The holidays are a perfect time to silence the smartphones, turn off the TV, and gather around the table for a story.
Whether you’re reading aloud to toddlers or together with pre-teens, we’ve got you covered for Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Christmas. From cherished classics to outstanding originals, here are 12 of the best holiday books for children.
Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree
By Robert Barry (1963)
When Mr. Willowby’s Christmas tree arrives by special delivery, it’s “full and fresh and glistening green, the biggest tree he’d ever seen” — and, as it turns out, it’s too big for his parlor. His butler, Baxter, lops off the top and serves it on a silver platter to the maid, Miss Adelaide. She, too, has to trim the top off her tree, which winds up with the gardener, whose wife cuts off the top, which is found by a bear, and so on until the owl, rabbit, fox, and mouse families each have their own grand tree “exactly like Mr. Willowby.”
Sammy Spider’s First Hanukkah
By Sylvia Rouss and Katherine Kahn (1993)
This colorful story teaches young children as much about colors and numbers as it does about Hanukkah candles and dreidels. Sammy the Spider longs for a dreidel of his own, but his mother repeatedly reminds him, “Spiders don’t spin dreidels, spiders spin webs!” Luckily for Sammy, his mother is spinning him a Hanukkah surprise of his own.
The Night Before Christmas
By Clement Moore and Jan Brett (1998)
Clement Moore’s 1823 poem and Jan Brett’s rich and detailed artwork are a perfect match. In Brett’s version of the classic Christmas story, two elves stow away in Saint Nicholas’ sleigh, and while Santa works, the elves ride the reindeer and play. Each lavishly drawn page includes gorgeous illuminations featuring animals, ornaments, toys, and other holiday treasures.
The Legend of the Poinsettia
By Tomie dePaola (1975)
In Tomie dePaola’s telling of the Mexican legend of la flor de Nochebuena, Lucinda is helping her mother weave a rainbow blanket for the Baby Jesus figure in their village’s Christmas procession. After her mother falls ill before the blanket is finished, Lucinda worries she won’t have a proper gift to leave at the manger. But she learns that “any gift is beautiful because it is given” when her humble offering blooms with the “flaming red star” of Nochebuena.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
By Dr. Seuss (1956)
It’s been 60 years since Dr. Seuss’s grouchy villain first climbed Mt. Crumpit to dump the presents and wrappings and trimmings and trappings he stole from the Whos down in Who-ville — only to famously change his tune. An animated special, a Broadway musical, and a live-action movie adaptation later, The Grinch continues to help readers’ hearts grow three sizes with its simple message: “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!”
Oskar and the Eight Blessings
By Richard Simon, Tanya Simon, and Mark Siegel (2015)
The winner of the National Jewish Book Award for Children’s Literature, Oskar and the Eight Blessings follows a young boy whose parents ship him to America after Kristallnacht. Oskar arrives in New York on the eighth day of Hanukkah with nothing but a photo of his aunt and her address, and some advice from his father: “Even in bad times, people can be good. You have to look for the blessings.” As he journeys across the city to find his aunt, Oskar finds those blessings through the kindness of strangers, including Eleanor Roosevelt and Count Basie. Mark Siegel’s paneled illustrations lend this gentle and moving tale a velvety glow, befitting a story that promises hope and miracles, even in the darkest of times.
A Christmas Wish
By Lori Evert and Per Breiehagen (2013)
Little Anja in 18th-century Norway wishes to be one of Santa’s elves, so she sets off on a snowy journey in which she’s aided by a bird, a horse, an ox, a polar bear, and more animals. Created by husband-and-wife team Lori Evert and Per Breiehagen, the book features whimsical photographs of their 4-year-old daughter. The result is a Christmas fairytale, come to life.
The Polar Express
By Chris Van Allsburg (1985)
This Caldecott Medal-winning tale follows a boy who boards a mysterious train headed to the North Pole where he meets Santa Claus and is given a small but magical present. The book’s nostalgic story and dreamy illustrations call on adults and children alike to “truly believe.”
Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins
By Eric Kimmel and Trina Schart Hyman (1989)
In this Caldecott Honor Book, Hershel of Ostropol must rid the village’s synagogue of frightful, mischievous goblins in time to save Hanukkah. He dispatches each find with cunning comedy, but can he convince the king of the goblins to light the Hanukkah candles himself? Kimmel’s clever story paired with Hyman’s spooky illustrations make for a holiday book that’s equal parts haunting and humorous.
Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story
By Angela Shelf Medearis and Daniel Minter (2000)
After their father dies, seven quarrelsome brothers in an African village must come together to turn seven spools of thread into gold by sundown or be stripped of their inheritance. Accompanied by Daniel Minter’s stunning linoleum block illustrations, Angela Shelf Medearis’ original folktale not only embodies Nguzo Saba — the seven principles of Kwanzaa, including unity, creativity, and collective work and responsibility — but also imagines an origin story for Ghana’s traditional Kente cloth.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
By Barbara Robinson (1971)
The six Herdman siblings are the roughest, rowdiest, most rambunctious kids in town, and everyone is scandalized when they land all the lead roles in the church Christmas pageant. Whoever heard of a Mary who smokes cigars or Wise Men who steal? But the “worst kids in the history of the world” end up teaching the town about the true meaning of Christmas — and learning a thing or two themselves — in Barbara Robinson’s laugh-out-loud classic.
A Christmas Carol
By Charles Dickens (1843)
Perhaps only the Ghost of Christmas Future could have told Charles Dickens that his 1843 novella would go on to receive more than 100 different film, television, radio, theater, graphic novel, and opera adaptations. The tale of miserly Ebenezer Scrooge’s change of heart continues to banish the “bah humbug” of the year and invite the “charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence” of the holidays.
Did we leave out your favorite holiday story? Share it in the comments below.