Our favorite Christmas and winter picture books

15 November 2023

One of the best parts of the Christmas season? Pulling out the themed picture books, of course! Like so many things about the holidays, these beloved books are made even more special by the fact that their time in the bookshelf rotation is limited – and that we return to them year after year. I can remember the coziness of my whole family sitting around and flipping through Christmas books the day we brought the holiday boxes down from the attic each year, and I know my children feel the same way.

Today, I thought I’d share some of our favorite Christmas picture books, and a few winter-themed books, as well. A pro tip: go ahead and request Christmas books from your library now. Borrowing is an excellent way to fill out your collection and try new titles, but if your library is anything like ours, the holiday shelves will be bare by the time December rolls around.

Favorite Christmas picture books:

First, here are some of the Christmas picture books in our permanent collection – the ones we own and lovingly pull from the attic year after year! Most of these are favorites from my childhood.

Christmas in the Manger | A simple board book for the littlest ones that introduces different characters (including animals!) in the Christmas story.

Construction Site on Christmas Night by Sherri Duskey Rinker and A.G. Ford | As the original is a real favorite in our house, we naturally reached for the Christmas version. It’s sweet!

Dasher by Matt Tavares | A quiet, gentle story of how reindeer came to pull Santa’s sleigh.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss | This might be my children’s very favorite Christmas book. Dr. Seuss is unmatched!

The Jolly Christmas Postman by Janet & Allan Ahlberg | A truly delightful book with envelopes, letters, riddles, and games folded in. Good for slightly-older kids because of the delicate construction!

The Legend of St. Nicholas | The origin story of St. Nicholas and a reminder of the true joy of giving at Christmas.

Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry | One of my very favorites from childhood! It traces the journey of a Christmas tree from the original home to smaller and smaller animals with delightful rhyme.

The Nutcracker, illustrated by Valeria Docampo | This story is based on the NYCB/Balanchine version, so it’s Marie, not Clara, but it’s a great introduction if you’re going to see the show! The illustrations are memorable and a bit surreal.

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg | A magical, dreamlike story (with illustrations to match) of the first gift of Christmas. This one chokes me up at the end, no matter how many times I read it.

The Scallop Christmas by Jane Freeberg | A niche book for the Mainer in me!

Silent Night by Lara Hawthorne | This is literally the lyrics to the beloved Christmas carol, which makes it interesting to read aloud, but I love having it in our collection for its beautiful, diverse, and unique illustrations.

Twas the Night Before Christmas | A must-have staple in any Christmas collection, IMO! Since the text remains the same, it’s fun to find a version whose illustrations you love. We have versions by both Jan Brett and Mr. Boddington’s Studio.

New (to us) Christmas picture books:

I add one Christmas picture book to our permanent collection each year – this year, it’s this one! Here are some others we’ve already snagged from the library and tucked away until we get home from Florida.

Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck | The sweetest story of a boy,his Dad and the true joy of giving. Love this one.

The Christmas Pine by Julia Donaldson | Based on the true story of the people of Norway gifting a Christmas tree to the British people in thanks for their support during World War II. Julia Donaldson is a gem (The Gruffalo is a favorite in our house!) and this one is no different.

The Christmas Wish by Lori Evert | Magical! A husband-and-wife team reimagined a classic Nordic tale with photos starring their daughter on her journey to the North Pole. This is a new one to us and I think my children are going to love it.

Decorate the Tree! by Amanda Jane Jones | This is a brand-new book from someone who’s career I’ve watched for a long time. Our kids will love the interactive elements!

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Sleigh! by Mo Williams | Mo Williams does it again. Need I say more?

Red & Green by Lois Ehlert | With cut-out pages and a story based on ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, this one is fun for little readers.

Red & Lulu by Matt Tavares | The sweetest story of two cardinals who get separated and find each other again in an unexpected place. Perfect for city lovers!

Our favorite winter picture books:

Finally, here are a few winter-themed picture books you might love.

Brave Irene by William Steig | Another favorite from my childhood, with a plucky heroine, a bitter snowstorm, and a brave mission.

The Mitten by Jan Brett | Full of classic Jan Brett magic, with borders that lead you through the story.

Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner | We have the original, but this winter version looks just as good!

Snow Horses by Patricia MacLachlan | A cozy, loving book about the last night of the year starring two horses. Beautiful collage illustrations!

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats | A classic! It’s apparently the number one most checked out book of all time in the New York Public Library, and I can see why.

Of course, I’d love to hear: did I miss any of your Christmas favorites? If you celebrate another winter holiday, I’d love to hear your favorites, too!

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November 15, 2023 11:36 am

My favorites are The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree and Who Is Coming to Our House?

November 15, 2023 12:09 pm

I learned the hard way just yesterday to request your holiday books early — our library was wiped of Thanksgiving books! Put in my request for several Christmas books after reading this post :) My all-time favorite is ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (my family read it and Luke 2 every Christmas Eve growing up), and I also love Who Is Coming to Our House?, Heather! Thrifted a copy last year and it’s so sweet!

Kelly Strawberry
November 15, 2023 2:23 pm

I love the Christmas books, too! Jan Bretts Gingerbread Baby and Gingerbread Christmas are read on repeat. My fave is Polar Express. We always read the classic Twas Night Before snd the Grinch. Lastly, The Sweet Smell of Christmas has been a hit since Cam was a toddler and also still reading Little Blue Truck Christmas edition each year :)

November 15, 2023 7:55 pm

I have no restraint when it comes to Christmas books! Some fvorites for us that aren’t on your list: Presents Through the Window (Taro Gomi), When Santa Was A Baby (Linda Bailey), Santa the No. 1 Toy Expert (Marla Frazee), The Christmas Tapestry (Patricia Polacco), and The Night of Los Posadas (Tomie DePaola), and Calico the Wonder House (Virginia Burton). I could go on, but I’ll stop. Each year, my mother bought each of her five children a book for Christmas Eve, so I grew up surrounded. Then, of course, I add to my collection for each of my four children each year :)

November 16, 2023 5:24 am

The Snowy Day and The Mitten were both books I bought my daughter AS SOON as she was born for her first Christmas! Excited to check out some of these new-to-me titles :)
This year we are excited to dig into Little Blue Truck Christmas

November 16, 2023 10:37 am

One of my favorites is The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomie!

Laura B
November 18, 2023 6:40 am

Great list!! Not intensely Xmas related, but we are currently re-reading Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory since there’s a new movie coming out December 15. A special visit to the theater to see it is in our winter calendar and my 7 year old is so excited!