‘Tis the Season for New Christmas Books

December 8, 2022 § Leave a comment

I’m usually happy to find one new stand-out Christmas title each year. (Last year, it was this outstanding Hanukkah-Christmas-combo.) But 2022 has exceeded expectations, and today I’ve got a whopping nine books to rave about. Of course, nothing will ever quite rival Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree for Best Christmas Read Aloud, but the books below still hold plenty of kid appeal. Plus, we all know that when it comes to Christmas books, the more the merrier. Unpacking our Christmas books alongside ornaments and wreath hangers has always been one of our family’s favorite nights of the year—rescheduled for this weekend, thanks to a nasty bout of the flu—because the anticipation of Santa’s arrival is almost as sweet as Christmas morning itself.

So, get that hot cocoa brewing, curl up by the tree, and enjoy these festive stories. (Links go to Old Town Books, and hurry because they are going FAST!)

And, if you’re looking for a new board book to add to your collection, look no further than Santa Jaws. (I’m only sorry I didn’t have a copy handy to photograph.)

Murray Christmas
by E.G. Keller
Ages 4-8

Introducing the 2022 Christmas story that won my kids over in five seconds flat. Probably because it hits very close to home. This is our first Christmas with our new pup, who we adopted last January, and as soon as we brought home a Christmas tree last Sunday…he tried to pee on it. Just like Murray, the canine star of E.G. Keller’s hilarious Murray Christmas, who is highly skeptical of the way his humans have decided to transform his home into Christmas Central.

Murray is a good boy (aren’t they all?), and a good patrol dog to boot. “Nothing would come between him and the humans he loved.” (He’s only too happy to bark at birds and laundry drying in the sun.) When his humans set up a tree in the living room, Murray is instantly on high alert. And that’s just the first of the “threats” that Murray tries to keep at bay, as he goes after strings of lights, stockings, and an army of gingerbread men with his teeth, paws, and propensity to grab and run.

So, you can only imagine the shenanigans that ensue when a man in a red hat and white beard should BREAK INTO THE HOUSE while Murray’s humans are sleeping?! Never fear: it just so happens that Santa is the perfect match for ol’ Murray.

The Christmas Pine
by Julia Donaldson; illus. Victoria Sandøy
Ages 4-7

I’m a softie for a rhyming Christmas book, and it’s no surprise that one of this year’s favorites should hail from rhyming queen, Julia Donaldson, canonized for longtime gems like The Gruffalo and Room on a Broom. Here, she pays homage to a yearly European tradition, where the Mayor of Oslo, Norway presents the British people with a homegrown Christmas spruce, in gratitude for the their support during World War II. As Donaldson explains in her Author’s Note, the Norwegian foresters take great pride each year in tending to the Queen of the Forest, as they call the chosen tree, talking to it and even hugging it while it grows, until it is felled in a special ceremony and set on its journey of a thousand-plus miles.

In The Christmas Pine, Donaldson gives voice to one of these stately pines: “Once upon a time I stood/ With brothers and sisters in a wood./ The old trees told me I had grown/ From a tiny seed inside a cone.” As the pine grows up under the care of the foresters, kept company by the forest animals, it eventually makes its voyage by boat to a bustling city square, where it “shines in the winter air,” flanked by two stone lions and the people young and old who pass by and smile. But the tree’s favorite moments are when the children gather to sing of reindeer and snow, “Songs of kings who traveled far,/ And songs of light from a distant star.”

As we’re encouraged to reflect on the care required to nurture living things, we’re also introduced to life’s transience. Fresh-cut Christmas trees, after all, do not last forever. The Christmas Pine asks that the children carry its memory with them by growing and shining in their own special way.

The Night Before the Nutcracker
by American Ballet Theatre & John Robert Allman; illus. Julianna Swaney
Ages 4-8

The Night Before the Nutcracker may not be your typical Nutcracker book, but it is a must-read before heading to the ballet! Created in conjunction with the American Ballet Theatre and penned in the style of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” it’s a behind-the-scenes look at Tchaikovsky’s famed ballet through the eyes of the children getting ready to perform it.

‘Twas the night before the The Nutcracker and, sleepless in their beds,
these budding ballet dancers are rehearsing in their heads.
After months and months of making sure that every move is right,
it’s the moment they’ve been working for: Tomorrow’s opening night!

The story takes us backstage, as young dancers recall the work that has led up to this magical performance, from auditions to rehearsals to costume fittings to orchestra tunings. When the curtain finally goes up, we are treated to glimpses of some of the iconic scenes—Mother Ginger! Land of Sweets! Final pas de deux!—as well as peeks at what’s happening in the wings (sweeping up lots and lots of snow glitter). The excitement, awe, and pride of the tiny dancers come through in every one of Julianna Swaney’s delightful illustrations.

Richard Scarry’s Best Christmas Book Ever!
by Richard Scarry
Ages 2-6

I gave an audible squeal when I learned that this 1981 storybook was being reissued! I grew up on Richard Scarry, my kids grew up on Richard Scarry, and as far as I’m concerned, the world can never have enough Richard Scarry. (My husband still has his childhood copy of Richard Scarry’s The Sweet Smell of Christmas­—a scratch-and-sniff book still in print today—despite the fact that the orange, pine, and cocoa circles smell more like mothballs at this point.)

Richard Scarry’s Best Christmas Book Ever! is a collection of short stories about the folks of Busytown getting into the holiday spirit. Yes, Lowly Worm is on the scene, along with Sally and Huckle, Sergeant Murphy, Mr. Gronkle, Hilda Hippo, the Busytown firefighters, and lots of other familiar faces. The stories are chalk full of antics, from misguided rescue missions to exploding pies, but the overriding message is one of community, as the town is decorated, homes are opened, gifts are hand fashioned, and neighbors are surprised in the best of ways.

Oh, and Lowly Worm saves Christmas. Because of course he does.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas
by Clement C. Moore; illus. Matt Tavares
All ages

Illustrator Matt Tavares is no stranger to Christmas picture books—Red and Lulu is an all-time fave—and here he turns his incredible artistry on the classic poem that our family reads every year before bed on Christmas Eve. (There’s no chance of this never happening, as my kids always remember even when I don’t.) Did you know that ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas was originally published anonymously in a 1923 newspaper in upstate New York? Did you know that it was not only the first time American children had heard of St. Nicholas, but the first time they were presented with the idea of hanging stockings by the chimney? Matt Tavares’ note at the beginning of this book explains all this, as well as how Clement C. Moore would later take credit for the poem, and it’s absolutely fascinating!

In the book, the words of the poem are exactly as they appeared in that original newspaper clipping, under the title “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” and they’ll be familiar to any adult reading them. What I love is that Tavares has leaned into these origins with grainy, black-and-white pencil illustrations evocative of newsprint and days of yore. He has even chosen Dickens for the enlarged typeset (appreciated by those who might be reading this on Christmas Eve after a few cocktails, wink wink).

If you’re still on the fence about the black and white, heed this: not only does it recall the poem’s origins, but it draws attention to the brilliant ways Tavares plays with light and perspective. Movement abounds in these layered compositions, much the way St. Nick himself must take haste, and the result is a picture book that feels as iconic as its one-hundred-year-old words.

Through the North Pole Snow
by Polly Faber; illus. Richard Jones
Ages 3-7

The only thing better than stories about Santa coming down the chimney might be stories about Santa’s life at the North Pole, am I right? In Through the North Pole Snow, a tender story illustrated with atmospheric mixed-media illustrations, our window into the months and weeks leading up to Christmas Eve is courtesy of a tiny fox.

In his search for dinner amidst a vast winter wonderland, a small white fox ends up stuck in a hole in the roof of a house belonging to a man with a red sweater and a long white beard. “Stuck? Now that’s a problem I understand!” says the man we immediately recognize as Santa. The man takes in the fox, setting a place for him at the table and at the foot of his bed. From there, the fox watches as the man spends his days sawing and painting and cutting and sewing, until empty shelves begin to fill from top to bottom. One day, thousands of letters fall from the sky, and the fox helps the man “find every single one.”

At last, the toys are wrapped, a big sleigh is filled, and eight reindeer arrive. But what will happen to the fox? Will he finally understand the significance of what he has witnessed?

A Very Mercy Christmas
by Kate DiCamillo; illus. Chris Van Dusen
Ages 4-8

Everyone’s favorite “porcine wonder” is back! Mercy Watson, known for her starring role in the early chapter book series brilliantly executed by Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen, makes an appearance in this stand-alone picture book, alongside many of her friends and neighbors. A Very Mercy Christmas—otherwise known as the only time Eugenia Lincoln has ever smiled—highlights the miracles of caroling, community, and, of course, buttered toast.

The story opens on young Stella Endicott, suddenly seized with the inspiration to go caroling. The trouble is no one else on the street is inclined towards such spontaneity. No one, that is, except Mercy, who is excused from a fruit cake debacle at the Watsons’ house and allowed to accompany Stella. Mercy can’t exactly sing, and neither can General Washington the cat nor Maybelline the horse, who join the merry band of carolers, but that won’t stop her from trying for a “noise full of hope and wonder and longing.”

But there’s something about caroling—even the off-key sort—that awakens the Christmas spirit in the busiest, grumpiest of humans, and soon Mr. and Mrs. Watson, the Lincoln sisters, Horace Broom, and Leroy Ninker are drawn out of their houses and into the snow to partake in the fun.

The Big Christmas Bake
by Fiona Barker & Pippa Curnick
Ages 4-8

What if you don’t have to stop reading Christmas books on Christmas day because they’re actually about the twelve days that follow? That’s the deal in The Big Christmas Bake, a rollicking rhyming tale about donning your aprons to make a traditional Twelfth Night cake, enjoyed on the twelfth day following Christmas. “Christmas day is over now,/ Santa’s been and gone./ But Christmas lasts for twelve more days!/ Let’s put our aprons on…”

Each animal from the classic carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” contributes an ingredient or helping hand for the cake. The partridge begins by dropping off some dried fruit, followed by two “speckled doves” who leave contrails of flour in the sky. The four calling birds are actually penguins in argyle sweaters delivering sugar, while the five golden rings are candied peels from oranges, left at the door by a truck full of rabbits. By the time the nine dancing ladies show up—hippos in fuchsia tutus, naturally—the cake might not be done yet, but the party is in full swing.

But don’t forget to add a single dried bean to the batter for one lucky eater to find. Discover this bean in your slice, and you’ll get to make the rules for the rest of the day! An easy-to-follow recipe follows the story so everyone can get in on the fun.

Snow Horses: A First Night Story
by Patricia MacLachlan; illus. Micha Archer
Ages 4-8

You had me at horse-drawn sleigh ride. Add in a snowy backdrop, evocative cut-paper illustrations, and a community coming together to usher in the New Year, and Snow Horses: A First Night Story has quickly become one of my favorite winter reads. Patricia MacLachlan’s lyrical prose reads aloud beautifully, and Micha Archer’s art brims with frosty flakes, twinkling lights, rosy cheeks, and mittened hands.

On the last night of the year, Tim and Tom—“large and gentle Percheron horses”—prepare, under care of their driver, Jenny, to head into town to give sleigh rides to the young and old. The children are first, waving, squealing, eyes on the golden dog who trails after the sleigh in the snow, before returning to the cozy quilts and stuffed bears of bedtime (but not without kisses for the horses!). Then it’s onto the older generation, who boards the sleigh, bundled under blankets, talking of days of yore and laughing at memories of snowball fights and friendships formed.

A cube of sugar awaits each horse as they return to the warmly lit barn, where they’ll rest in peace, ready to greet the morning sun—and, with it, the New Year. All the feels for this tender, joyful story, perfect for cozying up with in the last weeks of the year.

Have you enjoyed this post? Make sure you don’t miss others! Enter your email on the right hand side of my homepage, and you’ll receive a new post in your inbox 3-4 times a month. Plus, follow me on Instagram (@thebookmommy), where I’m active most days, posting reviews and updates on what my kids are reading, or Facebook (What To Read To Your Kids) and Twitter (@thebookmommy).

All opinions are my own. Links support the beautiful Old Town Books, where I am the children’s buyer (and yes, we ship!).

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