Each month I bring home a big stack of curated picture books around whatever the theme is for the next upcoming Picture Book Book Club chat which myself, and two others run. Prior to taking them home I’ve reviewed countless more and scoured the library catalogue for books that match the theme.
For December our theme is Happy Holidays which provides countless pages of results on the catalogue but also plenty of books to choose from. I’ve gone for a selection of picture books I really enjoyed reading that cover a range of different themes and customs of the holiday period. I will note however that unfortunately I had a lot of trouble finding any picture books on Hanukkah or Kwanzaa and only managed to get one book relating to Hanukkah customs.
While not definitive, here is a list of some of my favourite holiday themed books in no particular order!
1. The Twelve Days of Christmas by Laurel Long
This was the one and only Hanukkah related picture book I could get my hands on but being Lemony Snicket it provides a entertaining if not slightly macabre read. While more text heavy than the other books in the list, I enjoyed reading this funny and informative book about Latkes which are a type of potato pancake eaten as part of the celebration of Hanukkah. Though why the cover calls it a Christmas story when the book itself says “I’m not a part of Christmas!” cried the latke” is anyone’s guess. Not really suitable for storytime but a great personal read.
This is probably the first Christmas book I came across this season and what struck me first was the use of different animals to illustrate Christmas being celebrated around the world in different ways and how connected it makes us all feel. The text takes us on a journey from Christmas Eve to the end of Christmas day and the rhythm of the words makes it a joyful and soothing one. Is is definitely one I look forward to reading again next year!
Coming home to me symbolises not just the robin’s journey home but the journey home that many make around the holiday season. It can be treacherous at times but it’s all worth it for the joy of being reunited with loved ones and coming back to the places that feel like home. What really sells this book for me are Kerry Hyndman’s beautiful illustrations with their paint stroke like quality and intricate details.
I’m a tad bias when it comes to books illustrated by Stephen Michael King as I’ve been a fan of his painted cartoon style illustrations since I was a kid. However there is more to love about this book than just its illustrations. Its introduction opens you to the magic of the story about how on Christmas Eve the animals remember another wonderful night long ago of what the animals on the first Christmas witnessed. This gorgeous book tells the story of the animals involved on the night that Jesus was born. While all the animals included in the story may not be entirely factual to what happened that first night, it is a beautiful story that highlights how precious the baby Jesus was and the important tradition of oral histories.
6. The Birth of Jesus by Katherine Sully & Simona Sanfilippo
What I love about this book is that it tells the story of Christmas and Jesus’s birth in a way that children can understand without compromising the integrity of the original story. It deals well with how it shows its young audience King Herod’s hatred and jealously towards Jesus without having to include his desire for the baby’s death. This is a beautifully illustrated story that can be shared with young and old that tells the story of why we celebrate Christmas and what many believed happened over 2000 years ago.
8. Santa’s Outback Secret by Mike Dumbleton & Tom Jellett
What I instantly loved about this story was the idea that Santa aka a well known figure was so moved by a young boy’s letter for help that he went undercover to lend a hand. This attitude is a very Aussie one that speaks of our attitude to lend a mate/fellow man a hand in their time of need cause that’s what you do when someone needs help. What I think is particularly special about this story is that Santa disguised himself so that they wouldn’t know that it was him but still made sure that the family knew that the boy’s call for help had been heard and answered.
Yes it’s another Anna Walker illustrated book but when you’re as good as her it’s not surprising! What I find special about this book is how it explores all the little things that makes the Christmas season special particularly in Australia such as the sun staying out later or eating Christmas lunch in the park. It’s a season that brings people together to celebrate through decorating trees, putting on Christmas shows, singing carols together and sharing wishes. I like the child like innocence that the book portrays that maybe Christmas can feel this magical every year and maybe it can be if we just take the time to slow down and enjoy our time together.
That Christmas Feeling follows the story of Dottie who’s worried that the Christmas feeling that makes you all warm and fuzzy inside won’t be coming this year! But even without their normal traditions of carols in the park and making Christmas pudding, Dottie and her family find a new reason to feel the joy of Christmas! I love how Dottie shares all her favourite Christmas memories and traditions and how her brother helps to cheer her up and see that they can still have fun even if things aren’t exactly the same. It’s a beautiful book about what it means to be a family.
11. Ollie’s Christmas Reindeer by Nicola Killen
What’s special to me about this book is that it’s mostly monochrome with only a hint of red and if you look really closely, hints of blue. The added features in the illustrations such as the splashes of metallic silver and the windows looking through to other pages add extra dimension to the pages. What I love about this story is that the writing guides the reader in the different sounds, sights and feelings Ollie experiences during the story. It’d certainly make the perfect storytime book!
I hope you enjoyed this list of recommendations and that it helps you to find your next picture book read or a story to share for your holiday storytimes! If you have any holiday themed books you think I should read, leave me a comment about why you love it!