Picture Books, Raising Readers
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Nostalgic Christmas Picture Books

nightMany of our cultural Christmas celebrations are just that–cultural, not biblical. That being said, we can be Christians and still enjoy many of our cultural celebrations for what they are: cultural celebrations. No doubt, our regular readers here are investing time and energy to teach the real Christmas story. And, no doubt, many of you also enjoy watching such cultural touchstones as It’s a Wonderful Life or White Christmas. Below are some picture book equivalents of Christmas-y cultural touchstones.

The Night Before Christmas by Clement Moore and illustrated by Holly Hobbie. Little, Brown, and Co., 2013. Age/interest level: 0-5.

Holly Hobbie brings her gentle, classic style and a fresh interpretation of this famous poem to bear in a lovely new Christmas book. While the text is the same, her illustrations add a new character to witness the jolly old Saint Nicholas coming down the chimney. Charming and sweet, this is a picture book to seek out amidst the glossy, sparkly ones that also grace store shelves.

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree: An Appalachian Story by Gloria Houston and illustrated by Barbara Cooney. Puffin, 1996. Age/interest level: 4 and up. perfect christmas tree

Cooney’s quiet illustrations are the perfect match for this poignant Christmas story. Set in WWII-era Appalachia, a young girl and her mother anxiously await the father’s return home from war. After all, it’s their family’s year to provide the town’s Christmas tree. Christmas Eve arrives, but the father hasn’t. A storyteller’s cadence makes this book a great read aloud choice, and the ending will add a nostalgic tear or two to some cheeks. Highly recommended.

stopping by woodsStopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost and illustrated by Susan Jeffers. Dutton, 2001. Age/interest level: all

This familiar poem takes on a new meaning in Jeffers’ capable hands. Black and white illustrations are well done; the spark of color at the end gives the poem a Christmas-y allusion (cultural Christmas, not biblical Christmas). Try this for a change this Christmas season!

nutcrackerThe Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffman and illustrated by Maurice Sendak. Gramercy, 1984. Age/interest level: 5 and up.

This is a hefty “picture book,” and it is marvelous. Fans of the story and ballet will enjoy seeing Sendak’s interpretation; this is also a great option for those who might not want to sit through the entire ballet but want to experience the entire story nonetheless.

dream snowDream Snow by Eric Carle. Philomel, 2000. Age/interest level: 0-5.

Carle’s illustrations aren’t exactly “classic” in the same way that Cooney’s or Hobbie’s are, but they are beloved by many. Dream Snow is a fun, interactive journey with lovable farm animals and a dream of snow. Carle’s boldly oolored collage style is a favorite with young children!

What are some of your favorite secular Christmas picture books? Do you wrap up Christmas books for children to unwrap throughout the season? Store them away with the Christmas decorations so they are only out on the table at this time of year (that’s what I do!)?

For another famous cultural touchstone, see Janie’s thoughts on reading (and watching) A Christmas Carol. We’ve also looked at other 2013 holiday-themed picture books, reviewed an Advent guide that correlates to Handel’s Messiah (it’s on my list for next year!), and chosen our favorite titles for gift-giving this year!

Cover images from goodreads


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Filed under: Picture Books, Raising Readers


Betsy is the Managing Editor at Redeemed Reader. When she reads ahead for you, she uses sticky notes instead of book darts and willfully dog ears pages even in library books. Betsy is a fan of George MacDonald, robust book discussions, and the Oxford comma. She lives with her husband and their three children in the beautiful Northwest.


  1. Cathy says

    Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck
    The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
    Wenceslas by Geradine McCaughren
    The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barabara Robinson
    The Polar Express by Chris van Allsburg
    A Wind in the Willows Christmas by Kenneth Grahame, illus, Michael Hague
    Louisa May Alcott’s Christmas Treasury

    and The Grinch, of course!

    We have also enjoyed Christmas books by Tomie dePaola, Jan Brett and Patricia Polacco.

    We enjoy the Robert Sabuda pop-up version of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.

  2. For picture books, I would have to say Mr. Willoughby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry. We also enjoy the Nutcracker, and I like the book The Snowman by Raymond Briggs (there is also a video with very little narration and mostly music which is lovely).

    Last year we had a two week “Christmas Term” in our homeschool where we dug up Christmas classics we had not read, and I found Pearl Buck’s Christmas Day in the Morning, and Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” both of which have been produced as picture books. Van Dyke’s clearly Christian “The Mansion” and “The Fourth Wiseman” are also picture books. I was not thrilled with the overtone in the abridgement of “The Mansion.”

    Linda Sue Park wrote “The Third Gift,” illustrated by Russian Bagram Ibatoulline that explains what Myrrh is by way of a father teaching his son their family trade. This was very interesting to my daughter who has served in many Nativity productions but never seen Myrrh. 🙂

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