A Bookish Advent Calendar

During a recent trip to Target, I was alerted to the fact that Christmas is fast approaching. Never mind that Christmas is still more than a month away. As my 4-year-old son and I strolled down the aisles, giant, iridescent baubles hung from the ceiling above us, lively Christmas carols played and — before I knew what had hit me — I found myself eyeing a cute set of Christmas towels while my son enthusiastically pointed out the matchbox cars he hopes to receive for Christmas.

In the face of nigh-irresistable Christmas glitz, it seems to require a little effort — or at least forethought — to make Christmas a meaningful holiday for children.

A Bookish Advent Calendar: A picture book a day to read aloud during advent. (See blog post for book recommendations!)

This year, my family is celebrating the advent season with this bookish advent calendar. I have selected twenty-five stories that I am looking forward to sharing with my children during advent. Each day, my children will unwrap a book, and we will read it aloud together. 

I hope that this new holiday tradition will ensure that we set aside quiet time to be together as a family and reflect.

I borrowed most of the books for this advent calendar from my local public library. Alternatively, you could invite friends and family to each purchase a book to contribute to your child’s advent calendar.

A Bookish Advent Calendar | Delightful Children's Books

1. Toot and Puddle: Let it Snow by Holly Hobbie. Here is my pick to kick off the advent season. In this tender story, best friends Toot and Puddle anticipate Christmas, go cross country skiing and make thoughtful gifts for each other. Ages 3+

2. Wombat Divine by Mem Fox and Kerry Argent. A humorous story in which Wombat, Emu and others prepare for the nativity play. Ages 3+

3. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. The classic, Caldecott-winning story of a boy whose belief in Santa is restored when he takes a train ride to the North Pole. Ages 4+

4. What’s Cooking Jamela? by Niki Daly. A lively Christmas story set in South Africa. Jamela is charged with raising her family’s Christmas chicken. When Jamela befriends the chicken, she must find a way to keep it from being eaten for Christmas dinner. Ages 4+

5. The Trees of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polacco. A beautiful tale of kindness between Christian and Jewish neighbors. Patricia’s family is busy preparing for Hanukkah. When Patricia discovers that her Christian neighbors have scarlet fever, Patricia’s family helps them celebrate Christmas. December 5th is the last night of Hanukkah this year. For those interested in learning more about Hanukkah, Akhlah: The Jewish Children’s Learning Network is a great resource. Ages 5+

6. Olivia Helps with Christmas by Ian Falconer. One of my favorite books in the Olivia series. In Olivia Helps with Christmas, Olivia goes to great lengths to help with Christmas. Predictably, chaos ensues. Ages 4+

7. The Twelve Days of Christmas by Jan Brett or 12 Days of Christmas by Rachel Isadora. Two wonderful books for young musicians. Jan Brett’s version of The Twelve Days of Christmas features intricate, Scandinavian-influenced illustrations, while Rachel Isadora’s version features colorful scenes from various African countries. Ages 2+

8. Christmas Tree Farm by Ann Purmell and Jill Weber. A warm, colorful description of the Christmas season from the perspective of a family who owns and operates a Christmas tree farm. Ages 3+

9. Franklin’s Christmas Gift by Paulette Bourgeois and Brenda Clark. A story about an issue that arises at my house this time of year. In Franklin’s Christmas Gift, Franklin struggles with choosing a toy to give away to the Christmas toy drive. Ages 3+

10. Christmas in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Renee Graff. The true story of Laura Ingalls’ family’s simple 1860s Christmas celebration. Laura and her sister Mary relish a rare visit from cousins and gifts of candy canes and red mittens. Ages 3+

11. Mooseltoe by Margie Palatini and Henry Cole. A hilarious (ask any kid) story about a moose who plans his family’s Christmas celebration in great detail but forgets to get a Christmas tree. Kids will get a kick out of Moose’s solution. Ages 3+

12. The Christmas Magic by Lauren Thompson and Jon J. Muth. An unexpectedly calm depiction of Santa. While others depict Santa and his elves frantically churning out toys, Thompson and Muth depict Santa methodically feeding his reindeer, polishing his sleigh bells, darning his socks, carefully selecting toys for each child on his list and patiently waiting for the Christmas magic to come. Ages 3+

13. Christmas Cookies: Bite-Size Holiday Lessons by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jane Dyer. A book that teaches kids new vocabulary words and life lessons. Each lesson is creatively tied into depictions of kids baking Christmas cookies: E.g. “Reciprocate means, today I’m making cookies at my friend’s house, and then next time I’ll invite her to make them at my house.” Ages 3+

14. Olive, the Other Reindeer by Vivian Walsh and J. Otto Seibold. A funny, off-beat story about a lovable dog named Olive who, mistakenly thinking she is a reindeer, joins Rudolph and the gang to deliver presents. Ages 4+

15. Night Tree by Eve Bunting and Ted Rand. A memorable story about a family who decorates a tree in the woods with Christmas decorations for the animals. Ages 3+

16. The Night of Las Posadas by Tomie de Paola. A lovely story to read on the first day of Las Posadas. A miracle occurs that saves the Las Posadas celebration. December 16th is the first day of Las Posadas, a nine-day celebration with origins in Spain, now celebrated chiefly in Mexico, Guatemala and the southwestern United States. Here is a great video to share with children about how how one family celebrates Las Posadas: Las Posadas Navideñas by Maura Wall Hernandez. Ages 4+

17. Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry. A jaunty tale, first published in 1963, in which Mr. Willowby’s Christmas tree is shared by a fun cast of characters. The original cover nails it: “Small boys and girls will laugh with delight.” Ages 3+

18. An Orange for Frankie by Patricia Polacco. A heartwarming story with gorgeous illustrations. Patricia Polacco’s stories, with themes of kindness, gratitude and the importance of family, are the perfect antidote to holiday consumerism. Ages 4+

19. The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers. The perfect picture book to read before seeing The Nutcracker ballet. The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers features lush illustrations and succinctly tells the story of The Nutcracker as it is typically depicted by ballets. See also The Story of the Nutcracker Ballet by Deborah Hautzig. Ages 3+

20. Lili on Stage by Rachel Isadora. The story of a girl Lili who gets to perform in The Nutcracker ballet for the first time. Ages 3+

21. Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and John Schoenherr. A beautifully-illustrated, poetic description of a girl and her father venturing into the forest on a cold, crisp winter night in search of an owl. Owl Moon does not mention Christmas. Instead, it centers on the relationship between a dad and daughter and their outdoor, winter adventure. Ages 3+

22. The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie de Paola. A Mexican folktale about a girl who offers weeds to Jesus. The weeds miraculously turn into poinsettias. Ages 4+

23. Who is Coming to Our House? by Joseph Slate and Ashley Wolff. A story about barnyard animals anticipating and preparing for Jesus’ arrival. Simple rhyming text and woodcut illustrations make this a good read for young kids. Ages 2+

24. Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore and Christopher Wormell. If you do not have a favorite version of Clement Clarke Moore’s Twas the Night Before Christmas, may I suggest checking out Christopher Wormell’s version. Ages 3+

25. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss. Last but not least, here is my pick for Christmas Day. With its entertaining story, fun wordplay and message about the meaning of Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is the perfect story to read aloud to friends and family gathered together on Christmas Day. Ages 3+

the grinch illustration

And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling: ‘How could it be so? It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!’ And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!

‘Maybe Christmas,’ he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!’

-Dr. Seuss

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35 Responses to A Bookish Advent Calendar

  1. Cristina says:

    Thank you for sharing! I was able to borrow all the books from the library!

  2. Amanda says:

    I needed some Christmas suggestions (since I didn’t write any of ours down last year!), and thought I’d find some here. Imagine my surprise to see you’ve adopted this tradition, as well. Actually, I don’t know why I’m surprised :)
    I also numbered the packages because we did The First Day of Winter, and The Night Before Christmas on their actual days. We saved the most Christmas-y books for closer to the actual day, too. It was a big hit!

  3. Bridget says:

    Love this idea. Are you really able to check out books from the library and leave them wrapped for a good portion of the month? I’ll have to put library books at the beginning of the line up so they can be returned. A suggestion of a beloved book here is “Christmas Day in the Morning”

  4. Love this Idea! Thank you for sharing:)

  5. Our Learning says:

    This is so much fun and a welcome daily event during the Christmas season. We’ve done this the past few years and have enjoyed the time we get to spend each day with a different book. Enjoy!

  6. I love this idea! I just put a bunch of books from your list on hold from the library. I am so excited. Thanks so much.
    I added one too: “A Porcupine in a Pine Tree” by Helaine Becker

  7. If the gift will come as a big surprise, then all the
    better. If it is not, you can still turn it into a bitt of a surprise by double wrapping it or
    furthermore, delivering a couple of gifts, the first being a type
    of decoy.

  8. Esme says:

    This is so cool! Sharing! Funny question…how did you get the little squares with book covers/numbers on them? Is it an app or a gadget? That’s nifty. I’d love to make one for my school library story times!

  9. We also do this every year, I think this is the 5th or 6th year, I’ve lost count. My oldest is 10 and growing out of the stage of many of the books but it remains a favorite tradition of his as well as the younger kids. I don’t write numbers on the books, just wrap them and put them in a “basket” (it’s really a big Rubbermaid container but a basket sounds prettier) and let them pick one a day. I typically put a bunch extra wrapped in there because invariably there are fights over who gets to pick and we end up reading more than one (not a huge problem :)). I get many from the library and then have purchased one or two new ones each year, over time we’ve built up a good collection of our own. I have a feeling this will be a tradition we’re still doing when they are way “too old” for picture books. And the nice thing is that eventually I can pass one the books too them to read with their own families.

  10. Michele King says:

    This is an absolutely wonderful idea! Although in 2013 Advent is actually 24 days (December 1-24), in future years I would encourage you to celebrate the season by using the liturgical year to determine the number of days in the Advent season, counting backwards from Christmas to the first Sunday in Advent (of which there are four). Using that system, Advent can vary from 22 to 28 days. Your bookish Advent calendar is adjustable and would work beautifully with a traditional Advent observance. No one would need worry about missing days in the season because their calendar only had 24 days! Excellent work.

  11. stanleyandkatrina says:

    I love this idea!!!! Thank you for sharing!
    Christine M/Cool Mom
    Tech Support/Admin for Stanley & Katrina

  12. Kelly says:

    I absolutely love this idea! Thank you so much Amy!!!!

  13. Ruth says:

    This is a really fun idea! I had a friend who told me about something similar long ago where she would gift wrap all of the Christmas books and allow her boys to open one per night. But I like the idea of numbering them like an Advent calendar, too! I find myself looking for fun used Christmas books all year round to add to our collection!

  14. Enjoy! When my kids were young we worked together to select our favorite 24 Christmas books. Then I wrote the titles on a slip of paper and put them in Christmas bowl. Each night one one the kids would pull out a slip for that night’s special book. It was a wonderful tradition.

  15. Ingrid says:

    Love this! I plan to do this for the first time with my two year old, but I’m hoping to find the time to make some reusable book sacs so I don’t have all that wrapping to do each year :)

    • writersideup says:

      OOooo…love the idea of sacks! I’m picturing them in muslin or burlap or some kind of old-fashioned looking linen. Or they could just be a multitude of colors for variety! Or all different type fabrics to try to complement the contents somehow! Wow, you could go nuts with this idea! :D

    • Amy says:

      I look forward to hearing what you come up with!

  16. PramgaticMom says:

    I LOVE this idea! You can add books each year to replace library ones and it would become a wonderful tradition to pass down!

  17. jenmalone says:

    We’ve done this for the past six years and have amassed a great collection of holiday-themed books. Even though my kids are moving past the picture book stage (is that even possible- I still love them and I’m fully grown!), something tells me this tradition is sticking around. We also have had relatives send Hallmark recordable books with them reading the story aloud, so they can share in the magic of the season:)

    • Amy says:

      Wow! Six years! It’s great to hear that this has become a tradition for your family. I hope that my 8-year-old son who thinks he is too old to join us for bedtime reading will be enticed to come join us for these 25 books.

  18. Ilse says:

    Fabulously clever idea for sharing the love of reading with your kids!

  19. writersideup says:

    I absolutely LOVE this idea! Not necessarily that it has to be used for Advent, but ANY time! Oh, the surprise of what’s under the wrapping :) You read the book you pick!

  20. Barbara Wilkins says:

    Thanks for your great lift!

  21. Amanda says:

    Great idea, Amy, thanks! Every year on December1st, I pull out the Christmas books, place them in a basket in the sitting room, hoping to read them each night with my son, but the busy-ness of the day/evening takes over and so often we don’t get through them nearly enough. With each one numbered for the days of advent, this will be much more of an incentive!
    I’d also like to add some Hannukah stories this year.

  22. Rose Klein says:

    I think this is a GREAT! idea which can be used to also countdown to other special days too! Thanks for sharing this wonderful idea!

    • Amy says:

      Yes! This idea can definitely be modified. In particular, I can imagine choosing secular books and doing this in a school setting.

      What other days might be good ones aside from Christmas?

  23. Love, love, love this idea! And the fact that you borrowed the books means we can try this at our house too without much expense! Reading time is a cherished time at our house and I love the idea of opening that each night for advent instead of something that is consumed…seems way more meaningful, especially for my boys’ ages (2 & 4). Thanks for sharing!!

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