For families who [celebrate / want to learn about] Christmas
Quick Things You Need To Know:
- Click here for Santa origin stories, including Santas of color.
- Things I’m still researching: Waudin & Yule traditions, Pagan winter holidays, mid-winter holidays that avoid the word ‘Christmas’ entirely, and athiest/agnostic-centered winter stories
- Things I have books for but need to find time to make a list about: Solstice & celebrations of light holidays, Hanukkah (there are SO MANY MORE BOOKS I need to read before I feel like I can get on top of this list)
- Also see the hygge collection, which is super old since I made it years ago
Quick & Messy Book List
Our Current Favorites ( ages 5 & 7)
- Millie in the snow – (steffensmeier) – this is STILL AWESOME at 4 & 6.5 (too advanced for 3.5). hilarious. little details for kids to pour over, funny and goofy, makes kids feel smart because they know stuff millie doesn’t. we all love that all of the gifts go to the wrong people and are used in goofy ways and the illustrations are just hilarious. This is our favorite in the series, better than ‘Millie Waits for the Mail’ because Millie isn’t a bully in this one. Secular-friendly.
Olivia Helps With Christmas (Falcolner) – Ages 3.5+ very funny christmas story worth getting every year. she keeps trying to help and making things a little worse but her parents roll with it
- Findus At Christmas – (Nordqvist) WE LOVE THIS SERIES. This was one of the rare ones where it was a bit of a stretch for age 5, but it’s gotten much better and is a super-hit at age 7. We’re loving the message about interdependence, how it’s better to ask for help and rely on others than just muscle through and suffer alone when things get hard. They DIY a good deal of christmas stuff (like the tree), which is also neat.
- The Yule Tomte and the little Rabbits (eriksson) – loved this, has Swedish(?) humor similar to findus and pettson. we gave up getting it from the library each year and purchased a used copy because it’s an advent book and the 25 mini-chapters are meant to be read every day of December until the Christmas holiday. yule, Secular-friendly – but does reference an advent calendar and explains how Christmas is a celebration because a child was born, but lots of children are born, so they celebrate! endearing and sweet
- big snow – R2 enjoyed it for a single read at 3.5, so like 3+. Q has never been into this as much as I have, and at 5.5, he’s like UGH This again’ ? but it’s nice for grownups to have as a reminder that kids are only little for so long, and patience is hard. Secular-friendly The family has Christmas decorations in the background, but it’s not about Christmas. spirited kids, normalizing kids of color, brown boys, waiting for snow
- A wish for wings that worked – breathed – this was wonderful for 4.5, plus I’ve loved it since I was a teen. Secular-friendly.
- maple & willow’s Christmas tree – wonderful story of ableism & amends, where a kid makes her sister with allergies feel bad. but then later thinks of way to make it up to her. I love this series for siblings. ages 4+, ableism, allergies, sibling conflict, resentment
- a letter for bear – david lucas – 3+ very mildly christmas related, but it’s more about loneliness, and making new friends by being helpful to others (which might or might not be a good message to teach our kids. I wrestle with this.)
Christmas stories the Earthquakes have grown out of (best for under 5)
The 12 Days of Christmas – Cabrera – 18m+ great twist on the song. Last got it in 2014-2015 and the kiddos loved it, but we’ve since fallen in love with ‘The 12 days of Yule’
Carl’s Christmas (Alexandra Day) – Age 2.5-5, after that it’s too simple. Because it’s a dog babysitter. Which is funny. I mean, come on. Dogs can’t babysit! the parents decide to go to grandma’s and church on christmas eve and tell Carl to watch the baby. both the 2 & 4 year old loved it because it was so ridiculous, plus the baby and carl donated stuff to the needy. This is a safe book, but some of the others in the series are quite whitewashed, with the Halloween being the worst offender (for reasons you’d expect.) much better than carl’s snowy afternoon, which is boring.
- A Christmas tree for pyn – dunrea – father thinks “How very much like her mother she is.” implies her mother is not around and the tone makes it feel like she’s dead. later gives her a thing “it belonged to your mother” single father not by choice family constellation. 4+, death (parent – mother)
- christmas cookies – rosenthal. Big hit around 4-5. great book goes along well with this series, even if the child/animal characters are a bit creepy. definitely a good read for ages 3+. “Prosperity means, My goodness, just look at all these cookies! / Charitable means setting a big batch aside to give to people who maybe don’t have any cookies at all.” normalizes multiracial family show in the background, but not highlighted enough to be worth adding to a multiracial collection. secular-friendly
- the sweet smell of christmas – i like that they integrate smell, (which is best for memories). the smells are those familiar artificial smells from childhood, which wakes its own memories (for me, of government assisted daycaare…so unpleasant) so I guess it depends on how these sensory memories link for you. but if you want to build a christmas tradition, this is a good one to use. our edition was printed in 2003 (we got it as a gift new because the library copy was worn out) and the smells all work, although they aren’t particularly strong. both kids LOVE sticking their noses in there and smelling. you can buy replacement stickers for when they scratch out all the smells.
- the christmas giant – perfect for ages 2.5+, also fun for 4.5. shows how everyone has a way they can contribute regardless of size, and there’s some innovating using what they are already good at when something goes wrong (resourcing).
- pooh’s jingle bells – GREAT christmas book – giving, helping, singing, pooh!
- a very merry christmas – disney classic pooh lauren cecil – 3+ probably not worth getting again, but was a cute book about how all the animlals helped pooh prep for christmas and then fell asleep from exhaustion.
- Preparing kids for Christmas traditions (We autistics like to be forewarned before our routine breaks.)
- Fa la la – patricelli – used this to prep an autistic 2.5yo for christmas holiday. Fine board book, but not worth getting for older kids.
- I See Winter – charles ghigna – ‘i see’ series. cute & perfect for toddlers (R2 didn’ want to read it more than a couple times at 24m, very simple and boing for 3y, peaks at 1.5y. They tell you all the things that are great about the season and also it gives way to teh next season to look forward to. 1/4 of the book focuses on Christmas
Christmas Stories that intersect with non-Christian faiths: Recommended/Acceptable
Also see the books in the problematic further down the page.
Dusk – uri shulevitz – cute but simple story about a boy and his grandfather walking around the village/city at dusk in the holidays. see christmas and hanukkah shoppers, decor, and lights, which light the city bright as day illustrations: very cute. feel like a David Lucas book. cute but not worth getting again. engagement: fine. keywords: christmas, hanukkah, grandparent family constellations age range: 12m-4y, interfaith (Christianity, Judaism)
Daddy christmas & hanukkah mama- selina alko. confusing as to why they picked light-skinned family. sigh. I DO love that one of the aunts or whoever is asian but isn’t drawn like a caricature – she even has open eyes. didn’t bother reading this to my kids, but good to note for interfaith families. goes over how they blend the traditions during the holiday season. interfaith family constellations (Christianity, Judaism), christmas, hanukkah age range: 3+
Light the lights!- margaret moorman. illustrations too bland and realistic for kid to get engaged. no story, just white kid doing hanukkah and christmas stuff. normalizing interfaith families (Christianity, Judaism). engagement: bleh. keywords: interfaith family constellations, hanukkah, christmas ages 3+
- Oskar And The Eight Blessings – See article. (Christianity, Judaism), holocaust, night of broken glass, immigrants, kindness of strangers, NYC
Christmas traditions outside of Cis/White/US identity
- An Island Christmas – Joseph – entirely written in island vernacular (sounds exactly like my Dominican step-father). lots of text for it to be introductory at this age, maybe wait until age 8. very happy christmas story that would be lovely as a validating mirror for island kids, but nothing like our life since we don’t cook, we don’t have a big family, and there’s no story to this, just prep and celebration in the days leading up to and including christmas (christian, presumably from colonization). Afrolatinx. Caribbean (Trinidad & Tobago). black women authors of color (Trinidadian)
- Aliki – christmas tree memories – 3+ good for reading before decorating the tree – for making memories from ornaments (Greek American)
- Pedro the angel of Olvera st. – politi – takes place in los angeles. shows city culture of olvera st including artisans. focuses on christian celebration of christmas & birth of baby jesus (seeking shelter – la posada). oliver leads la posada in a singing march knocking on doors to be turned away util they find the doors of a puesto open, and a pinata inside, full of presents for all the kids in the posada. cute but has nothing to do with our kids and would be so confusing introducing these ideas in this way (kinda a story, kinda a song book?) that it’s not someting for us – better for people who already have a frame of reference or are old enough to figure it out. latinx, religion -christianity. ages 4+ for validating, 7+ for destigmatizing
’Twas Nochebuena – Greenfield Thong – spin on the night before Christmas with Mexican traditions tied in (much easier to grasp than Pedro the Angel of Olivera St.), was easier to understand ideas of la posada, pinata, etc. and how that ties into christmas. inserted a lot of spansih words into the primary english text so you could infer meaning. Reading it as outsiders, my 3.5yo was willing to sit through one read, but not twice. if we did anything similar to the families in this book I’m sure it’d be more engaging. Latinx, English with some token Spanish thrown in (not bilingual)
Rachel’s Christmas Boat – labelle – girl’s father openly transitions two weeks before christmas, and Lulu takes it upon herself to do the labor of removing her dad’s deadname and switching everything to her chosen name. (book points out that she is still a dad). searches for santa to let him know about her dad’s transition. it kind of falls apart as they end up following a cat through a playground, but they eventually meet a bearded man who’s like “okay got it.” Transparency: got a PDF version of this book for free from flamingo rampant but I can’t afford a print copy to screen with the kiddos. trans parents, good accomplices, gift giving, acts of service and love, deadnames, LGBTQI2S+ family constellations, emotional labor
Christmas Stories that are super Jesus-y
We’re not Christian (I was raised athiest/lapsed Catholic) so we have to learn about the foundations of Christian Christmas as outsiders, and I like my kids to know what’s going on. We still haven’t found a picture book that actually tells us the significance of why Jesus’s birth was a big deal and what’s up with the getting denied rooms at inns situation. This is what we got so far:
Miracle man – This isn’t about Christmas, it’s about Jesus, but it’s a helpful book so my kids know who this guy is everyone is all excited about during this time of year. See article on BFL
One Starry Night – thompson & bean – moms and babies, ‘a sheep watched over her lamb – i am here’ ‘a cow watched over her calf always near’ etc. in an unconditional love kinda way, then it pulls back to see how all the animals are drawn to the new baby jesus while he’s being cuddled by Mary & joseph (“Mary and Joseph watched over their newborn babe“) – I like that this gives Joseph parental love over his son, which many stories erase. -very cute and sweet with muted, limited palette that works well. Has the feel we’re going for when trying to understand why this day is significant for Christians, but not the lesson that the manger story exists for. religion: Christianity. ages 9 months+
Nighty night baby Jesus – shaar idle – extremely cute illustrations. all the animals come to visit the adorable chubby baby jesus. Not for us, since it isn’t informative or educational so much as just a happy book about animals getting excied for the birth of baby jesus, but great for families who already have scaffolding on it. religion: Christianity, age range: 12m+
Reduce & Reuse Device:
mr. willowby’s christmas tree (robert barry) – recycling waste, (reusing, reducing, environmentalism) using only what you need. was great for 3.5+ language is a little stilted, but the story is cute, everyone chops off the top of the Christmas tree and someone else finds a use for it.
- just right for Christmas – black & beardshaw – a bunch of red soft christmassy fabric scraps that more and more animals find a use for, meh. 3+
Thoughtful gifting – giving with the recipient in mind
Ivy loves to give – blackwood – wonderful story perfect for 4.5, gave R2 lots to think about, and made Q feel smart. ivy gives an inappropriate present, and on the next page, we see a family member searching for a missing thing. lack of full sentences on each page (entire book is basically 2 run on sentences, and the pacing is off, since we want to stop and discuss what is happening on each page. entire spread is just “taste delicious,” etc. good book for pre-christmas giving. sometimes she gives presents that don’t fit, taste strange, etc. but then we see when she gives the right thoughtful gift to the right person, how great it is. i like the twist ending when we see that sometimes she doesn’t want to give (her sister’s tutu back) and her big sister lets her keep it, and she gives a hug (gratitude) which is a good lesson for Q to see. generosity & thoughtful gifting
Problematic / Not Recommended
- Brownie groundhog and the wintry surprise (Blackaby) – illustrations are so good i keep forgetting I’ve read this and didn’t like the story, so I’ve accidentally screened this multiple times. fox(he) and bunny(she) sneak into groundhog’s (she) den while she’s sleeping, steal all her shit, and use it to decorate a christmas tree. uncomfortable. nothing at all to do with groundhog day. problematic for consent.
Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein (peet) profoundly uncomfortable! Peet identifies as Jewish, raised in an interfaith (Quaker, Jewish) family. the premise of the book is that jewish kids don’t have thier own winter traditions and culture and envy christians, for some reason. the character sets out cookies for santa, as if jewish parents are leading their kids to believe that there is a christian who delivers gifts to christians but not Jewish kids. WHAT. the end has a land of misfit toys feel, where everyone who isn’t christian ends up at a chinese restaurant where her family proceeds to have bad manners and the text subtly suggests that the Chinese food is gross: “Papa Murray ate chicken feet that looked exactly like chicken feet. Rachel’s dad stuck chopsticks up his nose like a walrus.” A bunch of Asians are also there ( with a shallow reference to Chinese New Year & Diwali) and some Muslims are pictured in the background. this is a weird and problematic book, religion, whitewashing.
A Solstice Tree for Jenny (Shragg) – Speaking as a kid who was raised athiest with parents similar to the ones in this book – this is SUPER problematic. atheism with a bend toward judgement on people of faith disguised as tolerance, and it feels GROSSS. problematic for religious intolerance. talks about people of faith as if they are all literal fundamentalists who take creation stories and religious texts literally, instead of values and stories of symbollism. “Your father and I don’t believe in a god that created the world and whose job it is to tell us how to live our lives. We think that we can be very good people and know what is right to do and not to do without having to follow rules that some people believe were written down long ago by their god or by important people in their religion.” It’s suuuper wordy and akward. Full of run-on sentences like that. Chapter book disguised in picture book shape as one loooong chapter, and completely unaware of how ironically preachy it is. SO many references to a static mindset of ‘good people’ which EWWW. “Some people believe that how they live is taught to them by their god, but we believe that having a good heart and living to help others can be learned and taught by one person showing another who shows another and so on,” (and this is different from the value system taught by people of faith HOW?) “Lots of people feel they need a father who they often picture in a place far above them called heaven and he looks down on them to make sure they behave themselves. What they don’t understand about our way of thinking is that they can just do good things because they are the right things to do. They can make people happy just by trying and not because they are afraid that their god will punish them if they don’t do what he says.” which completely erases all multi-deity and non-single god faiths, as if the toxic sects of Abrahamic religions are the only alternative to atheism. this reeks of certainty and bare-minimum tolerance. it goes on foreverrrr. and the parents eventually decide to celebrate a solstice holiday, as if that isn’t taken straight out of a book of paganism and nature-based faiths.
- Samurai Santa – rubin pingk. silly, irreverent book about ninjas and santa. Cute story BUT – 1. pretty violent. and 2. cultural appropriation, 3. orientalism and 4. (this is a big one) Rising Sun flag – which to many folks who are still feeling the effects of Japanese Imperialism & colonization (mostly South Koreans, some Chinese) is a hate symbol. This is what happens when you shallowly appropriate cute things from a culture/country you’re not from, YA GET STUFF WRONG.
- The birds of bethlehem (dePaola) problematic for racial coding/colorism. all the birds are paired off by color – which wouldn’t be so weird if they had regular bird names, like ‘robin’ or ‘cardinal,’ but all of them are referenced by color, and goes on and on and on “The yellow bird and his mate spoke up” The red bird and his mate, the white bird and his mate, (repeat a bazillion times) and of course it’s always ’the … bird and his mate” because we can suspend our imagination to where birds can talk, but not GIRL birds, that would be ridiculous (/sarcasm.) Mary isn’t ever referenced by name, just “A man and his wife were led to the stable…” until the very end, where she becomes someone’s mother “In the stable was a young mother, her husband and their newborn baby” which basically makes her into a suitcase for a fetus, and then she’s promoted to a caretaker for an infant. Not like, a person and THE MOTHER OF A FREAKING SUPERHERO. none of it explains to non-christians the meaning behind the manger story and I don’t even know what a Christian kid could get out of this other than ‘Wives should be seen (and the same color as their partners!) but not heard.’
Problematic: Reinforcing tropes about poverty (a favorite Christmas device)
I’m still trying to find words on why the focus on (other people’s) poverty during the Christmas season is gross and troublesome, and I haven’t fully formed that concept yet to express it to the outside world. But there’s something in there going on, I don’t like it, and I think it’s hurting and dividing folks, to the detriment of the people living in poverty whose plight we exploit to feel good during the winter season. Kind of like…if the only way you can be grateful for what you have is to vicariously suffer through a cartoon that is…not okay. Especially if you’re reinforcing stereotypes about people who have less than you!
Anyhoo, here are some of those:
- Mama had to work for christmas – marsden – not for us, too dry and boring and it’s a chapter book. Touches on on issues of wealth inequality, latinx characters, but the tone was weird. Families whose parents work through Christmas just see it as normal (it sucks, but it’s not a sob story) and the story subtly feeds into that narrative that being working poor affects only shallow luxuries like vacation time, when it’s much more impactful all year long.
The Christmas Eve Tree – Huddy & sutton – Premise: reject tree that grows wrong isn’t good enough to sell as a real christmas tree, but a homeless boy finds it as the store is throwing it away and uses it to celebrate chrismas (he lives alone, in a cardboard box under a bridge, which is a little misleading on what poverty looks like and uber reductive). it brings onlookers together and creates some cheer, then the boy moves on, Q took issue with his parting words of “You’re more dead than alive.” and thinks the boy is a jerk but I had to explain that the boy had no way to care for it. But yeah, it does sound harsh, if you’re talking to a tree, that talking should like, assume the tree has feelings or whatever. Anyway, a street sweeper cleaning up picks it up and takes a kindness to it, noticing that there is a small bit of green left (symbolizing hope, I think) planting it in the corner of a park. i grows cheerful and stout and decades later children play on it and people picnic under it, and on the last page, we see a man wearing a familiar hat and his two small children playing underneath it, who we are supposed to construe as the poor kid who grew up and he’s okay now. I’m not sure what kids who can afford books and trees are supposed to take from this story, other than poor kids get by, and end up okay, through no intervention from us. illustrations are fantastic, kids loved the story, but something about it nags me. problematic for wealth inequality. age range: 4+
- The Best Christmas Ever – chen – AAPI? brings up more questions than it answers. dad lost job, too poor for gifts, someone gives them things they already have, but improved. kind of implies that either santa gives shitty gifts to poor people OR mom and dad have been slowly stealing things only to give them back to the family. what?
Meh Filler – fine but not worth my time
How the grinch stole christmas – Huh. not a as good as I expected. I prefer the cartoon.
Rudolph -( thea feldman) – horrible, violent, awkwardly written
Drummer boy (Long)- like toy boat but not as good.
- song of the stars – lloyd-jones – animals are excited about baby jesus. boring. 9m+. molly idle’s ‘nighty night baby jesus’ is way better. religion: christian.
Christmas Wombat – expected this to be funny but wasn’t really. also violently fights reindeer and steals their food.
Fuddles Christmas( vischer) – 4+ Q didn’t really get the humor at 2.75y. Fuddles christmas was OK but not worth getting again. Kind of a grass-is-greener story but meh. decent for showing how spoiling and entitlement can lead to kids/cats who destroy stuff. Problematic for fatmisia Not a fan of the line ”Fuddles was a fat, pampered cat.” linking fatness with entitlement and laziness is not okay.
Homemade together christmas – cocca-leffler – forgettable but decent. illustrations are cute. engagement at 5.5 was okay for a single read but maybe better for older kids who really can take action and create something on thier own. they all decide to make something for the family for christmas,a nd we see the main character (brother), come up with ideas that don’t quite work out, and then come up with a good solution. perseverance, DIY, gifting
- bunny christmas – rick walton. goes over basic traditional Christmas stuff, like trimming trees and making holiday cards and going to a church pageant with baby jesus in a manger but not WHY. boring but ok
- snowmen at christmas – fine but forgettable.
One special christmas – christina butler – completely unmemorable.
- The Tomten – lindgren – borrrringggg.
- Harry and the dinosaurs make a christmas wish – whybrow. not worth reading again
olive, the other reindeer – vivian walsh 4+ illustrations are confusing and surreal, the joke is that ‘olive’ sounds like ‘all of…’ so you can tell the author came up with the title before the story, and it shows.
How Do Dinosaurs Say Merry Christmas – jane yolen – 2.5+ not bad, shows some bad examples but they are so past ridiculous Q shows no impetus to copycat the bad behavior. Likes saying “No!” to all of the questions. naughty behavior, but forgettable.
The christmas wish – lori evert – 2.5+ It’s fine, and pretty, but it reads more like showing off photography and editing skills than giving kids a story to enjoy.
Red & Lulu – tavares – Q wanted to read this as him and his brother, and I have to admit it was way sweeter that way. they live in a tree and get separated when it’s cut down. not really a christmas story, even though the tree is used for the NYC christmas tree. nice story and well told, but probably no worth getting again. normalizes a multiracial family (black/white) but the people in the story whose lawn the tree grows are merely background 4+
- Turkey Claus – wendi silvano. nope. silly idea and attempt, but i’m not a fan of the illustration style so it’s not worth it. 4+
The Little Reindeer – killen – adorable but story is too simple to bother with. little girl dressed as reindeer follows sounds of jingle into forest, meets a reindeer who belongs to santa. super cute illustrations but not worth my time. 12m-4y
- The Night Tree – eve bunting – boring. not worth getting again. nothing to do with interesting issues, just christmas tradition in the woods of decorating an outside tree and sitting on a blanket.
- Christmas at the toy museum – david lucas – 3.5+ interesting concept, animate toys wrapping themselves for each other. living angel, wishes, some abstract nonsense too advanced for 2.5y
When it starts to snow – gershator – cute illustrations but boring. not worth it. 2+
- the littlest elf – brandi- 2+ very cute illustrations and story – messes up a lot of stuff but eventually finds something he can do to contribute. forgettable
- pick a pine tree – toht – vaguely multiracial family (light brown skin dark haired mom, white dad, white brother, white skin dark haired daughter). cute for if you are going to pick a fresh christmas tree and decoate it and invite friends over, with an angel on top. but not for us. not much story
- The Christmas Fox – mcGrory – story got away from them. little fox is ADORABLE and the illustrations are great, but fox is too busy playing to help prep for the new baby (probably jesus, since it’s a human) and then when the baby shows up, fox delights the baby, so it’s okay. at 4 & 6 I’m kinda trying to lean toward ‘take responsibility’ and this says the opposite . too bad because it’s fraking ADORBS.
- I was made for you – lucas, christmas gift is a knitted cat, fiber arts, existentialism. better than ‘The Big Question’ by Erlbruch, but still a little unnerving with him unraveling throughout the book, so I’m skipping it.
- the christmas quiet book – underwood – 4+, too many unrelatable experiences for us to work with (nutcracker, blown fuses)
- Last Stop on the reindeer express – gorgeous, full of detail and would be a lovely secular christmas advent book about a girl visiting her grandfather. but the story itself is boring – just her travelling through magic doors and pretty places. some flaps, whcih add to th magic, but are so fragile it only works for gentle preschoolers or 4+. skipping it
- Christmas Is… – gail gibbons 4+ history behind christmas traditions, christ, nativity scenes, etc. boring
- Yule – morrison – not a kids book, explains common traditions and links on winter solstice traditions around the world, with quaint suggestions like using alcohol to clean mirrors to get nicotine off. would be good for using to crate our own christmas/winter traditions, but it’s not a kids book. more of a home-making book before housekeeping magazines came along. Got this while researching Yule, but the author has no idea what yule is – this book is actually about Christmas.
- Night Before Christmas adaptations
A pirate’s night before Christmas – philip yates – almost entirely men (main character can be construed as nonbinary) with a couple women who MIGHT be pirates but only one is dressed clearly feminine. just a pirate twist on night before chrsitmas. funny and with great illustrations, but not worth getting again unless you really love pirates and are okay with the gender imbalace. age range: 3.5+
12 days of Christmas adaptations
the twelve days of christmas – andreasen – 18m+ traditional song, adorable illustrations. We prefer the ’12 days of yule’
- the first day of winter – fleming – good snowman version of 12 days of christmas, but hideous illustrations and a little boring.
- The Thirteen Days of Yule – hogigian – just lots of birds, altenrative to 12 days of christmas. nah.