Each year we count down the days of Advent by unwrapping a reading a book each night. While some of the books we use are fun and frivolous, we try to use these books and this time to teach the story of Advent and Christmas to our kids. We hope to offer a counter balance to the liturgy of consumerism that targets our children’s hearts this time of year. We prioritize books that have imaginative illustrations and characters who are illustrated in a way that is geographically and Biblically accurate (although we need more books that are illustrated responsibly). We also really love books that capture the story of Jesus’s birth and open up the imagination to consider other scripture passages or theological ideas, while trying to avoid books that condense the richness of the birth and teachings of Jesus into the death and resurrection. Finally, this list includes a variety of Biblically based and contemporary stories as well as hymns, as we enjoy a variety when reading a book each night as part of our Advent tradition. Below are twenty-five of our favorite children’s books for Advent (with the titles linked to find them online):
The Night of His Birth by Katherine Paterson
The giant in children’s literature Katherine Paterson (of the award winning Bridge to Terabithia) has written and illustrated The Night of His Birth, a thoughtful reflection on the nativity story. From Mary’s voice we get the concerns and hopes of a mother, but we also get some really excellent explicit theology–talking about who God is and what God is doing.
The Little Shepherd by Elizabeth Jaeger
A new release, The Little Shepherd is tender and sweet and perfect for your preschooler to explore the nativity with curiosity and wonder through the eyes of a little shepherd boy. I can’t wait to share this one with my sweet little preschoolers at church as we learn the wonder of the story together.
A Cold Night: A Christmas Fable by Emanuele Bertossi
Another new release, A Cold Night: A Christmas Fable can best be described as gentle. With its soft illustrations and it’s story of animals searching for shelter from the cold, it creates a softness and wonder that draws little readers in. It is the perfect gentle read to share with your kids as you wind down for bed.
Manger edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins
An unexpected gem in the pantheon of Christmas books–this is a collection of poems that tell the story of the birth of Jesus from a variety of animals. Reflecting a variety of perspectives and insights while exposing your kids to poetry–Manger is a family favorite but especially a parent favorite.
The Worst Christmas Ever by Kathleen Long Bostrom
This is a modern Christmas tale that follows a boy as his family moves to California just before Christmas, leaving him worried “what will Christmas be like with palm trees and no snow?” What I love about this book is that it covers several themes without feeling scattered. The Worst Christmas Ever is a great book if your Christmas looks different this year or if you have moved. I also love how attending church and being a part of a community is a part of the story. Definitely an instant favorite.
Mary’s Song by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Weaving excerpts of scripture into the narrative of Mary’s story as she prepares for Jesus, this is a gem. The illustrations are done with colored pencil in broad strokes which would make it the perfect book to pair with a “draw your own Christmas story” activity for little ones using the same medium as the artist uses for Mary’s Song.
Home by Another Way: A Christmas Story by Barbara Brown Taylor
Occasionally there is a children’s book that I enjoy as much if not more than my children because it reveals an interesting point of view or interpretation of the scripture. Offering a unique focus on the Three Wisemen the story doesn’t begin or end with the manger, rather tells the way the wisemen navigate the treacherous jealousy and paranoia of King Herod. Home by Another Way is a necessary addition to get a good grip on the full Christmas story through Epiphany.
Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story by Sally Lloyd Jones
“It’s time! It’s time!” the animals across the world see the star, feel the wind, hear the promise of the star and proclaim the coming of the Christ child. As they pronounce the way and celebrate the coming Christ, we journey from the dense forest to the ocean deep to experience the majesty of God’s creation.
This is the Stable by Cynthia Cotten
There are Christmas books that set themselves above the rest with creative, breathtaking and thoughtful illustrations, this is one of those books. It begins with the star above the manger with spread wings and with each illustration of the story the wings enfold the story. The prose is beautiful and yet short, so it can hold little reader’s attention.
Room for a Little One: A Christmas Tale by Martin Waddell
This book falls in the genre of animals welcoming Joseph, Mary and the baby into the manger. Unlike other books that portray the animals as cartoonish, this story has beautiful, soft illustrations that communicate the reverence and gentleness of the scene.
The Jolly Christmas Postman by Alan Ahlberg
This is not a religious book, but I love how interactive it is and how it promotes community during a time of year when kids are tempted to think “me, me, me!” If your family does anything to spread kindness in your neighborhood this is an excellent book to talk about spreading kindness in your community.
The Story of Christmas illustrated Pamela Dalton
Taken from the New King James interpretation of the Bible this tells the scripture with lovely illustrations. When my oldest was two she LOVED this book and would take it to her babysitter’s to read, who said “I’m not very good at reading old English!”
The Twelve Days of Christmas by Laurel Long
I put this one on the list for purely sentimental reasons, our little family LOVES singing this book together and I have a video of one of my kids singing the whole thing through at two years old. Aside from the sentimentality it has intricate illustrations and each previous verse is hidden within the newest verse’s illustration.
Who Built the Stable?: A Nativity Poem by Ashley Bryan
We love any chance we can get to incorporate poetry into teaching faith or just reading in general (because the way poetry is taught in school–bleh! And poetry is magic). This poem about the nativity is lovely and imaginative, drawing on Latin American art and culture to capture young reader’s imagination and creating a more expansive understanding of the story.
Christmas in the Manger by Nola Buck
This is one of two board books on the list. It’s short, but clear and perfect for infants and toddlers to learn the Christmas story. Do I wish the humans were illustrated in a more Biblically accurate way? Yes. But that just means if you have a Christmas board book in your heart to write–pitch it and get someone who will give the holy family some melanin.
Nativity by Cynthia Rylant
This is one of my favorite books on faith for children, Advent or no. We use it year round at our house as it connects the story of the nativity and birth of Jesus to the beatitudes he teaches in his Sermon on the Mount. I love the way this book decentralizes the nativity to place its importance in relationship to the ministry and teachings of love, compassion, peace making and other teachings of Jesus.
I Got the Christmas Spirit by Connie Schofield-Morrison
Another modern story that captures the Christmas spirit from the perspective of a young girl, alive and energized by experiencing Christmas in her community. I have been a huge fan of Frank Morrison’s illustrations and like so much of his work this one exudes energy and joy. A great book to use with your kids to talk about family traditions, community activities and why we do what we do to experience the joy of God in the world.
The Nativity illustrated by Julie Vivas
Uniquely illustrated with characters that are painted with broad strokes that bring a sense of whimsy and joy, this book is top among my favorite. It offers a refreshing perspective and visuals in the collection of Christmas books, creating a sense of wonder and silliness without losing sight of the sacredness of the story.
We Three Kings by Gennady Spirin
This book is so fun! Our family loves to sing along together as we go through this beautifully illustrated book based around the hymn. Since we read a book a night as our Advent calendar, mixing in a few that are sing-alongs make the season fun and give us something to break up just reading.
The Last Straw by Fredrick H Thury
The Last Straw tells a camel’s story as it makes the journey with the wisemen to visit Jesus. The genre of Christmas stories that are “from the camel’s perspective” are not my favorite over all but this one gives the reader a perspective on humility and service that I appreciate.
Silent Night by Lara Hawthorne
A standout book that illustrates the hymn Silent Night with illustrations that both capture the stillness invoked by the song and the imagination of seeing a holy family that is illustrated in a Biblically accurate way with rich melanin. This is another book that my family loves to sing together as we turn the pages and experience the story come alive.
God Bless Our Christmas by Hannah C Hall
This is another board book and it’s a sweet little book for infants and toddlers to introduce the different winter and seasonal activities and talk about how God works in them. My babies enjoyed this one and the cute fluffy animals.
The Nativity: From the Gospel on Matthew and Luke by Ruth Sanderson
Illustrated in classic European art portrayals this book blends the birth story from Matthew and Luke (yes, we blend two stories and teach them and tell them as one). What I like about it is that it doesn’t come to a conclusion at the stable but rather tells of the holy family’s migration to Egypt and Jesus continuing to grow.
Humphrey’s First Christmas by Carol Heyer
I know I’ve already mentioned that I am on the fence about Christmas stories “from the camel’s perspective” but my kids love the story of the whiney, over dramatic Humphrey as he follows the star, eventually discovering selflessness in the Christ child.
S is for Snowman: God’s Wintertime Alphabet by Kathy-Jo Wargin
This is not an explicit Christmas book but we received it as a gift many years ago and it has become a classic in our home as it goes through God’s winter wonderland talking about the traditions and rhythms of Christmas and wintertime with holy imagination.
While we have built our own family library we utilized the library for many years to supplement our library and get enough books to have an Advent calendar. Whether you use books as your Advent calendar or just pick up a few to read throughout the season I hope you enjoy the season with you little ones.
A special thanks to Flyaway Books and Beaming Books for providing review copies.
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What a great gift this list is! I have wished for meaningful literature and experiences to share with my grandchildren. This helps so much, and I love this Advent tradition!
Thanks Cindy! I am glad you found it helpful!
I’ve found a few cute books about the animals at the stable but can’t remember the names now! I also LOVE the Jolly Pocket Postman series so I’m planning to hunt down the Christmas version.
Thank you for including my book! I feel humbled to be included with so many wonderful books, old and new.
Elizabeth The Little Shepherd is so cute and I’m planning to give copies to a few of my preschool momma friends!
wonderful list! Thanks for sharing.
I’ve long loved the idea of giving books for each day of Advent. Thank you for including mine (The Worst Christmas Ever) in this list! I appreciate your lovely review as well. I’m going to sign up for your blog. Wishing you all the best!
Kathleen, we love it and I’m going to send a copy to a dear friend who’s child is going through a big transition this holiday—I think it will be perfect! Thanks for this sweet book