Books Under the Tree

Every Thanksgiving I give my kids two Christmas books to add to our Christmas book collection. Previous years we’ve enjoyed Pick a Pine Tree by Patricia Toht, The Little Reindeer by Nicola Killen, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss, Santa’s Underwear by Marty Rhodes Figley, and (my personal favorite) When Santa was a Baby by Linda Bailey and Geneviève Godbout.

This year, starting in August, I checked out about 50 Christmas books from my library to start narrowing down and finding the perfect books. I guess when you no longer have a social life, you pick up new exciting hobbies like reading Christmas picture books by the dozen when it is still summer.

This year’s winners (drumroll please!) are…. How Winston Delivered Christmas: An Advent Story in Twenty-Four-and-a-Half Chapters by Alex T. Smith and Home for Christmas by Jan Brett.

I’m so excited about How Winston Delivered Christmas that I’ve recommended it to nearly every person with kids I’ve interacted with in the past three months. An advent book, each of the 24 1/2 sections include a short chapter of a story and a fun Christmas activity (writing a letter to Santa, random acts of kindness, making a snow globe, and more!) The illustrations are darling and I’m ecstatic to add this book to our list of Christmas traditions.

Home for Christmas is classic Jan Brett fare – breathtaking illustrations, a cheeky sense of humor, and hidden fun on each page. My naughty kids loved this story about a troll who runs away so that he doesn’t have to follow his household rules. He quickly realizes he misses his warm home and makes it home just in time for Christmas.

Some of the runner-ups include:

Santa Rex by Molly Idle : Stylistic and tongue-in-cheek, this is a fun book for your dino-loving kiddo. Idle has a bright and retro style that really appeals to me and my kids.

The Tree That’s Meant to Be by Yuval Zommer : We always root for the underdog in this house, so this book about a crooked little overlooked tree becoming the center of the forest Christmas celebration got us all a bit emotional. Published in 2019, it already feels like a classic.

The Great Santa Stakeout by Betsy Bird and Dan Santat : This is a fun book for older kids who want to SEE Santa. It may have given my 5-year-old a few too many ideas, but it was a super fun read!

Dasher: How a Brave Little Doe Change Christmas Forever and Red & Lulu by Matt Tavares : These books are gorgeous – beautiful illustrations and emotionally complex stories that stay with the reader long after they’re finished. I think these books will be contenders when my kids get a bit older.

Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Berry : This classic Christmas tale was new to me this year, and I absolutely loved it. The story is fun and engaging, and the illustrations are cheerful and charming. I still have it in my cart and may make 2020 the year that I buy 3 Christmas books (I’m really living on the edge.)

Christmas is Coming: An Advent Book by Katie Hickey : This is a wonderful advent book that just barely missed the cut. We loved the cute little advent calendar on the cover, and the activities are adorable.

Silent Night by Lara Hawthorne : Silent Night is my favorite Christmas carol, so the chance to sing it accompanied by elegant, thoughtful illustrations is a Christmas dream. Now I just have to get my kids to stop yelling “stop singing”.

Between Us and Abuela: A Family Story from the Border by Mitali Perkins and Illustrated by Sara Palacios : Christmas looks different to each family, but all families who celebrate Christmas want to share the day together. My kids and I loved this sweet family and their ingenuity when their Christmas didn’t go as planned. And as a bonus, the illustrations are adorable.

What are your family’s favorite Christmas picture books? You can find our list here.

New Classic Bedtime Stories

You can find this book list here.

When my oldest (Millie) was a toddler, we read Tickle My Ears by Jorg Muhle so often that there was a page that was permanently sticky from her goodnight kisses. Just like a toddler, it was a perfect combo of sweet and disgusting.

When she got a bit older, we got to read Good Night Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann Every. Single. Night. Millie has always been such an inconsistent sleeper that we gave into every whim she had at night. Oh, you want 42 stuffed animals in your bed? HERE THEY ARE! You need us to read Good Night Gorilla again? WHATEVER YOU SAY! You need another drink of water? HERE IS A WHOLE WATER BOTTLE TO KEEP IN YOUR BED AS LONG AS YOU DON’T GET OUT OF BED AGAIN!

Eventually we were able to move on and start reading a variety of picture books at night (but we still haven’t moved on from the inconsistent sleep.) And by that time her sister (Lena) was old enough to have opinions about books and we started over again with Tickle My Ears and added in Dinosaur’s Binkit by Sandra Boynton.

But we’re finally in a place with both kids that we read a happy combination of classics and new favorites during our bedtime routine. A handful of our new(ish) favorites for preschool and early elementary kids are below.

Everyone’s Awake written by Colin Meloy and Illustrated by Shawn Harris
Yes, that Colin Meloy! Somehow The Decemberist’s frontman wrote a picture book with references to a coup d’etat, a tattooing cat, Prince, and a ghost grandpa without feeling overly pretentious or losing its sense of fun. Harris’s illustrations are trippy and charming, and include a series of clever literary Easter eggs (I recommend examining the grandmother’s bookshelf.)

Big Mooncake for Little Star and A Big Bed for Little Snow by Grace Lin

Grace Lin’s pair of modern myth bedtime stories are brilliant. The simple, inventive stories are paired with sweet illustrations in Lin’s distinct style. These tales about the moon’s phases and snowy winter are perfect ways to share a little whimsy and fun with your kids before they drift off to sleep. I’m particularly smitten with Big Mooncake for Little Star‘s end papers. They’re filled with references to the night sky.

The Big Bed by Bunmi Laditan and Illustrated by Tom Knight

Ok, so you need to either check this book out or buy it right away if you haven’t read it. It is hilarious. Bunmi Laditan is the author of The Honest Toddler and Toddlers are A**holes, so she clearly has a sense of humor about parenting. But she also hits on a lot of the actual issues kids face when going to bed (being afraid of the dark, missing a parent, wetting the bed) in a way that makes them easy to talk about. I am very much in favor of judging books by their cover, and I just knew I’d love this book when I saw the cover illustrated by Tom Knight. It did not disappoint.

You Nest Here with Me by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple and Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

This is my family’s favorite bedtime book. Hands down. Dan and I love reading it aloud (and both hurry to grab it when our kids pick it out to read at bedtime.) The rhyme scheme flows smoothly and it is sentimental without being saccharine. It teaches you about the nesting habits of birds (did you know that Cowbirds leave their eggs to be cared for in another bird’s nest to care for them? I didn’t!) and features some really sweet and timeless illustrations. But more than anything, when I read this book to my kids I get to reemphasize how much I love them and that I’ll always be there for them. Even when we’re having a difficult bedtime, it slows things down and gives us a reason to cuddle.

You Are Stardust by Elin Kelsey and Illustrated by Soyeon Kim

Have I mentioned that Millie is not a great sleeper? We have spent years perfecting the bedtime routine. Some nights work out better than others, but a big factor in getting the kids to bed painlessly is creating a sense of calm. You Are Stardust is the perfect book for getting the kids to unwind and listen to their own bodies. I am obsessed with Soyeon Kim’s gorgeous diorama art and how perfectly it meshes with Elin Kelsey’s poetic descriptions of the connections between us and the natural world.

If Your Monster Won’t Go to Bed by Denise Vega and Illustrated by Zachariah Ohora

Ok, so sometimes your kids just need a good giggle before bed. Sometimes they need to imagine putting monster toys in your bed and blending bugs for a monster’s bedtime smoothie. Part of the bedtime routine is bonding, and nothing helps bonding better than a good laugh. Zachariah Ohora’s fun, modern illustrations paired with Denise Vega’s side-splitting instructions for putting a monster to bed was an instant favorite in our house.

Bedtime Math by Laura Overdeck and Illustrated by Jim Paillot

Both of my kids love the Bedtime Math series. We’ve read every story in each of the three books and have started over again. Luckily, these books grow with your kids and help sharpen their abilities. Each 2-page spread is dedicated to a different short, fact-filled story and then three or four math word problems — problems for “Wee Ones”, “Little Kids”, “Big Kids”, and sometimes a bonus question. The kids love reading the quirky stories, and I love that they’re so excited about math.

What are some of your family’s favorite bedtime books?