Each year, I wrap a picture book for every day of Advent. The children take turns opening them and we read them together. Just in case you've never done such a thing and are intrigued, let me share what I've learned since we started this tradition back in 2010.
- One book a day is sufficient. Trust me.
- Be selective in your Nativity story picture books. Fewer is better. I try to limit myself to one a week.
- Don't make them all long and serious. Put in a few silly ones.
- Choose at least a few absolute favorites to read every year and feel free to mix up all the others.
- If you miss a day or two, don't despair. This year we did better than ever and still read about five books on a later day.
- Wrap library books! The kids don't care.
Now that you are (hopefully) no longer overwhelmed at the thought of a picture book a day during Advent, here are links to all the Advent and Christmas posts I've written.
Past Advent-Picture-Book-a-Day Booklists
2010 list (the first year we did this activity)
2011 first week of Advent
2011 second week of Advent
2011 third week of Advent
2011 fourth week of Advent
my favorite five (or seven) Christmas picture books (2012)
an additional Christmas book for My Favorite Picture Books (2012)
2012 new and noteworthy Advent picture books
My Twelve Books of Christmas (written in 2013)
Finally, here are the noteworthy new books we read during Advent 2013 and Advent 2014.
Christmas Is Here, words from the King James Bible illustrated by Lauren Castillo was my favorite new-to-us-book for Advent 2013. These are not the gloriously beautiful illustrations in other Nativity stories, but simple and sweet. They are just right for reading to little ones and work well with the biblical text. Highly recommended.
This Is the Stable by Cynthia Cotten, illustrated by Delana Bettoli, is a quiet repetitive book with lovely illustrations. I especially like how the Holy Family is depicted because they are not white.
Christmas Lullaby by Nancy Jewell, illustrated by Stafano Vitale, is a poem of small gifts brought to the infant Jesus by many different animals. The paintings by the illustrator are truly artistic and quite different from most children's Nativity books. I loved how the stable and Jesus appear a bit closer on each page.
Marta and the Manger Straw by Virginia Kroll, illustrated by Robyn Belton, is the story of a girl who is generous despite her poverty and receives blessings in her own need. It's one of my new favorite Christmas books. (I included it in my Twelve Christmas Picture Books I'd Carry Into the Wilderness list.)
A Christmas Tree for Pyn by Olivier Dunrea is another one I really liked. It's not about the meaning of Christmas if you think only of the birth of the baby, but the way Pyn lovingly prepares for a Christmas tree, trusting in her father, and the way his heart is comforted and he gives her the one thing she wants most sweetly hints at the Love Christ brings to the world.
Snipp, Snapp, Snurr and the Gingerbread by Maj Lindman is one of many books about triplet brothers (Snipp, Snapp, and Snurr) or triplet sisters (Flicka, Dicka, and Ricka). Some of these are better than others and the gingerbread book is one of my favorites. The children loved it.
Night Tree by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Ted Rand, is one I should have found years ago. I was hoping it would inspire the children to make some "ornaments" for one of our trees, but we ended up reading it in a rush late one night after some busy December day. I still think it's lovely, as are Ted Rand's illustrations.
Apple Tree Christmas by Trinka Hakes Noble is a lovely story of a young girl's memorable Christmas, one she thought would be sorrowful and instead was beautiful.
The Christmas Giant by Steve Light is about a giant and an elf entrusted with growing the Christmas tree for the North Pole. Usually I avoid Santa books (other than books about the real St. Nicholas and the classic The Night Before Christmas), but this one was sweet and creative. Humphrey and Leetree make good on their mistake with ingenuity and beauty.
The Stone: A Persian Legend of the Magi by Dianne Hofmeyer, illustrated by Jude Daly, is one I intended to read last year when we started school again in January, but everything had been disrupted by our holiday travels. I scheduled it earlier this year. The illustrations are different from most of the other books we read. I love the idea of a gift from Christ to the Wise Men and what it becomes.
The Storyteller's Candle / La Velita De Los Cuentos by Lucia Gonzalez, illustrated by Lulu Delacre, is a good book for Epiphany, though we read it before Christmas. I love how this book combines the compelling story of a real librarian in New York City, the isolation of immigrants and newcomers, and how traditions (old and new) lift us up and can show us the light of Christ. Even better, traditions shared allow us to be that light for others.
A Kenya Christmas by Tony Johnston is a tale of Father Christmas visiting a remote village in Kenya. I found it while seeking out picture books in Africa to read to Second Daughter and knew she would enjoy it.
Mim's Christmas Jam by Andrea Davis Pinkney with illustrations by Brian Pinkney is from one of my favorite picture book writing and illustrating teams. This book is set during the building of the New York subway system. A father is working far from his family on Christmas when some homemade jam changes the hearts of his bosses. I always like to include a few more historical books in our selections and this was a nice addition. There's a recipe at the end for the belly-hum jam, but we didn't have a chance to make it.
The Mitten by Jan Brett is a wintry tale more than a Christmasy one, which might be why we hadn't read it during Advent before, but it's my favorite Jan Brett book and the children all enjoyed it.
The Fourth Wise Man by Susan Summers was recommended by a friend after I posted about The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke. This book is easier for young readers than Van Dyke's book without eliminating all of the rich language. I liked the illustrations, too.
Over the years I have built quite a library of Christmas and Advent books. A few we have received as gifts (at my request), a few I have purchased used on Cathswap, and many I have received from members of PaperBackSwap. You may have to wait a few years for copies to be available, but if you have young children, you have a few years before they'll outgrow the tradition. My 11 year old son hovered only rarely during the readings (though he was often near-by) but the 8 year old, 6 year old, and 4 year old were snuggled up close for every book.
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