone’s attention when he discovers one last present under the tree: a disappearing bag that turns everything inside it invisible!
Why you should read it: This delightfully zany Christmas story reminds readers to make time for every member of the family during the holiday season (a lesson younger siblings in particular will appreciate). The tale’s resolution is heartwarming and hilarious.
14. Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus by Francis P. Church
The story: In 1897, an 8-year-old girl named Virginia O’Hanlon asked her father if Santa Claus was real. Caught off guard, Mr. O’Hanlon advised his daughter to send the question to The Sun newspaper, telling her, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” The paper’s beautiful response to the child’s question would eventually become the most reprinted editorial ever to run in any newspaper in the English language.
Why you should read it: Virginia’s letter and the timeless newspaper editorial are reprinted in full, accompanied by gorgeous period illustrations. Together, they make a story that is the perfect reminder of the immortal spirit of Father Christmas.
15. The Wild Christmas Reindeer by Jan Brett
The story: Teeka, a little girl who works in Santa Claus’ farm, is tasked with rounding up the reindeer who have roamed wild since last Christmas and getting them ready to fly on Christmas Eve. She soon learns that being considerate, not bossy, is the best way to ensure the wild animals’ cooperation.
Why you should read it: This behind-the-scenes look at Santa’s North Pole operation is unique and extremely entertaining. Plus, the incredibly intricate illustrations not only tell the story of Teeka and the reindeer, but of side stories as well (pay attention to the margins).
16. The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado
The story: Little Joshua, an orphan lamb with distinctive white spots, feels left out because he is lame and can’t run and play with the other sheep. Then, one night when a young couple take shelter in the animals’ stable, the little lamb learns that there is a special role only he can fill — differences and all.
Why you should read it: This is the perfect book for those looking for a Nativity story with a profound, teachable lesson. Plus, it’s absolutely beautiful.
17. Olive, the Other Reindeer by J. Otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh
The story: When Olive the dog hears the verse of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” that goes “All of the other reindeer / Used to laugh and call him names,” she decides that she must be “Olive, the other reindeer” and sets off for the North Pole to join Santa’s reindeer team.
Why you should read it: Fun, cute, and completely lacking in any complications, this is a book that the whole family can enjoy.
18. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
The story: Old, bitter Ebenezer Scrooge hates Christmas and its celebrations until four ghosts appear to him one Christmas Eve and show him how miserable his life has become — and how he must change if he wishes his life to be worth anything.
Why you should read it: This abridged version of Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas tale stays true to the original story in a way that younger readers can understand. As a bonus, the artwork by Brett Helquist (illustrator of the Series of Unfortunate Events books) is gorgeous and compelling.
19. The Story of Holly & Ivy by Rumer Godden
The story: As Christmas draws near, Holly the doll wishes for a child to love her. Ivy, an orphan, wishes to find her grandmother and have a real home. Lonely Mr. and Mrs. Jones wish for a child to celebrate the holiday season with them. The magic of Christmas works to make all three wishes come true.
Why you should read it: This touching tale of lost souls brought together for the holidays will make you believe in the magic of Christmas.
20. The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore
The story: While his family sleeps on Christmas Eve, a man is preparing to go to bed when he hears Santa Claus flying through the sky to his house. He goes downstairs to see what’s going on and runs into Father Christmas himself.
Why you should read it: No Christmas book list would be complete without this classic poem, and this edition’s beautiful illustrations make Clement C. Moore’s stanzas even more magical. Highly recommended for Christmas Eve bedtime reading.