A very bookish Christmas countdown.

A very bookish Christmas countdown.

In years past I’ve tried various Christmas countdowns—Advent calendars and Jesse trees and the like—that just haven’t clicked for our family.  The daily activity seemed like one more thing to get done instead of a meaningful way to prepare for Christmas.

But a few years ago we created an instant tradition: a literary Advent calendar.

We do books around here. Our whole family loves to do read. Stories are already built into our family’s rhythm. So each year, we wrap a gigantic pile of Christmas and winter-themed books (most of which we already own) and stack them by the fireplace. Beginning December 1, we’ll unwrap one every night, until Christmas Day.

It’s our family’s bookish way of counting down to Christmas.

A very bookish Christmas countdown | Modern Mrs Darcy

In years past we rotated which child got to choose a book from the pile each night. This year I’ve labeled them 1 through 25, and we’ll take turns opening the books instead. I’m front-loading the month with Silas’s favorite board books and the long chapter books the older kids (9 and 11) will want to be reading all December.

(Hint: if you’re still building your collection, wrap some library books.)

Here are some of the books I wrapped this year.

Family favorites: 

• Richard Scarry’s the Night Before the Night Before Christmas! by Richard Scarry
• The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
• Christmas Around the World: A Pop-Up Book
• Frog and Toad All Year by Arnold Lobel (for the story “Christmas Eve”)
• Joy to the World: Tomie de Paola’s Christmas Stories

A very bookish Christmas countdown | Modern Mrs Darcy

Picture books:

• The Twelve Days of Christmas by Jan Brett
• Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner
• How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss
• The Legend of Old Befana by Tomie dePaola (more Epiphany than Christmas, but oh well)

Chapter books for the older kids:

A very bookish Christmas countdown | Modern Mrs Darcy

Board books for the youngest kids: 

• The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore
• My First Christmas Board Book
• Who Is Coming to Our House? by Joseph Slate
• Biscuit’s Pet & Play Christmas by Alyssa Satin Capucilli

We’re always on the lookout for new titles: I’d love to hear your favorite Christmas book recommendations.

What are your favorite Christmas books? (Or: how do YOU count down to Christmas?)

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112 comments

  1. Kimber-Leigh says:

    We have done the Christmas book advent calendar for about 4 or 5 years now…and we love it! My kids and I especially love Jan Brett’s stories and illustrations. I’ve tried to add many of my old favorite Christmas books…like the edition of Twas the Night Before Christmas that my Mom always read to us…and a tiny vintage copy of The Christmas Snowman that I loved as a child.

  2. Emily says:

    I love this idea! I’m sharing it with the families at my church this year.

    Many of the American Girl Christmas books are sweet and well done and for non-readers, I love the Alexandra Day Carl books (and there is a Christmas one). Amelia Bedelia always is fun, too!

    Of course, the church need in me wishes there were better Advent books for kids since the Christmas season isn’t really upon us until December 25 and the 12 days afterward. 🙂

  3. Kendra says:

    Thank you for listing the Anne of Green Gables book. I hadn’t heard of it. My daughter is reading through the series and I think she’ll enjoy that since she’s already listening to Christmas music! And Richard Scarry was one of my mom’s favorites when I was a child so I am excited to check that one out as well!

  4. Beth Dillard says:

    Little Porcupine’s Christmas (previously published as How Little Porcupine Played Christmas) by Joseph Slate is not well known, but it is precious.

  5. We’ve been doing this for a few years, too and I’m very excited to start this year. A couple of our favorites are A Christmas Tree for Pyn by Olivier Dunrea and the Curious George Christmas book. I got a copy of Christmas in the Big Woods this year that I’m excited to read with the kids – it’s a picture book Little House book.

  6. Jessica says:

    We have been doing this too and my kids love it! For the younger kids, I suggest going on Scholastic.com or ordering from your child’s book order at school. I started in September and the books are really cheap and sometimes they sell a bundle of them for a great price!

  7. I like this idea. I just hunted down a dozen Christmas books around the house that the kids haven’t read in a while, and ordered a dozen more through Amazon — several through your affiliate links 🙂 — and am looking forward to having some more reading time around here this holiday season. Should be fun!

  8. Gillian says:

    Hi! Love this idea! Just out of curiosity, how do you handle books that can’t be read in a day? (The Type A in me is freaking out about the ‘numbers not working’). 😛

    Also, someone above mentioned The American Girl Christmas books….yes. Especially the Samantha one. I read it every year when I was little, and honestly, sometimes I consider re-reading it even though I’m not so little anymore.

    • Anne says:

      For the books we can’t read in a day: we open them early in the month, so there’s plenty of time to get through them. We can read a few chapters on the days when our youngest opens yet another easy-reading board book.

      And YES to the American Girl books! My girls love those (and my boys like them well enough, thank goodness) but I completely forgot how appropriate some of the stories were for Christmas.

  9. Sara K. says:

    I have heard this idea for several years but haven’t actually tried it! Maybe this is the year! I decided to add some new Christmas books to our collection (via Paperback Swap). Looking forward to pulling out all of our Christmas books!

  10. Stephanie says:

    I *love* this idea! Thank you for the inspiration!

    Here are some of our holiday favorites that weren’t already mentioned–they are picture books and tend to skew toward young boys’ interests (trains etc.); we found them at the library:

    Harvey Slumfenburger’s Christmas Present, by John Burningham
    The Christmas Train, Ivan Gantschev
    Apple Tree Christmas, Trinka Hakes Noble
    The Christmas Tree Ride, Mary Neville
    Lighthouse Christmas, Toni Buzzeo
    Christmas in Noisy Village, Astrid Lindgren (set in Sweden, of course)

    Two illustrated versions of the Nativity, with words from the King James Version of the Bible:
    The Nativity, illustrated by Julie Vivas
    Christmas is Here, illustrated by Lauren Castillo

    For slightly older kids, The Lump of Coal by Lemony Snicket

    And, not quite Christmas, but winter favorites I can’t resist:
    Waiting for Winter, by Sebastian Meschenmoser
    Night Tree, by Eve Bunting

  11. Sara says:

    I think we’ll start this tradition this year. I love the idea of wrapping books and using library books—I’d been debating how to enhance our collection without adding a ton of books to store throughout the year. My kids are 2 and 4, so I think we’ll stick with the shorter books, board books, and so forth for now. Fun!!

  12. Tracy G says:

    My favorite picture book for Christmas is “Room for a Little One” by Martin Waddell. I love the message and the illustrations are wonderful. This is perfect for the little ones in your family.

  13. Brooke says:

    We’ve done this in the past and my 3 kids loved it, but I’ve been too lazy to wrap 25 books for the past few years! Maybe if I get started now, I could do a few each day and have them ready for December!

    My absolute favorite Christmas picture book is The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski, although I can never get through reading it without tearing up a little bit. I will definitely check out Christmas with Anne – my 11-year-old will love it I’m sure!

  14. Dana says:

    I highly recommend The Autobiography of Santa Claus, by Jeff Guin. It is a chapter book and better for ages 2nd grade and up. It begins with the historical Saint Nicholas in Turkey and goes throughout history up to modern times. Along the way you meet many historical characters who help Santa in different ways. It would be a great read for homeschoolers to use as history and geography as well. There are two other books in the series, How Mrs. Claus Saved Christmas ( about the Puritans trying to stamp out Christmas) and The Great Santa Caper ( I think that is the correct title). They are Ok, but the first one is my favorite!

    The Story of Holly and Ivy is one of my favorites as well. It is a longish picture book, but a beautiful story. My 2nd graders always loved it when I was teaching.

    Fat Santa is great one for all ages. A short, funny picture book.

  15. Lee Ann Roberts says:

    Another vote for The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey!

    Along with several of the ones mentioned, my kids also enjoyed Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas by Russell Hoban and The 24 Days Before Christmas by Madeleine L’Engle.

  16. kim s. says:

    I love too many Christmas books…I need a 12 step program to contain the madness!
    Some immediate favorites that come to mind:
    A Little House Christmas Treasury
    A Donkey’s Dream
    Christmas in Noisy Village
    The Christmas Roses (?)
    The Christmas Wish (new last year, beautiful picture book)

  17. Jennifer H says:

    I did this one year and we loved it, but it took forever wrapping all those books, and so I decided it wasn’t worth it for me. We still read a Christmas book every night and we have a magnet nativity advent calendar that Samuel loves. I like the idea of having traditions, but I don’t like the reality of keeping up with them, plus I love the flexibility of trying something new.

    • Anne says:

      I forget from year to year just how long it does take to wrap the books! That’s definitely time to watch a good Christmas movie. 🙂

      I keep thinking I’ll just toss all the books into a big basket, but I haven’t done it yet. When serious wrapping fatigue sets in that’s the strategy I’m going with though. 🙂

    • Sarah Ronk says:

      I’ve been collecting books for a few years, but last year was the first year I wrapped up 25, and 2 of my sisters and a BIL actually helped me wrap them! I think it officially spoiled me! I’m hoping to entice wrapping help again this year. It went SO FAST! Maybe I can make it an annual thing with a Christmas movie & and group wrapping night.

    • Amy says:

      I don’t think we will be doing the wrapped book this year either, because of the time factor. We can only do so many every-day Advent things anyway, and this year, I want to do a Jesse tree and read the devotions from Ann Voskamp’s new book.

      But we do have a carefully curated collection of Christmas picture books, which I’ll be getting out and putting in a basket beside the tree later this week. Some of my favorites are:
      – Cock-a-doodle Christmas, Will Hillenbrand
      – Humphrey’s First Christmas, Carol Heyer
      – Bear Stays Up for Christmas, Karma Wilson
      – Santa, Are You For Real? Harold Myra
      – The Pine Tree Parable, Liz Curtis Higgs
      – How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss
      – The Polar Express, Chris Van Allsburg
      – Song of the Stars, Sally Lloyd-Jones

  18. Laura says:

    I love this!

    Last year we read Cornelia Funke’s *When Santa Fell to Earth,* which was great fun.

    We also love Dream Snow by Eric Carle, The Night Before Christmas illustrated by Robert Sabuda, Redheaded Robbie’s Christmas Story by Bill Luttrell (which I can’t get through without tearing up), Little Tree by Chris Raschka, based on an e.e. cummings poem, Santa Calls by William Joyce (and set in our hometown!).

    I could go on an on!

  19. Sonja says:

    I have fond memories of Dad reading to us! Good picture books include Cranberry Christmas, by Wendy Devlin; How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Dr. Seuss); and I have to add my vote in favor of The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey!

  20. Love this idea! I’ve been reading to my kids every night during the Christmas season ever since they were babies ~ and they’re now 14 and 17! We all still enjoy it. My favorites are:

    A Little House Christmas: Holiday Stories from the Little House Books
    The Small One – by Alex Walsh, based on the animated classic
    The Snow Tree – by Caroline Repchuk – This is a beautiful, colored, textured book. My kids and I take turns voicing the animals as they speak.
    How The Grinch Stole Christmas – because of course!
    On Christmas Eve – by Margaret Wise Brown – We always do this one on the 24th. It’s a sweet, simple, old-fashioned book that I read almost in a whisper, so as not to interfere with the magic.

    And, of course, Twas the Night Before Christmas, and abridged versions of The Nutcracker and A Christmas Carol.

    Also, a different idea is “The Autobiography of Santa Claus”. It is 24 chapters long, to be read all December, and is about the real Nicholas being “granted” immortality to continue his work, and the helpers that join him along the way, like Attila the Hun, King Arthur and Ben Franklin. It’s surprisingly educational, if you just let yourself go along for the ride and ignore the obvious fictional elements! 🙂 It’s written by Jeff Guinn.

  21. Kim says:

    Our favorite Christmas picture book is You Are My Miracle by Maryann Cusimano Love. We have a basket full of Christmas books that we keep under the Christmas tree all season.

  22. We do this, too, and have the past two years. My kiddos are a little bit younger than yours, but I can’t wait to read them The Best Christmas Pageant Ever!

    I aim for mostly “true meaning of Christmas” books, although we love Snowmen at Night/Snowman at Christmas, The Jolly Postman, and It’s Christmas David. Here’s my list of Jesus-y Christmas books! http://www.jessieweaver.net/2012/11/25-jesus-centered-christmas-books-to-celebrate-advent/

  23. Faith R says:

    What a fantastic way to count down till Christmas!! At my house growing up my sisters and I would hang up a long piece of paper wrapping ribbon and my mom would help us staple peppermints to it for each day leading up to Christmas. Every night before bed we would each take a peppermint off of our count-downs. Sometimes we would put it in a mug of cocoa. As a kid, I LOVED this tradition.

  24. Anne says:

    I agree- this is a fabulous way to prepare! I’ve been doing it a couple of years now. Let’s nerd out together!! I love this stuff. The following posts were my first two posts on my blog, if that tells you anything:

    2012- http://anneoftheinternetandbeyond.blogspot.com/2013/02/an-advent-countdown-with-books.html

    2013- http://anneoftheinternetandbeyond.blogspot.com/2013/12/an-advent-countdown-with-books-2013.html

    2014- Gotta generate this!

    Can I say yay for Tomie dePaola? My love for him grew in large part due to the books I discovered for Advent and Christmas.

    Your post has me thinking about how things could change as the kids get older. 🙂 🙁

  25. Beth Anne says:

    Our favorite “new” christmas book is the Nutcracker illustrated by Allison Jay. It’s beautiful! Whimsical! So fun to look at over and over again.

    A favorite of mine growing up is Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry.

  26. Pamela says:

    These are our constant Christmas stories. Geared towards school age children, but picture books are timeless and ageless, if you are an adult, and haven’t read them yet, do it!!
    The last suggestion is a search book, The series is fantastic, but the Christmas one is simply wonderful.

    The Steadfast Tin Soldier by Hans Christian Andersen
    The Story of Holly and Ivy (tear jerker) Rumor Godden
    One Stormy Night by Anne Graham Bell (AMAZING illustrations)
    Can You See What I See Christmas ( we love to sit and do a page together)

    I have a houseful of teenagers now, and will be putting these out…here’s hoping they will pick them up!

  27. Michael Ann says:

    Have you read The Shepherd, the Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog by Dave Barry? Oh my goodness! Every time I try to read it out loud to my kids I end up doing that crazy chortle/guffaw/wheeze/can’t breathe thing because the story is SO funny! The kids get tickled at me, and that makes them laugh even harder than they already were! It’s good stuff!

  28. Eve says:

    I second Jotham’s Journey. Such a great story! There is also a Tabitha Travels which is suppose to be great. So glad that my kids (9 & 7) aren’t the only ones that still love picture books! Definitely checking out the Anne Christmas book!

  29. Rachael says:

    Our favorite Christmas story is A Small Miracle by Peter Collington. It’s such a beautiful story of an old lady who has very little and does what she can to help others and then through a small miracle her random act of kindness is paid back to her. I cry every time we read this. Beautiful story that reminds us what the season is truly about. It’s been out of print for several years and just started being reprinted. 🙂 Thank you for all the new suggestions.

  30. Allison S. says:

    One book I just discovered last year is The Christmas Mystery, by Jostein Gaarder. Such a treasure and delight- you read a short story every night until Christmas “with” this boy and his family, and go on this journey backwards in time, picking up characters along the way who were at the birth of Jesus. Would be great for those of you asking for books for older kids. It made me want to get the map out!

    We also LOVE a book titled, The Pajama Elves, by Hayden Edwards…it’s our new tradition. Going on three years this year, but now I gotta find a new place to hide the pajamas because my little ones are catching on!

    We also read a different book each night in December, but I’m with some others…I don’t wrap them, too much work and also I like to save the magic of unwrapping presents for Christmas Day itself. Does it get old, unwrapping so many books? Just curious…I guess it probably wouldn’t, but still…

  31. Meg says:

    This sounds perfect for our bookworm family! Merry Christmas Oliva & Olivia’s Christmas surprise were two of my daughter’s favorites last year. We also have The Cajun Nutcracker (a little strange, but a fun way to teach her about her Louisiana heritage).

  32. Adriana says:

    This has become one of my favorite Christmas traditions since you introduced the idea to me a few years ago, Anne.

    A few of our favorites: A New Coat for Anna by Harriet Zeifert. This is my personal favorite. Its a WWI story about a mother’s resourcefulness amid poverty. Moving and also delightful. We get to see all the steps for making a wool coat, starting with the sheep.

    Snow Globe Family by Jane O’Connor is enchanting. My five year old had to shake our snow globe to give the people inside a nice blizzard after reading this one.

    Also my kids LOVE Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry. I read this aloud to my daughter’s class last year.

    Love your suggestions. I’m adding Frog and Toad now. (Frog and Toad are Friends is one of the best books ever.)

  33. Aimee says:

    One of my favorites is “The children of noisy Village” by Astrid Lindgren. In it there is a chapter called Christmas in Noisy Village” and it’s simply delightful! I think one can buy the Christmas chapter separately, but I just love the whole book and so do my kids! Ages baby, 3 and 6. Also the Jolly Christmas postman. And I love the board books by Gerda Mueller, we bring out one for each season, so in winter we bring out Winter.

  34. Catherine says:

    Love the book countdown idea! My favourites for Christmas were always
    Father Christmas – Raymond Briggs
    Lucy and Tom’s Christmas – Shirley Hughes
    The Jolly Christmas Postman – Janet and Allan Alberg
    and
    This is the Star – Joyce Dunbar and Gary Blythe
    I still go back to them to get me feeling christ-massy 🙂

  35. Katie says:

    My kids are 16 & 13, and they still love getting Christmas books read to them. The 2 must-reads every year are The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and The Night Before Christmas.

  36. I keep meaning to comment on this post! We didn’t do the tradition of reading a different Advent/Christmas book every night during Advent, but my family does have a collection of Christmas books that come out with the decorations every year (and always go in the same place, right next to the cabinet holding the cd player/tuner/record player). Some of my favorites were various versions of The Nutcracker, The Little Match Girl (sad, but so good), Grandma’s Attic Christmas stories, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and a Little House Christmas Treasury (all the Christmas chapters from all the Little House books–probably my VERY favorite 🙂 ). Other winter/Christmas books I liked were Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates, and all the American Girl Christmas books. Actually, I would read the books according to the time of year– the “Happy Birthday” ones right around my birthday, the “Saves the Day” in the summer, the “Meet” in early fall, the “Learns a lesson” in later fall, and the “Changes” in late winter. I wish I still had all those with me, but they’re at my parents’ house still. 🙂

  37. Des says:

    My heart skips a beat talking about Christmas books to read. My children are 24 and 16 now and they want their own copies for their families someday. (It’s getting tricky with some of them out of print, now)
    Our favorites are the ones that leave a lump in your throat as your reading.

    I echo our love for The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski.

    Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck and Mark Buehner

    A Christmas Dress for Ellen by Thomas S Monson (We are all in tears by the end)
    Also by Thomas S Monson: The Christmas Train: A True Story

    We love Jan Brett’s Christmas Treasury: It has The Mitten and The Hat and all of her beautiful illustrations. It’s such a favorite. I just saw today that she has a new one out!

    Great ideas here, Thank you!!

  38. Rachel Jackson says:

    LOVE THIS!!! Can’t wait to do a literary advent with my kids someday! And love these gift ideas for books for my nieces & nephew! MMD did it again! Great post! Thanks! 🙂

  39. Amy says:

    Anne,
    You’ve inspired me to make my own list, and I’m publishing a blog about it for my readers, too! Thanks for the brilliant idea. We’ve never been successful at Advent calendars, either, but when there’s a pile of books to be read . .. um, yeah, we won’t forget about THAT. One of my very favorite titles (and series!) is The Church Mice at Christmas, by Graham Oakley.
    http://www.amazon.com/Church-Mice-at-Christmas/dp/184877799X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1417360939&sr=1-1&keywords=church+mice+christmas

    Thanks again for the inspiration! *hugs*

  40. I love this idea! I couldn’t get my husband on board for a books-only Advent, but we’re going to try a mix of gifts and books. I recently saw an illustrated version of “Stopping By Woods” at Barnes & Noble which I’m definitely picking up. And I love so many of the ideas here (Little House! Anne-girl!) I might have missed it as I was scrolling through, but Baby Lit has a version of A Christmas Carol, for those who need board books.

  41. Sara says:

    Santa Mouse by Michael Brown and Tale of the Three Trees by Angela Elwell Hunt. Both picture books. The first is obviously a Santa book. The second is a traditional folk tale with a Christian message.

  42. Julie Gravelin-Vari says:

    One of my very favorite books as a child (I now own a copy) is The Lion in the Box by Maurgerite De Angeli. A wonderful story with a great message about a poor family that is grateful for what they have but gets an amazing surprise at Christmas. I think I’ll reread it soon! I hope other people discover this lovely story.

  43. Debra G says:

    This is such a great idea! I have an Advent tree (kind of like a Jesse tree), but we read aloud every night anyway. We might as well make it Christmas books.

  44. Victoria says:

    I love this idea!!! When I was a teenager, my Mom worked really hard to shape our Christmas around the birth of Christ (she was saved when I was 11)…Advent became my favorite time of year! For several years, we read through Arnold Ytreeide’s books (Jotham’s Journey being the first). Even though they were aimed at younger audiences, we ALL enjoyed those books. My Mom had her work cut out for her as she tried to make advent special for two toddlers, my pre-teen brother, and myself. 🙂

    Speaking of Christmas reading, what are some Christmas themed books for adults?

  45. Jenny says:

    I have done this for since my oldest was a toddler, and he is now in in high school. It is one of our favorite traditions at Christmas. I collected Christmas books from used book stores through out the year until I have 25 books, one to open each day of Advent. My practical suggestion would be to wrap all of the Christmas books after Christmas is over, with left over wrapping paper, and pack them away with the Christmas decorations, ready to go for the next year. It doesn’t take that long, and my kids are now old enough to help me wrap them up. I’m so thankful when I open my Christmas boxes and see them ready to go!

    I would love to know some good Christmas books for adults to read! That has become a new Christmas tradition of mine. Any good Christmas books for adults?

  46. Karina says:

    I love reading what everyone’s favorites are for reading at Christmas. I love the idea of Advent reading as well and am definitely doing this, this year. Even when your children get older they still love to hear these stories read out loud to them. My youngest 4 are all boys and 11 – 16 years of age an yet I love how they love to listen…even when they pretend that they aren’t they always want to see the picture before the page is turned!
    Two of our Many favorites are:
    *The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree: An Appalachian Story by Gloria Houston. A Story set during WWI.
    *Christmas Tapestry by Patricia Polacco really any of her books are wonderful.
    Both of these make me choke up every single year!

  47. Carol Hinckley says:

    The best book I can recommend for kids of all ages is Mr Willoughby’s Christmas Tree. It’s one my library board member grandfather bought for me as a kid and my four kids have loved it just as much! I love this advent idea and my teens will as well I’m thinking/hoping! Happy thanksgiving!

  48. Joanna Richards Brauckmann says:

    My children are 5 and 2 and we love this tradition! My husband is German and I’m American so we each gathered titles from our childhood that we wanted to share with our kids and our collection keeps expanding. We try to read something in English and German each night and the German Pixie books (3″x3″, always 16 pages) make it manageable. We love Jan Brett stories and the 12 Days of Christmas pop up book by Saluda. It warms my heart to see my children pouring over the beautiful pictures and retelling the stories in their own words. Perhaps we can compare complete lists?

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