One of my favorite childhood traditions in decorating for Christmas each year was when, amid resurrecting all the boxes of holiday cheer out of the scary basement, the box of Christmas books made its way into the living room. Mom would stand them up in a line against the back of a sofa like a long bookshelf on the floor, along with several folded quilts. We would spend hours back there in our little Christmas reading nook over the following weeks, immersing ourselves in our favorite seasonal tales with the fresh scent of Fraser fir from the nearby Christmas tree tingling in our noses.
Below are five of my favorites, to which I still enjoy an occasional holiday revisit. I think the little elves in your family may enjoy them too!
The Magic Christmas Tree, by Lee Kingman
This was my mother’s favorite childhood Christmas book, and though it is now out of print, used copies can be obtained online. Its whimsical, old-world illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to the enchanting story of two little girls — one rich, one poor; one in a lonely, big mansion, the other overlooked in a crowded tenant farmhouse brimming with siblings — who discover a little fir tree in the woods that “is just as tall as me!” As each child plays separately at the tree, they leave their toys, leading the other to believe the tree is magic.
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, by Susan Wojciechowski
When a young widow and her son move to a small village just before Christmas, they seek out the renowned woodcarver Jonathan Toomey to recreate their treasured nativity set that was lost in the move. The hardened, gruff woodworker makes no promises, but through his daily efforts at carving each piece with the little boy watching and his mother by the fire, the unsmiling recluse experiences a joyful miracle.
Santa Calls, by William Joyce
Written and illustrated by family friend Bill Joyce, Santa Calls has always been a dear favorite for me and my sisters from well before we could read to today. The clever Art Aimesworth; his sister, Esther; and best friend, Spaulding, are personally invited to the North Pole. The trio enjoys a tour accompanied by entertaining from the very best of hosts. But before they can find out why Santa called for them, Esther is seized by the Queen of the Dark Elves. Art must use all his cunning to attempt her rescue.
The Cajun Night Before Christmas, by “Trosclair” (Author), Howard Jacobs (Editor)
Based on Clement Moore’s classic poem, which should also be on every child’s Christmas bookshelf, this clever reinvention introduces children to the bayous of Louisiana and Cajun culture. Jolly old St. Nicholas is dressed in muskrat from his head to his toe and rides in a skiff pulled by eight flying alligators. Written in Cajun dialect, this rendition of America’s favorite Christmas poem is uniquely Southern:
De Mama in de fireplace done roas’ up de ham,
Sit up de gumbo an’ make de bake yam.
Den out on de by-you dey got such a clatter,
Make soun’ like old Boudreau done fall off his ladder.
The Magic Toy Shop, by Peter S. Seymour
This incredible pop-up book with its beautiful illustrations is a magical experience in and of itself. I remember being entranced with the twirling, smiling ballerina who is purchased and taken away from the shop on Christmas Eve, much to the dismay of the toy soldier who is in love with her. It takes the diverse skills of all the other toys to devise a way to reunite them.