12 Christmas picture books for the 12 days of Christmas

I had so much fun scouring library shelves and stores for the best Christmas picture books. I went to my friend Julie Bristow, who has a knack for finding the best traditional Christmas books, to add to my list of new favorites. Here are our top 12 picks! We love the idea of wrapping these up and opening one a day with your family for the 12 days of Christmas. Merry Christmas and happy reading!

Kim’s picks:

A Little Christmas Tree by Anthony Merrill

This one brings tears to my eyes. It is my 3rd-grader’s new favorite Christmas book. She begged to read it to her class, and her sweet teacher was crying by the end of it. It is a beautiful story of a little tree and his mother’s refrain that one day he will bring the true meaning of Christmas to someone’s home. This is one of those books my kids will grow up with and remember with fondness when they have their own homes.  

Red and Lulu by Mark Tavares

This is an endearing story (with breathtaking illustrations) about two birds whose favorite time of year is Christmas. We follow the story of how the birds get separated when their tree is cut down and how they find each other again. I love the birds-eye view of Christmas in New York.

Pick a Pine Tree by Patricia Toht

This enchanting book is all about the tradition of picking and decorating a pine tree. The illustrations and rhythmic text make it a perfect Christmas tradition.

A Bunny Christmas by Rick Walton

This was written by my professor at BYU who taught a children’s book class. But that has nothing to do with why I’m including this book. I just love how the words and illustrations make me feel like I’m in a cozy Christmasy scene. There’s something nostalgic and calming about it that keeps me reaching for it all December.

When Santa was a Baby by Linda Bailey

There are a lot of deep and meaningful picture books in the Christmas category, so it’s nice to mix in a more playful one here and there. This one is so clever and fun. Santa’s parents are enamored with their baby, just as any parents are. He has some quirks: Like his loud “Ho ho ho,” his inclination to give all of his birthday presents away, and a fascination with chimneys. He also trains his hamsters to pull a miniature sleigh. My kids think it’s hilarious.  

I Believe in Santa Claus by Diane Adamson

This is a new favorite that feels like a classic. After I picked it up at Costco (for $9.99) and quickly added it to my list of favorites, Julie told me she is neighbors with the author! Small world. The words are so understated but the meaning is poignant. The book draws simple, but poignant parallels between Santa Claus and Jesus Christ in a very sweet way. This is one we will keep forever to remember the true meaning of Christmas and the symbolism of Santa Claus.

Julie’s picks:

The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore

This unedited version of “The Night Before Christmas” stays true to the original poem from 1823. It completely comes to life with the illustrations of renowned children’s book illustrator and award-winning artist, Charles Santore. The traditional art form captured in this telling of a classic poem is unparalleled. The Santa Claus portrayed in this book, is quite literally the Santa Claus of my childhood, the one I’ve always envisioned in my mind’s eye. The large book format with large, easy-to-read words for display and storytelling make it a quick choice for an eager audience ready to listen about the magic of Christmas.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, retold for young readers by Adam Mckeown

I fell in love with this retelling of  “A Christmas Carol” because it is one of the best retellings of the Dickens classic I have found for my children. It is uncomplicated and manages to keep the voice and spirit of  Charles Dickens alive throughout the story. A great way to introduce this timeless classic to your young readers!

The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers

Although I have a few favorites of this classic story, this particular one moved right onto my list this year. Author Susan Jeffers wondered what more she could bring to the table of retelling this world-famous story. She realized that she never came across renditions that included the ballet portion, which is what many of us think of when we think of  “The Nutcracker.” She decided she had two main goals to create her own version: First, that it would follow the story of the ballet, and second, that it would actually speak to a child.  It is so beautifully illustrated and as we read it as family my daughter pointed out all the different characters and costumes of the Nutcracker Ballet. This is a wonderful version for young readers without lengthy text.

The Twelve Days of Christmas illustrated by Laurel Long

I am completely smitten with the breathtaking illustrations in this book version of the famous Christmas carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The illustrations are rich, vibrant, detailed, and full of imagination and life. To make this stunning artwork even more enjoyable for the whole family, the illustrator has hidden in the elements that were mentioned in previous verses on each page. Be ready to be on the lookout out for turtle doves, golden rings, ladies dancing, and of course a partridge in a pear tree on each intricately detailed page!

The Story Of  Christmas illustrated by Pamela Dalton

This is the story of Christmas from the King James Bible. This particular book has a very special place in our hearts and home. This book is the one we read to our children each Christmas Eve as we recount the birth of the baby Jesus. Working with the medium of Scherenschnitte which, in German, means “scissor cuts,” illustrator Pamela Dalton has created unique and astounding artwork that  follows the events of the Nativity. I never tire of its vibrant, life-giving colors set against the stark contrast of midnight black pages. Most importantly, it is the story of the birth of Christ that holds the most value to me at Christmastime.

The Spirit of Christmas by Nancy Tillman

“That’s when the Spirit of Christmas smiled. ‘Remember, this all began with a child. Because it took nothing but love to begin it, it’s not really Christmas if love isn’t in it.'”

Although this book is not a century-old classic,  I had to include it in my list. This book is about catching the spirit of Christmas. In one word, this book is about love. Nancy Tillman, a brilliant author and illustrator, has a mission while creating her books. That mission is to “convey to children everywhere that you are loved.” She has done a phenomenal job with both her artwork and her rhythmic verse.  All to remind us that the magic of Christmas is about spending it with those we love, celebrating what is meaningful to us, and the creation of fond Christmas memories.

2 thoughts on “12 Christmas picture books for the 12 days of Christmas

  1. Love this!! Where do I find “a little Christmas tree?”
    I can’t find it online so far. It sounds like my kind of book! Ha k you for your great list!

    1. Hi Becca! You can buy the book at alittlechristmastree.com. I fixed the hyperlink on the book title to reflect that. Thank you!

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