Religious Christmas Books for Children
Our family celebrates Christmas in its many manifestations, and we are Christians, so an important part of our Christmas tradition includes rejoicing in the Christmas story from the Bible. There are so many wonderful Christmas books available, too, to help tell and retell the story again and again. Our Book Basket is full of Christmas books as soon as Thanksgiving is over. These are a few of our favorites.
One Starry Night
By Lauren Thompson | Illustrated by Johnathan Bean
One Starry Night is my favorite discovery. It is a wonderful, barren, desert retelling of the Christmas story with words that are equally spare and velvety. Thompson presents a dialogue between the Holy Family and the animals who linger in the dark around the stable — mothers and babies of all kinds. It is an animals Christmas of a wild and desert-dwelling variety.
The illustrations by Jonathan Beam equally evoke the cold and barren as well as the warm and cozy with details that draw in even the youngest readers. The animals are careful, unusual choices which place the Holy Family in a distant land — not the common and familiar barnyard fare that so many artists choose.
I have given this book many, many times over the last few years. It is one of my all-time favorite Christmas books, and it speaks to the universality of love between parents and children. I have to say… the first few times I read it each year, my throat gets tight, my eyes tear, and I have to snuggle a little closer with Bambino.
My First Christmas — like most of dePaola’s My First books — bears sweet, simple illustrations and simple vocabulary for the season. But be ready to sing with My First Christmas Carols! This was one of Bambino’s favorite books, and he has been singing along with “Silent Night” and “Hark the Herald!” for many years in part because we love this book! Likewise, The Friendly Beasts is another traditional carol beautifully illustrated by Tomie dePaola. It is one of Bambino’s favorite lullabies any time of year, too. Richard Scarry’s Favorite Christmas Carols has a tinny battery-powered keyboard attached at the bottom. I can’t stand that sound, so I cut it off with a utility knife, and now it is one of our favorite carol books. Unlike My First Christmas Carols, this book includes simple arrangements of each Christmas carol, so you can play along.
Preschool & younger Elementary
Each of these three books takes a slightly different approach to telling the Christmas story, but all are good choices for the pre-school and younger elementary school set. Rufus and the Very Special Baby puts a sweet dog named Rufus at the scene of the manger with his friends in a loose adaptation of “The Friendly Beasts” — particularly good for those of you who don’t want to sing your bedtime stories. Agostino Traini’s pop-up book, The Birth of Jesus, is fabulous! The text is simple. The illustrations are rich. And the pop-up mechanisms are great for pre-school kids — no moving parts, but exciting nonetheless. And Mary Engelbreit’s Christmas pageant in A Great Night of Joy puts children in the role of storyteller with her precious illustrations and a Christmas pageant we would all love to witness. This book is particularly good if you are preparing your own child for an upcoming pageant — sweet with just a hint of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.
Emanuele Bertossi’s A Cold Night is another recasting of the Christmas story which brings us to questions of generosity and hospitality and kinship all with beautiful illustrations and simple text. The Story of Christmas is remarkable not for its text which is from the King James Bible and may need to be simplified for some children, but its illustrations are remarkable. Artist Pamela Dalton cuts paper in a German technique which will leave you astonished. When we read this to a younger Bambino, I used the pictures to tell the familiar story, and we spent hours pouring over the detailed illustrations. We love Daddy Christmas & Hanukkah Mama — a wonderful peek into the lives of our inter-faith friends and the traditions of Hanukkah which so many of our friends celebrate near Christmas time. Tomie dePaola’s Joy to the World is a collection of three Christmas books. The Night of Las Posadas and The Legend of the Poinsettia both share Christmas traditions from Mexico. The Story of the Three Wise Kings brings to life the story of Epiphany (and pairs well with The Legend of La Befana if you are interested in Italian Christmas traditions). Hallelujah! is simply but richly illustrated — another retelling but in an African context. And finally Humphrey’s First Christmas. This is not my favorite book to read, but Bambino loves it, so I promised to include it in my list.
There are so many Christmas books for kids, and these are just some of our favorites. I hope you’ll stop by your local library or make an author’s day and purchase one at your local bookstore! Books make Christmas all the merrier! I wish you and yours all the best this Christmas season!