By Maureen Lee Lenker
October 27, 2020 at 09:00 AM EDT
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Credit: NBC/The Tonight Show; Feiwel & Friends

Anyone who's watched Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show or Late Night will know he loves Christmas with the same infectious enthusiasm as a small child.

From creative holiday songs to his beloved tradition of  "12 Days of Christmas Sweaters," he never misses a chance to make his show as festive as possible during the month of December.

"I'm obsessed with the holiday," Fallon tells EW. "I love the music. I love the Lifetime movies. I love the Hallmark movies. That's the perfect holiday for me. It's the spirit. It's giving. It's all that stuff. I love the coziness of it. I love the sweaters. I love hot cocoa. I love anything that's associated with it."

Now, he's extended that jolly approach to life to his career as a children's book author with 5 More Sleeps 'Til Christmas.

The book, which hit shelves Tuesday, is Fallon's fourth children's book and his most ambitious effort yet after books like Your Baby's First Word Will Be Dada and Everything Is Mama. "[They're] probably 15 words, more of a text message than a full book," he jokes of his previous efforts. "This is the longest book I've ever written. This is my War and Peace. This is my Goldfinch. This is probably 12 times the amount of words than my other books."

Fallon initially intended his first book, Your Baby's First Word Will Be Dada, to be a fun one-off. But his experiences seeing kids interact with the book gave him a hunger to keep writing. "The reaction that I got, like the videos of kids reading back to their parents and the parents reading with their kids, you get kind of a buzz," he shares. "I got the buzz and I go, 'I'm gonna do another one.' It's just a great feeling. I like going to the bookstores and seeing the kids' faces and making noises and changing characters."

With 5 More Sleeps 'Til Christmas, it was a chance for Fallon to celebrate his favorite, most magical time of the year. "I love Christmas, and I always wanted to do something holiday-themed," he says. "I always have since I was a kid. I used to freak out for Christmas. [I told my mom] I saw Santa Claus, I looked out the window, and I saw a sleigh in the sky. I don't know what I saw. Or if I made it up. I was so excited. So, I wanted to write a book about kids being excited for Christmas."

The book follows a young boy and his sister in the week leading up to Christmas, eagerly counting down the days and engaging in all types of holiday activities from listening to Christmas music to decorating the tree to putting out milk and cookies for Santa.

The concept initially came to Fallon with an innocent question asked by one of his daughters. "My 7-year-old, a couple years ago, she was like, 'How many more sleeps 'til Christmas?''' he recounts. "I never said that in my life. I've never heard of 'How many more sleeps?' I always said, 'How many more days 'til Christmas?' It's so boring. 'Sleeps' is so cute and dreamy and magical."

As for why he chose five days instead of a more traditional 24 or 12? Simplicity and efficiency. "I've done so many bits where I had to sing '12 Days of Christmas.' It's too long for me," he quips. "Five is perfect because it's a workweek. The book is long enough so that you can actually read the book and it counts as a book. But then it's short enough where you can read it pretty fast and then the kids go to sleep."

Fallon collaborated with illustrator Rich Deas to bring his holiday tale to life, drawing from his own life to suggest the world of the vividly illustrated text. "What do you think about when you're when you're thinking about the holidays?" he muses, explaining his process for deciding on what to flesh out in the imagery. "Candy canes. I was never really into popcorn tins for Christmas, but I think they're great now. Can we put the record player? Or the cookies and milk for Santa?"

They also drew from Fallon's own life and holiday memories, including a younger sister for the main character (though Fallon has an older sister) and snowy days with hot cocoa. "We would go sledding on nothing in our backyard," he laughs. "We had to make a hill out of snow. My grandfather got a rope and he would pull us around. Then, my grandma would make hot cocoa."

Perhaps the most obvious nod to the music-loving Fallon is the fact that his diminutive hero has a guitar waiting for him under the tree. "I'll never forget when I got my guitar," he enthuses. "It was the best. It was a Phantom — that's a brand name that no one's ever heard of, but I loved it. It was an electric guitar, red and white. I'll never forget it; it changed my life."

Other Christmas goodies, namely the visions of toys dancing in the little boy's head, were harder to nail down. "You can't go too old school with these toys," he explains. "Because technology changes every year and kids don't like the same thing. I always wanted a guitar; everyone wants a remote control something. A bike is a classic. My kids love building stuff like Lego things. I tried to throw all those in there as well so everyone can relate, adults and kids."

Some of Fallon's favorite toys will also be on display as part of an installation at iconic New York City toy store FAO Schwarz (and for every copy of the book sold there, they will be donating a toy to St. Jude Children’s Hospital). "FAO Schwarz is the mecca of Christmas and the holidays," he gushes. "I walk around even without my kids. I go by myself. You get so excited. It's that childlike mentality."

Through reflecting on favorite gifts and toys of old, Fallon says his dearest wish is that the book will be an opportunity for families to share their best holiday memories with their children. "When you read to a kid, it's not just the words. It's stories that you tell," he reflects. "You share your memories and get your kids excited about the holiday too. This is a book like any other book, but the detail you use makes you think back to your memories. You can tell your kid, 'This is the way I had it in our house. It never snowed, except for one year.' It sparks your stories."

The book will also spark stories for kids in need this holiday season, as Fallon and his publisher Macmillan are partnering with nonprofit First Book for the Give a Million campaign, with a goal of giving 1 million books to children in low-income communities across the world.

For all who dive into the festive tale, it also comes with a surprise twist in its final pages — a reminder that much of the joy of Christmastime is the anticipation."It's such a magical, fun time as a kid," he concludes. "It's the most special day of the whole year. Half the fun of Christmas is waiting for Christmas. You don't realize that until you're an adult."

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