Imaginative Christmas books and stories about Christmas traditions help make the season magical, and I’m all in favor of books like The Polar Express and Snowmen at Christmas and Bear Stays Up for Christmas.
But I also want children to understand the true event Christmas celebrates—the birth of our Savior, Jesus. And I know you want that for the children in your family and church as well.
Like Christmas traditions, the biblical nativity accounts also offer myriad themes and details for authors and artists to treat imaginatively. (Or, sometimes, with no imagination at all. The facts are all there, but there’s no heart, no joy, no wonder.)
But done right, children’s books about Jesus’ birth hold joy and wonder within their pages while they also build faith in young hearts.
My definition of “done right” includes text and illustrations that are careful with the details of the biblical accounts while still creating an enjoyable and engaging book for children. I like the wise men not to appear at the stable and the star not to be illuminating all of Bethlehem when Jesus is born.
I also am willing to bend my own rule … sometimes. Even in this list.
So here are my twelve books of Christmas—creative and charming books that communicate the truth of the Christmas story.
Christmas in the Manger, written by Nola Buck, illustrated by Felicia Bond, 1998, HarperCollins. Very simple rhyming text and illustrations introduce children to the animals and visitors to the stable where Jesus was born. My favorite is the last spread—“I am the baby asleep in the hay, and I am the reason for Christmas Day.”
One Night in Bethlehem, written by Jill Roman Lord, illustrated by Paige Keiser, 2011, Ideals. In this touch-and-feel book, a little child examines a nativity set and imagines what it would have been like to be at the first Christmas. Includes the wise men without actually putting them at the stable.
The Best Thing About Christmas, written by Christine Harder Tangvald, illustrated by Cheryl Nobens, 2014, Tyndale. First published in 1990 as a Happy Day Book from Standard Publishing, this new edition includes stickers, simple questions to discuss, a matching activity, a word search, craft instructions, and two coloring pages. Paperback. A perfect stocking stuffer or small gift. Jesus is the best thing about Christmas!
A Christmas Journey, written and illustrated by Susie Poole, 2014, B&H Kids. Appropriately begins in the garden of Eden, where God first began to reveal his plan to send his Son. Includes Zechariah and John the Baptist, Simeon, and King Herod (with the wise men visiting a house, not the stable), and the flight to Egypt.
The Birth of Jesus, written by Katherine Sully, illustrated by Simona Sanfilippo, 2013, Sandy Creek (an imprint of Barnes & Noble). Straightforward yet engaging and not-too-text-heavy telling of the Christmas events. The angels who speak to Mary and to the shepherds announce Jesus as the king of the Jews (which is accurate) but also concludes, “God sent us the baby Jesus to be Christ our Lord.”
Room for a Little One, written by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Jason Cockcroft, 2004, Simon & Schuster. An ox welcomes small animals to his stable one by one, and then they all welcome Mary and Joseph and the birth of one small child who “came for the world.”
Mortimer’s Christmas Manger, written by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman, 2005, Simon & Schuster. A little mouse decides a family’s nativity set will make the perfect house for him, until he realizes what story the figures tell—about a baby born to save the world.
Santa’s Favorite Story, written by Hisako Aoki, illustrated by Ivan Gantschev, 1982, Simon & Schuster. If Santa has any part of your family’s Christmas at all, this could be the Santa book you want. Forest animals who find Santa out on a walk in the woods are worried that if he gets too tired, there might not be a Christmas anymore.
“No, no, no,” he tells them. “Christmas hasn’t got anything to do with me. Sit down and I’ll tell you all the story of the first Christmas.” And he does. Unfortunately Santa’s version has the shepherds following the star to the stable. But when they found the baby, “the shepherds knew that this was the Son of God, and they knelt down and prayed.”
The Little Drummer Boy, illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats, 1968, Macmillan. Yes, an oldie, but I couldn’t resist. The text is lyrics by Katherine Davis, Henry Onorati, and Harry Simeone to a song first written by Davis in 1941 and known as “Carol of the Drum.” Anyone of my generation knows this song well, I promise. A young shepherd boy carrying a drum follows the wise men to see Jesus and plays his best as his gift to the baby king.
Little Star, written by Anthony DeStefano, illustrated by Mark Elliott, 2010, Waterbrook. Definitely the most fanciful of the books on this list. A small star, overlooked by all the others, is the only star to recognize that the tiny baby born in a Bethlehem stable is indeed a king—the king. The little star burns as brightly as he can to warm the baby’s stable, becoming the bright-shining Christmas star.
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, written by Susan Wojeiechowski, illustrated by P.J. Lynch, 1995, Candlewick. A gloomy, widowed woodcarver slowly opens up to love and life as he carves a nativity set for a young faith-filled boy and his mother.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, written by Barbara Robinson, 1972; 2005 edition HarperCollins. Six wayward kids turn a small church’s traditional Christmas Eve pageant upside down—and discover the truth in the Christmas story for themselves: “Hey! Unto you a child is BORN!”
So that’s my list. Many of these are available at local libraries as well as bookstores and online. I hope you’ll want to add a few of these wonderful books to a welcoming spot in your home as you celebrate the birth of Immanuel, God with us, this year!