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.

Hosting a Cookie Decorating Party for kids

I used to be one of those people who walked into department stores on November 1st fuming that they had started decorating for Christmas. How dare they! Don’t they know that we still have a holiday between Halloween and Christmas to celebrate?

That was pre-kids. Today, I’ve had my Christmas tree up and have been blasting the She & Him Christmas albums non-stop for a week, and it isn’t Thanksgiving until later this week. I AM this comic from Lucy Knisley:

So, this weekend I really kicked off my holiday madness by hosting a cookie decorating party for four girls ranging from 2-years-old to 5-years old. I’m not going to lie. I was really scared that it was going to be a total dud. I imagined lots of tears, a huge mess, and a knowing look from my *loving* husband.

But I’m happy to report that it was a success. Each of the girls seemed to enjoy decorating cookies (to varying degrees) and they all got some tasty, beautifully decorated cookies to enjoy at home.

If you ask Lena what she wants to be when she grows up, she says a “cookie cooker”.

A lot of the work for a party like this starts in the day or two prior to the event. On Friday night, I made a double batch of the Basic Cookie Dough from Good Housekeeping Christmas Cookies: 75 Irresistible Holiday Treats (the best sugar cookies recipe I’ve ever used) and tripled this simple sugar cookie frosting from Cooking with Karli. I split the frosting into two bowls and colored them green and red. I’m a bit extra, so I almost made four colors for each girl, but I (thankfully!) stopped myself.

I love baking, so I made my own, but this could easily be done with store bought dough and frosting, too. The decorating party is so easy to prep for, so eliminating the baking would reduce the prep time significantly.

I filled five frosting bags (I was expecting five kids, but one was ill.) with red and five with green frosting and I put them in the fridge. I chilled the dough overnight, and rolled, cut, and baked the cookies on Saturday afternoon (with a little help from my baking elf.)

The day of the party, I pulled out my assortment of sprinkles and decorations (the M&Ms were a hit — I would include more next time!) and filled a clean painters palette (we use these all the time) with a variety of sprinkles for each kid. I covered my dining room table in craft paper and set out 2 bags of frosting for each kid (make sure you do this early enough for the frosting to get to room temperature). In the middle of the table I put cookies and extra sprinkles in two lazy susans (mine are from Container Store and I love them for crafting projects with kids.) I also gave each kid a child safe butter knife, a mug of warm cider, and a fun Santa disposable plate.

They caught on how to use the frosting bags really quickly (the two younger girls needed a bit more help with that part) and they went to work right away. I just thought it was a fun activity, but watching my 2-year-old add sprinkles (two for her mouth, 1 for the cookie), I realized that this was a great fine motor skill activity.

Clean-up was a breeze with the craft paper on the table. I simply put everything that needed to be saved/cleaned into the now empty lazy susans, and the rest got wrapped up in the paper as I pulled it off the table. We did have to do some extensive vacuuming afterward, but that is just every day in our lives.

I highly recommend throwing your own cookie decorating party — whether it is for just you and your kids or for a group.

Supply list:
Kraft Paper (link)
Cookie Cutters
Pre-made Sugar Cookies (link)
Pre-made frosting (link)
Icing Decorations (link)
Lazy susans or large plates (link)
Plates (link)
Palettes (link)
Frosting bags (link)
Butter knives
Boxes for take-home cookies (link)