I try hard to make my book lists unique so when it came to making a "classic children's Christmas books" list I struggled to make the collection of titles very different from a typical Christmas picture book list with well-worn classics! I decided, much like my 20th century classics lists that I would not feel obligated to include The Polar Express or The Grinch. After all, you already know those books.
(Note: book covers and titles are affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)
One of the reasons I didn't go by the publication date of the book is because I wouldn't have been able to include a variety of books that would have pleased me, nor would I have been able to include enough new-to-you books to make the list interesting. I did, however, include the publication dates for your information! I also tried hard to include Christmas books with diverse characters (which would have been more difficult if I had stuck to old-fashioned "classics") but you can find even more on my list of multicultural Christmas books list.
Want a printable list? You can get one at the end of this post.
Classic Children's Christmas Books
Father Christmas' Letters by J.R.R. Tolkien. (bet. 1920-1942, pub. 1976). I used to love it when my mother read these letters out loud. Tolkien wrote a letter each year to his children in the voice of Father Christmas and they are all collected in this volume. Now you can enjoy the whimsical tales of Santa, his accident-prone polar bear, mischievous goblins, reindeer and more. Definitely a book to have in your permanent collection!
Christmas in Noisy Village by Astrid Lindgren. (1963) This is my favorite Christmas book of all time. I love the cozy, familial, Swedish traditions depicted in Wikland's Carl Larsson-esque illustrations. Three sets of siblings set about getting ready for Christmas in a snowy landscape. They cut down a tree, make ginger cookies, wrap packages and play games. If you are like me and attracted to all things Swedish, be sure to take a look at my list of Swedish Holiday Picture Books.
The Little Drummer Boy by Ezra Jack Keats (1968) A poor drummer boy follows the three kings on their way to Bethlehem. He does not have riches to offer so instead plays on his instrument. Keats' wonderful illustrations accompany the words to the classic Christmas song. A treasure of a book.
The Clown of God by Tomie dePaola. (1978) I found this a bittersweet book as a child and I was never sure if I truly liked it but still, every year I was drawn to the story. It's not as Christmas-y a story as the others on this list, yet I've always thought of it as a Christmas book. Giovanni is poor, but he has a talent for juggling. He juggles his rainbow balls for captive audiences until he grows old and the audiences no longer come. When he gives one last performance before a statue of the Christ child, a miracle happens.
The Nutcracker in Harlem by T. E. McMorrow. (2017) I love this Harlem Renaissance adaptation of the traditional Nutcracker story, and I think you will, too. There are lots of Nutcracker picture books out there so why not pick up something with a little extra inspiration thrown in? The shy Marie gets a nutcracker from her Uncle Cab at a holiday party and afterwards falls asleep and enters a gorgeous dream mirroring Act One of The Nutcracker ballet. When she wakes on Christmas morning she gets her own gift of music.
Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore - or this version by Rachel Isadora. (poem 1823; versions: 2013, 2009). This beloved, classic Christmas poem needs no introduction and there are one million and one illustrated versions on the market. Since I couldn't decided between these picture books of the timeless Christmas poem I included them both. Pick them both up at the library and decide which one you like best!
12 Days of Christmas (Pop up) by Robert Sabuda. Like The Night Before Christmas, you will easily find several picture book versions of this classic Christmas song. I chose this one for this list of timeless Christmas books because it is quite delightful to experience the multiplying 12 days of gifts in pop-up form!
The Story of Holly and Ivy (1958) by Rumer Godden. Ivy is an orphan and wishes for a home. Holly is a doll and wishes for a girl to bring her to life. Mr and Mrs Jones would like to have a child to brighten up their home. In this classic Christmas book for children, all the wishes come together for a heartwarming story you won't want to miss.
Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto. (1996) I've always loved this picture book about an Hispanic family getting ready for the holidays. Maria finally gets to help assemble the traditional tamales for the holiday feasts but in doing so she loses her mother's ring -- or so she thinks -- in the mixture. The only way to find the ring is to eat the tamales, of course!
The Christmas Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood (2012) I really wanted to have a couple of classic Christmas books for toddlers and babies on this list. This is a very sweet read that will settle your little ones down (we hope) for the big night. You truly won't mind reading it year after year! Each page illustrates a quiet moment of the Christmas season, such as, "Bundled up quiet," or "Snow angel quiet." Sweet and delightful without being saccharine.
Dream Snow by Eric Carle. (2000) Carle's board book became a fast favorite Christmas book among the toddler and preschool set. And it's interactive to boot. A farmer takes care of his animals, named One, Two, Three and Four. When he falls asleep he begins to dream of snow covering everything and transparent snow overlays are fun for little hands to turn. After he awakes he realizes he forgot to give the animals their gifts and heads out into the night. The book concludes with little hands lighting up the tree on a snowy night. (Note: the board book version has lift the flaps instead of overlays and may not include the music button at the end.)
The Trees of the Dancing Goats. (2000) by Patricia Polacco. As Trisha prepares for Hanukkah with her family she learns that the neighboring Christian families are afflicted by a scarlet fever epidemic. Unable to feel good about celebrating while their neighbors are suffering, Trisha’s family work together to help them. A wonderful, positive story about finding joy in giving to others.
More Timeless Christmas Books:
- Multicultural Christmas Books
- New Christmas Picture Books
- Christmas Novels for the Whole Family
- Swedish Christmas Picture Books
- Interfaith Holiday Picture Books