Growing up the grandchild of Swedish immigrants, Swedish illustrated picture books, and especially Swedish Christmas books, were a steady part of my reading diet.
This list contains books for kids about Christmas, St. Lucia Day, which is a festival of light celebration on December 13th, as well as winter-themed books. So go ahead, sit back and travel to the Land of the Midnight Sun. Just don’t forget your tomten guide and a few pepparkakkor (those yummy little ginger spice cookies).
Note: I personally chose only books I LOVE. Book covers and titles are affiliate links.
Christmas in Noisy Village. This is my Christmas must-read book. Join friends Lisa, Britta, Anna, Karl, Olaf, Kiersten and Bill during the holiday season as they cut down a Christmas tree, get flour all over the kitchen while making pig-shaped cookies, wrap presents with candle wax and travel to church in the pitch black cold morning. Sounds like fun doesn’t it? All my dreams would come true if I could just live in a quaint little Swedish village.
Ollie’s Ski Trip. Ollie goes off on a ski-trip where he has adventures with Jack Frost, Mrs. Snow and King Winter. Add in a snowball fight, lots of children and a few reindeer and you have a perfect winter picture book. To say that Beskow’s illustrations are delightful would be a gross understatement.
The Tomten. You cannot go wrong with this splendid classic; it’s a book that should be on every child’s bookshelf. Across Scandinavia, gnome-like creatures called tomten watch over farms while the humans sleep. They are quiet and strong and talk to the animals, comforting them during the cold winter nights.
Lucia and the Light. This book is not about St. Lucia or her namesake holiday, but it fits right into the festivities. One winter, when the sun disappears, the intrepid Lucia sets out to free the sun, held hostage by a group of trolls. A wonderful story about a courageous and clever young girl whose commitment and love for her family help her succeed in her quest. Gorgeously illustrated by Mary GrandPré, whom you might recognize as the illustrator of the US Harry Potter book covers.
Boo and Baa in Windy Weather will not be an easy book to find, but if your library has a copy or you can find a used book you are so, so, so lucky. The Landströms’ trademark dry Swedish humor, a pair of sheep in a snow storm, a runaway cabbage and a comforting bowl of soup will make this book one your all-time winter favorites.
The Tomtes’ Christmas Porridge. Contemporary Swedish writer Sven Norquist penned this funny little story about a tomte family who looks forward to the rice pudding their master gives them at Christmastime.
Findus at Christmas. Norquist has written a number of well-loved picture books about Petterson and his cat, Findus. In this installment Petterson injures himself just before Christmas, but his friends join together for a wonderful celebration.
Lucia Morning in Sweden. Three siblings prepare for St. Lucia Day by baking, singing and participating in the Lucia ceremony. The book includes recipes and crafts.
Lucia, Child of Light. This is a good book for exploring how modern day religious and secular traditions evolved from pagan folklore, legends and celebrations. The book also includes recipes, activities and tips for celebrating St. Lucia Day.
Peter and Lotta’s Christmas: A Story. In the 19th century before Father Christmas took over the holiday, the Julbocken (Yule Goat) brought the Christmas presents to good little Swedish boys and girls. Peter and Lotta are recurring characters in several of Elsa Beskow’s books.
Astrid Lindgren’s A Calf for Christmas is a more text-heavy story than the other picture books on this list, but Marit Törnqvist’s illustrations are simply irresistible. Johan is heartbroken when his cow, Emma dies just before Christmas. His family is too poor to buy another, but not to worry, this is a Christmas story and a charming, happy ending is obligatory.
Jan Brett has a number of Christmas and winter books with illustrations inspired by Scandinavian folk art. I tend to prefer Brett’s art work to her writing but Brett fans will like Home for Christmas as well as The Wild Christmas Reindeerand Christmas Trolls. (It could be argued that the designs are more Norwegian than Swedish in nature.)
Hanna’s Christmas. This story of a young Swedish girl who must get used to the idea of Christmas in her new American home was written by Melissa Wiley (aka Melissa Peterson — thanks to Fanny Harville who left the tip in the comments, below) for the Hanna Andersson catalog. With the help of a tomten, Hanna realizes her new home may not be so bad after all and puts together a St. Lucia Day celebration for her parents.
And what about you, do you have a soft spot for Scandinavian inspired children’s literature?
I’ve expanded my children’s book board selection on Pinterest, and you’ll find even more of my book recommendations and books I am eagerly anticipating over there.