The holidays are all about tradition: creating and revisiting the rituals that provide comfort and create delicious anticipation for the big day, year after year. One tradition I look forward to every year is reading a winter or holiday themed book to my kids every day in December, even as they grow “too big” for that sort of thing. Here are 25 of the best read aloud Christmas books (according to us) for you to incorporate into your family traditions!
We’ve picked titles for all ages; some are free on Kindle right now.
25 Best Read Aloud Christmas Books for Kids
Hint: You can wrap the books all up prior to December 1st, then unwrap one each night as a sort of interactive Advent calendar countdown to Christmas. I actually go so far as to hide them the rest of the year so they stay super special. Also, these books make excellent gifts to build the libraries of very little kids who don’t need a lot of toys!
This post includes a ton of affiliate links, but feel free to keep it green and check these books out of the library!
The Winter’s Tale
I like to start off with wintery books. The Winter’s Tale is one of several Robert Sabuda titles I’ve included in this list, because I firmly believe every child NEEDS to own them. These pop-ups are almost other-worldly in their lyrical simplicity and visual beauty. This book doesn’t have much of a plot; it’s a simple discovery of woodland animals within their habitats, including that of the narrator: a cottage with real blinking holiday lights (battery operated).
The Berenstain Bears and the Joy of Giving
You probably remember this book from your own childhood, and it remains a holiday staple. The cubs have money to spend on Christmas gifts, and at first try to save as much of it as possible for themselves; by the end they’ve learned the importance of giving and the reason for the season. (If you’re just starting the 25 books of December tradition and don’t have any titles on hand, you can get the Kindle version of The Berenstain Bears and the Joy of Giving for just 99 cents and download to your phone, tablet or computer.)
Stranger in the Woods
Stranger in the Woods won a well-deserved Ben Franklin Award as the best children’s book of 2000. Its authors are husband and wife wildlife photographers, and the highlight of the book is the stunning forest photography as the adorable wildlife within discovers a newcomer (a snowman).
Very Christmas is a picture book with hardly any pictures, and it works. The story begins with Ava Buttons, who is tidy, neat, and super organized, preparing her letter to Santa, and kids everywhere will be totally sucked into the story once they find out her letter has been “returned to sender” and why. Fewer pictures means kids pay attention to the story and the different fonts; it’s a different read aloud experience wrapped in an engrossing plot and a legitimately won feel-good ending. Very Christmas won the 2016 Elite Gold Award (for e-books, published in North America) in the holiday category.
Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons
Is there anything better than Calvin & Hobbes? My gut feeling is NO, they are simply the best. This isn’t, traditionally speaking, a read aloud kind of book, but it’s definitely one that’s ideal for sharing and savoring as a family. Calvin & Hobbes: Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons includes all those amazing snowman creations you remember from the comic strips, which my kids loved to the point that we recreated some of them during the double snow blizzard of 2011.
(Side note: The Complete Calvin & Hobbes box set is one of my favorite gifts to give anyone over the age of 8.)
This winter classic is a retelling of a Ukrainian folktale, written and illustrated by Jan Brett. Nicki drops his white mitten in the snow, where it becomes a shelter for various woodland animals while Nicki searches in the background. I recommend the full-size hardback of The Mitten to really appreciate the beautiful artwork, but it’s also available in abridged board book form for the littlest hands.
The Polar Express
The artwork is beautiful, the train magical, the story timeless. Kids might already be familiar with the popular movie, but I love the book oh so much more. You can download a copy of the Caldecott Medal winning The Polar Express to Kindle for free right now, but you have to check out the 30th Anniversary Edition: it includes a note from author Chris Van Allsburg, downloadable audio read by Liam Neeson, and a golden “All Aboard” ornament.
FROZEN: A Pop-Up Adventure
Another pop-up book, this one by Matthew Reinhart, who worked with Robert Sabuda on other paper-genius titles. FROZEN: A Pop-Up Adventure is a collectible, an absolute must for fans of the beautiful Disney movie, and recreates the magic of that story. It’s NOT a kids’ book, in that it demands a parent’s or other adult’s supervision to keep it usable next year. It’s delicate but beautiful and sure to inspire awe in little ones on a quiet winter’s evening.
The Snowy Day
The classic picturebook The Snowy Day won the Caldecott Medal in 1963; it was a groundbreaking children’s title for its simple depiction of a little black boy enchanted by the snow in an urban setting (as opposed to within a historical or biographical context). Timeless and lovely, it’s also available in board book form for young readers.
Christmas Eve on Sesame Street
I’m totally showing my age here, but one of my favorite Christmas DVDs is Christmas Eve on Sesame Street. Oscar challenges Big Bird’s notion of Santa, demanding to know how he fits down those skinny chimneys. Bert and Ernie play out their own Gift of the Magi scenario with the help of Mr. Hooper. And Cookie Monster tries very hard to get a message to the North Pole. The book Christmas Eve on Sesame Street is long out of print, but there are plenty of used copies available and the sweetly illustrated pages are a must-have companion to the must-watch DVD.
The Gift of the Magi
For older children, O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi is a near perfect short story and helps them understand the many times it’s referenced in more current books and movies. This edition features lovely watercolors evocative of the time period the story was written in, and is currently free to download to Kindle.
The Christmas Wish
These are my favorite sort of picturebooks. Anja wants to become one of Santa’s elves, and skis off into the Nordic snowy landscape. The photographs that illustrate The Christmas Wish are nothing short of magical.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
You already have this one, right? RIGHT?! If not you need to go get it right now. The only thing that can come close to comparing to the Boris Karloff and Chuck Jones version is the memory of Mom or Dad saying “Roast beast is a feast I can’t stand in the least.”
I Spy Christmas and I Spy Little Christmas
Ugh. To be honest I did not love reading the I Spy Books to my kids because they took forever, and I include them in this list for that same exact reason: my kids loved these picture riddle books and would pore over the photos forever through repeat readings, even though they knew perfectly well where the items were hidden. (That’s repeat readings over a season; the riddles and puzzles are fresh and new every year when they’re brought out again.)
I Spy Little Christmas is a simpler board book for little readers, I Spy Christmas is recommended for ages 4-8 but remains an engrossing time commitment even for adults. I Spy Santa Clause falls somewhere in the middle and is a very reasonably priced Scholastic paperback (around $3).
Every toddler loves Spot, so Spot’s Christmas is a no-brainer gotta-get board book if you have littles in your family. Spot and his family have so many things to do before Christmas!
The 12 Joys of Christmas
This is a very simple, nostalgic book written in the style of the song The 12 Days of Christmas, but listing the joys of the season (four cups of cocoa, three Christmas carols, two fuzzy mittens, and one freshly cut tree…). The true joy here is the illustrations, which to me are very strongly reminiscent of The Bobbsey Twins books, vintage Rockwell magazine ads or even the old Dick & Jane stories: supremely soothing and delightful.
The Twelve Terrors of Christmas
The Twelve Terrors of Christmas is best saved for a night when everyone needs to be jostled out of their bah humbugs; it happens to us all in the frantic hustle and bustle of the season. Kids who love stories in the vein of the Lemony Snicket Series of Unfortunate Events will get a kick out of this decidedly un-Christmasy book, written by John Updike and illustrated by Edward Gorey. Be aware that this hardback is pint-sized, so it’s great as a stocking stuffer; not “terrifying” but more cynical and tongue-in-cheek.
The 12 Bugs of Christmas: A Pop-up Christmas Counting Book
Another pop-up along the 12 Days of Christmas theme, this time from David A. Carter (One Red Dot, Blue 2, and all of the other bug books are also worth a look). The 12 Bugs of Christmas is intended for a younger audience, as it is very good at reinforcing counting skills. The bugs are fictional and very silly (popcorn bugs a-poppin’) and my kids loved it for years; however, since it’s not so obviously not intended for little hands, it took a beating and had to be replaced a couple times.
Watching The Nutcracker ballet is a yearly tradition for many families (I insist on the Baryshnikov edition, myself), but the story can be somewhat hard to follow for smaller children. This book version of The Nutcracker is based on George Balanchine’s imagining, as performed by the New York Ballet. The illustrations are stylized and beautiful, and will go a long way in preparing kids to fully enjoy a production on stage or on TV.
A Christmas Carol
The Charles Dickens classic, abridged for younger readers (recommended for grade 3 and up). This 40-page picturebook edition of A Christmas Carol is a retelling that does not betray the ambiance and lush language bestowed by Dickens; rather it’s made more accessible by the impish art of Brett Helquist (who also illustrated the Series of Unfortunate Events).
Laugh-Out-Loud Christmas Jokes for Kids
Fact: all joke books are objectively terrible. Also fact: the more terrible and groan inducing the joke, the more kids of a certain age will love them. Laugh-Out-Loud Christmas Jokes for Kids will at least add variety to their joke arsenal, and that initial reading is always a lot of fun.
Christmas Around the World
A little more on the dry side, I’m including this one for its cultural context and for those with kids who genuinely prefer non-fiction (my middle child was one of these). Christmas Around the World is intended for grades 2 through 5 and details the traditions of 12 different cultures.
Christmas Mad Libs
Yes, Christmas Mad Libs are a thing. Like joke books, Mad Libs are universal kid pleasers that never get old (to them). Break out the Mad Libs on a night that you’re traveling, or while waiting for a table at a restaurant; then do a straight-face dramatic readaloud some other night to howls of laughter.
The Night Before Christmas Pop Up
Robert Sabuda’s breathtaking version of the classic poem, The Night Before Christmas pop-up is just amazing. I think this is a perfect heirloom gift for every child’s first Christmas.
The Night Before Christmas: The Heirloom Edition
Yes, I’ve totally cheated and listed this one twice. I couldn’t not include the Sabuda edition, but I love this heirloom edition of The Night Before Christmas too: it comes with a reading of the poem by Jeff Bridges, an audio CD of classic Christmas music, a countdown-to-Christmas poster and a keepsake envelope to keep all those extras safe year round. I recommend having your kids sign the inside cover as soon as they are old enough to write their own name; one day, their own children will run their fingers over the signatures as they are read to, and marvel at the magical thought that once their parents were so young.
I’m sure I’m missing some more recent gems. What are your favorite Christmas books for kids or adults?