Loved ones gathering around a roaring fire, Christmas lights twinkling on the tree, snow falling outside – a perfect time for a story to warm the heart like those dancing flames warm the toes. How to Christmas duly recommends a collection of family storybook treasures.
“The Polar Express” by Chris Van Allsburg (b. 1949)
A classic Christmas story, first published in 1985, is both the written and illustrated work of American Chris Van Allsburg. It was adapted into a tremendous 2004 motion-capture animated film starring Tom Hanks. The story is about a boy and his diminishing belief in Santa Claus. The Polar Express takes him on a journey of Christmas discovery – and belief is restored with the help of a special silver bell.
“The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame (1859-1932)
The Christmas section of Kenneth Grahame’s timeless classic is “Mole’s Christmas”. Mole and his friend Rat are tired trudging through the snow on Christmas Eve when they suddenly arrive at Mole’s old house. They clean and prepare the dusty Mole End for Christmas and prepare a feast of sardines, sausage and beer. Young field mice carollers are heard singing outside the front door and are invited to join them – making it a happy Christmas all round. This tale was made into an animated short in 1994, using the voice talents of Richard Briers and Peter Davison. It was exported to some 213 countries.
“Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” by Dr. Seuss (1904-1991)
Dr. Seuss wrote this book in rhymed verse and cleverly illustrated it, too. It was first published in 1957 and is a festive favourite to this day. The Grinch wants to prevent Christmas from arriving in the town of Whoville, whose cheerful inhabitants he finds nauseating. Just when the mean old Grinch thinks he has stolen every last vestige of the holiday season from them, he hears an echoing sound that makes him realise Christmas might not be purely about commercialism after all. The book was made into a classic TV animation narrated by Boris Karloff and a hit film starring Jim Carrey.
“The Christmas Tale of Peter Rabbit” by Emma Thompson (b. 1959)
Inspired by the original tales of Beatrix Potter, double Oscar winner Emma Thompson breathes fresh life into the mischievous bunny Peter Rabbit. His festive adventure involves a preening turkey named William, who is blissfully unaware of the purpose of turkeys at Christmastime. Therefore, William is ignorant to the fact his owners Mr. and Mrs. McGregor have big plans for him on Christmas Day. Oh dear. Peter and his cousin Benjamin determine to save him with a clever disguise. The illustrations by Eleanor Taylor are quite splendid. Obtain a hardback copy if you can. It can be treasured for generations. Incidentally, inspiration for the feathered character came from the real William, who lived with his partner Kate on Yew Tree Farm, Coniston. The property was once owned by Beatrix Potter and was used in the filming of the film “Miss Potter”.
“On Angel Wings” by Michael Morpurgo (b. 1943)
Splendid Michael Morpurgo, the former Children’s Laureate, has a wonderful selection of Christmas books from which to choose, including “The Best Christmas Present in the World” (more details on this page), “The Goose is Getting Fat” and our particular favourite “On Angel Wings”. The cover reads: “One starry night, a shepherd boy is taken on a secret, magical night-flight to witness a Christmas miracle…” That boy tells an extraordinary story of the night the infant Jesus was born. It’s an ideal Christmas Eve read for all the family. With illustrations by Quentin Blake, this makes a perfect addition to any library.
“The Little Match Girl” by Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875)
The title in Han Christian Andersen’s native Danish is “Den Lille Pige med Svovlstikkerne”, which means “The Little Girl with the Matchsticks”. It was first published in 1845. On a cold New Year’s Eve, a peasant girl is selling matches in the street but has to light some of them to warm her. In the light of the matches she sees visions of Christmas food and a festive tree. She eventually succumbs to the cold and her soul is carried to heaven by her grandmother. Andersen saw this as a happy ending because she was no longer suffering.
“Letters From Father Christmas” by J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973)
The treasured English writer of “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” wrote letters to his children from Father Christmas, complete with illustrations of characters such as the North Polar Bear and the pesky cubs Paksu and Valkotukka, over a period of 22 years from 1920. Tolkien’s eldest son was three that year. This book is the complete and joyous collection, with copies of the original handwritten text and drawings throughout. Tolkien’s 1939 letter makes reference to World War II and it has been suggested the goblins mentioned by Father Christmas may, to the author’s mind, be German soldiers. In 1938, Tolkien wrote: “The GOBLINS…they’re moving south, and getting bold, and coming back to many lands…But do not fear! They’ll hide away, when I appear.”
“The Fox at the Manger” by P.L. Travers (1899-1996)
P.L. Travers, the renowned author of Mary Poppins, created this most curious telling of the nativity story from the perspective of a fox. It was first published in 1963. World War II is over and the Christmas peal is once again ringing at St. Paul’s Cathedral. A woman with three small boys leaves the Christmas Eve service and is asked by one child: “Why weren’t there any wild animals at the crib?” The woman relates to them the fox’s story and a gift to the newborn infant that only this animal can give.
“The Snowman” by Raymond Briggs (b. 1934)
This wonderful wordless picture book, first published in 1978, was turned into a much-loved animation four years later. The book does not include the Christmas elements shown in the film. There is no Christmas tree in the boy’s living room and there is no visit to Father Christmas. But it is, nonetheless, perfect for the festive season. English illustrator Briggs won the 1966 and 1973 Kate Greenaway Medal from the British Library Association, recognising the year’s best children’s book illustrations. He was highly commended runner-up for “The Snowman”, which he illustrated using only pencil crayons.
“The Life And Adventures Of Santa Claus” by L. Frank Baum (1856-1919)
Frank Baum’s ideas of how Santa Claus came to be are captured in this 1902 book in which a lioness named Shiegra and a wood nymph called Necile raise the future gift-bringer in a magical forest, where he was found as a baby by the Master Woodsman of the World. As an adult, Santa moves to the Laughing Valley of Hohaho with his cat Blinky. He becomes known for his kindness to children and makes the first toy. The rest, as they say, is history – but maybe not quite as we all imagined it. For example, Glossie and Flossie are the deer that pull his sleigh full of toys and he has to fend off evil in the shape of the Awgwas. L. Frank Baum is best known for writing “The Wizard of Oz”, published in 1900.
“The Fir Tree” by Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875)
This story from Danish fairytale king Hans Christian Andersen was first published on December 21st 1844 and tells the tale of a fir tree so determined to grow up that he fails to live for the moment. And with thinking like that, is it surprising life can go by in a flash? This was the first of Andersen’s fairytales to tackle something other than a ‘happy ever after’. He reportedly read his story – along with “The Ugly Duckling” – to the Princess of Prussia close to Christmas 1845. According to the Dane’s diary, Wilhelm Grimm (the younger of the Brothers Grimm) was there and enjoyed the story.
“Flight of the Reindeer” by Robert Sullivan
Santa Claus, his reindeer, his elves and his North Pole home are fact not fiction – and American author Robert Sullivan presents the ‘proof’ in his book “Flight of the Reindeer”. Sullivan provides documentation from zoologists, Arctic explorers and historians to support his argument. He reveals how Santa returns to the North Pole 1,756 times on Christmas Eve and that he averages 75 million miles over the course of 31 hours. Glenn Wolff’s detailed illustrations add brilliant weight to Sullivan’s splendidly uplifting research. The inside cover reads: “On one special evening each year a jolly old elf (with a taste for red suits) and eight tiny reindeer (plus one with a red nose) fly all night long to deliver gifts around the world. The fact is, solid evidence abounds…that this is not a legend at all, and that the children have been right all along…Robert Sullivan has gathered a wealth of evidence, including photos, illustrations and eyewitness accounts, both old and new, to present the wondrous story of The Christmas Mission.” The result is a Christmas classic for children and adults alike. This book was the inspiration for the 2000 CBS TV movie of the same name that starred Richard Thomas and Beau Bridges.
“The Box of Delights” by John Masefield (1878-1967)
Kay Harker is returning home for Christmas from boarding school when he becomes embroiled in a battle for a magical box, the owner of which can travel in time, shrink in size and fly. Young Kay is given the task of protecting the box from those who wish to use it for ill. This fantasy novel was first published in 1935 and is a follow up to “The Midnight Folk”. John Masefield was the Poet Laureate from 1930 until his death. His book was adapted for radio and television. The 1984 BBC television series won three BAFTA awards.
“The Bear Who Slept Through Christmas” by John Barrett
While other bears are hibernating, Ted E. Bear is as curious as ever and decides discovering Christmas is preferable to sleep. He believes Christmas is a place of enchanting music and gifts – but he finds it is not a town or city, but a feeling full of love and generosity. This charming book was first published in 1980 and, contrary to the norm, was an animation before a book. It was a 1973 American television cartoon.
“The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)
This 1950 book was the first of seven novels published between 1950 and 1956 in the Chronicles of Narnia series – and the most renowned. The White Witch has plunged Narnia into deep winter. Four evacuees, the Pevensie siblings, step through a wardrobe into this fantasy world and help the rightful king, a lion named Aslan, regain his throne and restore his land from the cold. Father Christmas plays a pivotal role in presenting gifts to the children and their beaver companions, gifts that ultimately ensure triumph.
“The Hundred and One Dalmations” by Dodie Smith (1896-1990)
A classic story in which Pongo and Missis, a pair of Dalmation dogs belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Dearly, hatch a plan to rescue puppies stolen or purchased by the wicked Cruella de Vil. They hope to escape by Christmas Eve with all the pups, including fifteen of their own offspring. De Vil intends to kill them all for their fur – but she hasn’t bargained for the Twilight Barking and incredible parent power. Published in 1956, it was turned into a successful Disney animated film and later a live action movie.
“Miracle on 34th Street” by Valentine Davies (1905-1961)
Valentine Davies won an Academy Award for best story for the film “Miracle on 34th Street” and later wrote a best-selling novella based on that successful script. The book was released in 1947 in conjunction with the movie. Does Santa Claus really exist? Kris Kringle answers with a resounding “yes” – but he needs help in a court hearing and an about-turn from a mother and daughter to prove it.
“The Tailor of Gloucester” by Beatrix Potter (1866-1943)
Written and illustrated by legendary children’s author Beatrix Potter, “The Tailor of Gloucester” tells the story of a tailor whose work on a waistcoat for the mayor’s Christmas Day wedding is completed by mice when he falls ill. This is their thank you for rescuing them from his cat. Potter finished this story at Christmas 1901 and it was presented as a gift to the daughter of her former governess. It was printed privately by the author in 1902 and published the following year.
“A Boy Called Christmas” by Matt Haig
The cover of this timeless story reads: “You are about to read the true story of FATHER CHRISTMAS…” Nikolas is the person in question: a young boy with a turnip for a doll and a good heart who becomes a friend to elves and spreads his magic across the world. The journey is often perilous. He has to contend with an absent father, a cruel aunt and a pixie that likes to make heads explode. For some time, Nikolas has only a mouse for company. Along the way, we learn “impossible” is an old elf swearword. Nikolas, both young and old, illustrates why with a wealth of positivity and a new world full of magical “possibles”. Folklore, fun and adventure combine to deliver a new Christmas classic. If you like this book, you will surely want to read Haig’s festive follow ups: “The Girl Who Saved Christmas” and “Father Christmas and Me”.
“The Donkey in the Living Room” by Sarah Raymond Cunningham
This charming picture book, with illustrations by Michael Foster, is intended to inform children of the true meaning of Christmas through individual stories from a collection of characters who were present at the birth of Jesus. There are nine tales in all from a donkey, a cow, a sheep, a shepherd, an angel, a camel, the wise men, Joseph and baby Jesus – intended to be read one story at a time in the nine days before Christmas.
“Eloise at Christmastime” by Kay Thompson (1909-1998)
Eloise is a six-year-old girl who lives on the top floor of the Plaza Hotel in New York City with her nanny, her dog and her turtle. She loves the festive season so much she scrawls ‘Merry Christmas’ on the walls of the Plaza, believing she’s spreading holiday cheer. Eloise has not bought into the notion that Santa Claus only gives presents to good children. The Eloise children’s books were written in the 1950’s (this one in 1958). Eloise’s cheeky, charming rhyme of a narration has stood the test of time. Kay Thompson’s goddaughter Liza Minnelli is cited as an inspiration for the title character.
“Mog’s Christmas” by Judith Kerr (b. 1923)
A delightful book for the very young – with artwork to charm those considerably older. From Judith Kerr, the writer and illustrator who brought us “The Tiger Who Came to Tea”, we get festively acquainted with the adorable cat Mog. The words are simple and few, the pictures quite the opposite. They are exquisite and bring the book to life. Strange things are happening at Mog’s house and her only way of dealing with all the commotion is to flee to the roof. Mog can’t work out that Christmas is the cause of the fuss. Then she does a fine impression of Father Christmas and all is well. There was another Christmas book featuring Mog for 2015, sold exclusively in supermarket Sainsbury’s. Author Kerr wrote and illustrated the first new Mog book since 2002 to accompany a Sainsbury’s advertising campaign featuring the calamitous cat. Proceeds from the book went to Save the Children’s move to improve child literacy.
“Christmas” by Dick Bruna (1927-2017)
Dutch born Dick Bruna was the creator of the white rabbit known as Miffy and wrote and illustrated more than 120 books, which have sold more than 85 million copies in 50 languages. His Christmas offering is a simple re-telling of the Nativity story, depicted in his inimitable style. The simple white hard cover adorned by a golden angel is the special edition version of a book that can be understood and enjoyed by children – but also treasured perhaps by adults.
“Forever” by Emma Dodd (b. 1969)
Fabulous illustrations and a simple and yet remarkably touching story of a parent’s lifetime of love for a child makes this a charming book for young and old alike. The message is universal. Paperback and hardback versions of the book are available.
“The Best Christmas Present in the World” by Michael Morpurgo (b. 1943)
Michael Morpurgo, the former Children’s Laureate and acclaimed author of “War Horse”, delivers another touching story with war at the heart of the tale. A letter found by chance in an antique desk brings a soldier’s experience of 1914 in the trenches to the present day with moving consequences. A children’s book primarily, this is worthy of anyone’s festive collection.
“The Nights Before Christmas” by Tony Ross (b. 1938)
Acclaimed illustrator Tony Ross, renowned for the artwork in the Horrid Henry series, breathes life into a marvellous hardback collection of 24 Christmas stories, songs and poems – one for each day of December in the build up to Christmas Day. The book includes Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Fir Tree”, an extract from “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, the famous poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” and the carol “Good King Wenceslas”. The Sunday Times described it as a “superbly chosen anthology for six to adult”. We heartily agree.
“Winnie-the-Pooh Christmas Stories” – Illustrator Andrew Grey
Winnie-the-Pooh and friends will warm the hearts of children, whatever the adventures, whatever the time of year. But this festive collection in hardback, with splendid illustrations by Andrew Grey, is particularly charming – from building a house in the snow to the arrival of mysterious Christmas letters.
“The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey” by Susan Wojciechowski
This 32-page children’s book, beautifully illustrated by PJ Lynch, was published in 1995. It is the story of a woodcarver who creates Nativity figures for a widow and her son, helping him deal with the grief of losing his wife and child. The book was adapted into a 2007 British film starring Tom Berenger and Joely Richardson. American author Susan Wojciechowski worked as a children’s librarian and said every December she would read aloud the same two or three Christmas stories. “I tried to find another one I wanted to read and couldn’t, so I wrote The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey. It just came through me in a flood of inspiration and was finished in less than an hour.” The book sold out its first printing long before Christmas Day. Winner of the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal, this book was reviewed thus by the New York Times: “The tale is unfolded with such mastery, humour and emotional force that we are entirely in its power.”
“Stick Man” by Julia Donaldson (b. 1948)
Having encountered a playful dog hoping for a game of fetch, Stick Man finds himself in a runaway adventure that takes him far from home. He has to show determination and courage to return to his family in time for Christmas, but has the help of a surprising ally. This is another of the joyous children’s books from Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, creators of “The Gruffalo”. “Stick Man” was first published in 2008 and later turned into a BBC TV Christmas animation.
“The Velveteen Rabbit or How Toys Become Real” by Margery Williams (1881-1944)
“When a child loves you…REALLY loves you, then you become Real.” If you don’t already have knowledge of this timeless children’s classic, that sentence alone will give you immediate insight. The velveteen rabbit is wedged in the top of a boy’s stocking on Christmas morning. The gift is an instant success, then forgotten, then rediscovered and eventually loved – even when it becomes a tad shabby. But will the rabbit ever be real to the boy? Will the rabbit ever be real at all? The red and silver covered hardback copy of the book, with illustrations by Sarah Massini, is a Christmas joy. William Nicholson was the original illustrator when the book was first published in 1922.
“Father Christmas’s Fake Beard” by Terry Pratchett (1948-2015)
Delve into the funny world of Terry Pratchett and you will see Christmas in a whole new light. There are ten stories to enjoy in this book. For starters, how about a huge exploding mince pie, a pet abominable snowman and a very helpful partridge in a pear tree? Follow that with Father Christmas working at a zoo and maybe even getting arrested for burglary.
“Noel Streatfeild’s Christmas Stories” by Noel Streatfeild (1895-1986)
Noel Streatfeild’s nine festive stories, originally written for annuals and magazines in the forties and fifties, are brought together for the first time in this splendidly charming 2018 collection. Sussex-born Streatfeild wrote more than eighty books, including perhaps the most famous: the 1936 story “Ballet Shoes”. She was awarded an OBE in 1983. Fittingly, Streatfeild was born on Christmas Eve 1895 and was given the name Mary Noel.
Let’s Get Kids Reading
Reading storybooks opens a child’s imagination in a precious way. It introduces them to new worlds; to feats of heroism to admire; to despicable behaviour to avoid and to characters that might just become true and trusted friends.
In this age of hand-held gadgets and seemingly endless new technology, we at How to Christmas very much back the book. But as a website we rely on that technology to get our message across, so clearly support this medium as well.
We have our own original stories for children on this very site – and the hope is they will be available in book form one day. However, for now we have them in easily readable, easily printable formats.
Our message is that it doesn’t matter how children view storybooks, be it old or new formats, as long as they read, learn and open their minds. It’s a gift for life.
We hope you and your loved ones enjoy discovering the antics of Rufus the Barking Reindeer, Clueless Lukas, Ed Elf and Snowy Hare, as well as delving into Santa’s letter bag. Just visit Our Original Stories under Books & Poetry.
Promoting child literacy is also a major part of the wonderful work done by the Wood Street Mission charity in Manchester. View its work at woodstreetmission.org.uk. Why not support its book drive – or a similar project in an area near you. Let’s spread the word in more ways than one and get our kids reading.
Sign up on the Book People website and you can receive huge discounts on all kinds of books, including some amazing children’s collections that are perfect for your own family and to donate to charity. You can buy a set of 10 Christmas books for children for just £11.99 – when the original retail price is nearer £60. There’s free delivery for all orders over £25. Check out bookpeople.co.uk.