Top 10 Best Christmas Books for Christian Kids that do not Feature Santa Claus – plus some extras
As an author and publisher, and now especially as a new mom, I do not take lightly the selection of books for children.
(Skip to List if you’re in a hurry.)
For me, I have read books to my son every day since he was about two months old. In those early days, I was not sure if a love for books could really be cultivated yet, but now that he is 14 months old, I can say with confidence that is exactly what has happened.
Today, a crate of children’s books sits on the living room floor beside Ari’s other toys. He “plays” with them every day. He flips through the pages himself and lifts the flaps. When he’s not “reading,” he might stack his blockier books or relocate them around the room the way he does other toys.
Most of the books we have out for him right now are age-appropriate, but he is remarkably trustworthy with paper books, too. He has only ever accidentally torn one page and one lift-the-flap flap, and dismantled two animal tails (Tails by Matthew Van Fleet, a favorite since the beginning). Instead, he treats his books rather well.
Happily, story time has become one of Ari’s favorite activities. Since it is also one of the only times he sits contentedly on a lap, it provides opportunities for his grandparents and others to spend quality time snuggling with him. In restaurants or stores, I can even give Ari books instead an electronic device to entertain him.
If I have done nothing else right, I am most happy with Ari’s relationship with books!
At this point, I have now learned a lot about parenting. But the most important lesson, I believe, is that Ari learns everything I teach him, every moment - and I am always teaching him even when I do not know it.
For example, it will be many years before Ari can read himself, but he has known his books by heart long before I realized he did. As he grew and developed, he began responding to his books like he had known them for a long time. He anticipates parts of his favorite stories. He makes appropriate sounds of surprise or happiness when he’s even “reading” alone, and he giggles at pictures.
I have taught him that his books are special and good, a part of life, and trustworthy. I have taught him to learn from books.
That is why the books I bring into his life matter, even now.
If you have been to a commercial book store in recent years, or you especially enjoy finding just the right children’s books for loved ones, you know it’s not easy out there. So many books just do not offer the wonder, beauty, or overall messages you’re looking for.
When it comes to Christmas books, you especially want stories that sparkle. You want the children to feel them, and you want to feel them, too! You want books that can become beloved favorites to read year after year. You are seeking eye-catching illustrations and meaningful teaching opportunities. After all, Christmas books are meant to be remembered, anticipated, and one day passed down to the next generation.
I intend to create some of these books myself. When I can’t find exactly what I’m looking for, the ideas begin forming in my head. If they get down into my heart, they become part of my To-Do list. You will see my Christmas children’s books one day, and I hope you look for them!
In the meantime, since books are my thing, I am thrilled to help you find the right ones to share this season. To create my top-ten list, I put countless Christmas children’s books to the test. There were others close in the running but they just did not fit all the criteria perfectly. But I shared their titles, too, so don’t miss them.
So, below is the beginning of Ari’s own Christmas book list for when he is old enough. The age group for this list is 4-8. However, that is typical, and children younger can grow into such books, or older children can still enjoy and appreciate them for many years to come. You are the judge of that for your precious little ones.
This list also deviates from classic Christmas stories like Santa Claus and Frosty because Christian parents today are more and more looking for ways to take the major emphasis away from those characters. (I am, and here’s why.)
Therefore, if you are in need a list that does not focus on Santa but also is not just the nativity story over and over, you’ve come to the right place!
Lastly, these books are both pretty and meaningful. The overall silliness of Mr. Willoby’s Christmas Tree, for example, fits better in a different list, and I will make it one day.
Rather, these are books that sparkle like Christmas and are meant to be pondered in hearts.
Beginning with first place…
By Gail Wiersum; illustrated by Alexandra Steele-Morgan; Little Golden Books
This classic, counting golden book with its sing-song rhyming invites readers into a warm and cozy barn on Christmas Eve, but in present day, “after all the people leave.” The barnyard animals nestled in the hay tell their young the Christmas story of long ago, as it has been remembered and passed down to them. Snow falls softly in the crisp night outside. This is a perfect bedtime storybook to read still and hushed.
This classic was a favorite in my family when I was growing up (the vintage edition illustrated by Jim Robison). My mother directed the children’s Christmas program at our church for many years, and she once used the book for our Christmas production. I recommended it this year to my own church as a simple and sweet play.
Besides being completely precious and full of wonder, it is biblically accurate. The wise men are included in the story but they do not show up at the manger. In reverence at the end, every beast “bows low its head for one small babe in a manger bed.”
By Crystal Bowman and Teri McKinley; illustrated by Claire Keay; TyndaleKidz
This is an alphabet book exceptionally done. The layout and illustrations are charming. Each letter of the alphabet tells the next piece in the story of Jesus’ birth, from “A” for angel to “W” for wise men, covering the full account, even including Elizabeth.
There is a small, four-line rhyme accompanying each alphabet letter, as well as a written-out Bible verse. The Bible verses are brief, so they could feasibly be read with the story, too, and not take away from the flow. This is a lovely keepsake book, perfect for an array of ages. It is available as a board book or a hardcover.
Of all classic, Christmas characters of fiction, Dr. Seuss’ the Grinch teaches us the most. Santa Claus himself is folklore, but the Grinch was written and printed with purpose.
In his early life, Dr. Seuss was part of the Lutheran church, and Christian overtones appear in his children’s books. The Grinch is no different and maybe even more so. That Christmas cannot be stolen from the Whos is a profound truth that speaks to our faith. Many other spiritual truths abound in the story as well.
Something else I appreciate about How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is that though the Grinch tries to impersonate Santa Claus, Santa Claus himself never appears in the story. Is he real? It is never addressed. The presents could have been left by Santa Claus or the Who parents. Even the newest Grinch movie was especially rare and wonderful in that it remained traditional and wholesome in today’s culture, and as an additional treat, it even featured Christian Christmas carols.
As you know, Seuss characters and stories have always stood out. The odd, nonsense world where they inhabit has delighted children for ages and will continue to do so. This particular book, with its signature wild rhyming that prompts readers to speak faster and faster for an epic adventure, is a must-have for children. The movie is not enough.
From the author of the popular Bear picture books, this book made it all the way up to number four on my list after a closer look and some thought.
To begin with, every Christmas book list needs a Christmas mouse. Christmas is nearly the only time a mouse in the house is endearing (in fiction!), and I think I know why. It contains the truth that Jesus came for the least of these. Even the most small and despised of creatures are precious and welcomed.
Next, of all Christmas mice, Mortimer is most true to a real mouse, and his story has depth when you look closely. For example, when Mortimer removes the statues from the nativity scene, even pushing the baby Jesus from the manger saying, “There’s no room for you here,” it strikes something deep inside. It hurts. It shows us ourselves.
The next wonderful feature of this book is that the family, a traditional family with a father, mother and children, sit down together to listen to the Christmas story, and the father takes responsibility to tell it.
Of course, Mortimer then learns who Jesus is, and it changes him.
By Martin Waddell; illustrated by Jason Cockcroft; McElderry Books
Here is another sweet bedtime story for still, quiet nights. The illustrations are stunning; the animals are lifelike, and the warm scenes spread over two-pages.
The story is simple and profound. On a cold, winter night, Kind Ox shares his stable with Tired Dog (the illustration of Tired Dog is why I bought the book to begin with), and Tired Dog promises Stray Cat he won’t chase him, and Stray Cat promises Small Mouse she won’t harm her. And Tired Donkey is invited to bring Mary and Joseph inside, too, where there is always room for a little one. And the baby is born.
Again, Jesus came for the least of these, the little ones – represented here by the small animals. And there is room for all of us to come. As we do, the rest fades away. We all stand on equal ground. No fear. Just peace.
The story is depicted in a snowy, cold scene. But when this happens for nativity books, the dark and cold can be representative of the world into which Jesus was born to save us. This book is available in hardcover or as a board book.
This nativity story is unique. Using simple words and rustic, wood paintings, the scene is brought to fuller life in the mind. This is a good bedtime story to unfold slowly and purposefully, leading up to the point. The message is the Bible verse, John 1:14: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…” The story offers a perspective of the very human, infant Jesus - what he saw and felt, “his mother’s arms, his father’s hands…”
As a new Mom who watched my baby son look at his world or the first time only a year ago, this simple story spoke to me. Readers are reminded that there really was a first night for Jesus. He had humbled Himself to the helplessness and vulnerability of a newborn human. He would feel cold, heat, hunger, pain, sickness and sadness, every discomfort, just like us. He was once a tiny, fragile infant, and then a precious, little boy, comforted by his parents.
This book is available in hardcover or paperback.
By Elena Pasquali; illustrated by Sophie Windham; Lion Children’s Books
This folk tale is both a good Christmas story and Easter story. Three trees each have different dreams. As one becomes a feeding trough for animals, and one becomes a small fishing boat, and one becomes a cross for crucifixion, they realize their dreams have come true in unexpected ways.
This retelling by Elena Pasquali and illustrated by Sophie Windham is my preference. It is most visually appealing and also nicely written.
Inspirational Christian speaker and author Liz Curtis Higgs has authored four parables for children, one for each season. The award-winning books teach lessons based on life on a farm. In The Pine Tree Parable, the farmer’s wife nurtures and loves a beautiful pine tree, so she never does sell it at Christmas time. Many years pass, and a family in need comes to look for a Christmas tree among the shabby, free ones. But the farmer and his wife know it is time to make a sacrifice and give generously, just like God did when He gave us His Son.
Each page of this book has a Bible verse at the bottom to go along with what is happening in the story. There are many, many take-aways, such as that showing kindness to others is showing kindness to Jesus. (Prov 19:17)
By Lori Walburg; illustrated by Richard Cowdrey; ZonderKidz
This sweet tale is based on the alleged true story that a candy maker in Indiana once used the candy cane as a symbol for Jesus.
In the book, a mysterious man comes to town and starts setting up shop. One little girl learns before any else that he is a candy maker. He explains to her how the shape and colors of the candy cane point to Jesus, and she helps him share the story with others in town. The book is set around the turn of the century, and the illustrations give it an old-fashioned feel. It was reissued with new illustrations in 2012, and the cover sparkles, literally. The history of the candy cane is also printed in the back.
Note that there are similar books to this one which strive to achieve the same goal – stories within a story that show common Christmas elements pointing to Jesus – though they are wordier, sometimes a stretch, and perhaps not as memorable. However, they are all lovely books with great messages and many references to history, which I especially appreciate. I will one day own them all for Ari. See also: The legend of the Christmas Stocking, The Legend of the Christmas Cookie, and The Legend of the Christmas Tree.)
By Charles M. Shulz, adapted by Tina Gallo; illustrated by Scott Jeralds; Simon Spotlight
The television Christmas special came before the book, but here is a classic Christmas story with beloved characters to be shared with the next generation. It is no secret that Charles M. Schulz was a Christian who boldly shared his faith through his work. Producers tried to discourage him from putting Scripture into the Peanuts Christmas special, but he replied, “If we don’t do it, who will?” And so, with the famous scene of Linus reciting Luke 2:8-14 (KJV), the Peanuts Christmas special was first broadcast on television in 1965. It was an award-winning success.
As animation has changed so much through the years, and entertainment options for children are now endless, the Peanuts specials may not be as interesting or impacting to children today. So, let them meet Charlie Brown and the gang during story time. The deluxe edition of the book has a red cloth cover with foil stamping - a beautiful keepsake.
This beloved classic follows a toy rabbit, gifted to a little boy at Christmastime, on the rabbit’s journey to becoming “real.” It ignites the imagination of all children who believe their favorite toys must be real and must love them back, and the hesitancy or sadness felt when such toys are later lost, discarded or given away. The bond we feel to our inanimate childhood friends sticks with us even into adulthood.
This book is profound in some ways, since human beings need to love and be loved to feel real, too. It has a nice ending, but the story does, however, have a fairy in it. This book does not include any religious references, but it is a relatable story with one reference to Christmas, and a good, classic gift. I prefer the edition with the original artwork.
By Ellen Kalish and Gideon Sterer; illustrated by Ramona Kaulitzki
This is a touching and true story about a small owl that ended up trapped and transported to New York City in a tree when it was cut and hauled to Rockefeller Center to be the Christmas tree. The owl was rescued, helped and later set free back home again. The author gives the owl a personality and describes the adventure from her point of view. After the owl experiences such kindness, she is able to understand Christmas. This book does not include any religious references however. It’s just a fun story that can promote kindness and consideration for wildlife, that we share God’s creation with, and education about what animal rescues do. It has lovely illustrations.
Somewhat related to this, The Carpenter’s Gift: A Christmas Tale about the Rockefeller Center Tree, is a fictional story set in the Depression era based on historical facts about two New York City traditions.
By Susan Wojciechowski; illustrated by P. J. Lynch; Candlewick
This is the story of a grumpy widower whose heart changes after spending time with a young boy, the son of a widow. The man is a woodcarver, and he has been tasked to create a nativity for the boy and his mother. In what can only be Holy Spirit fashion, the man is forced to face his past grief so that he might find healing.
Honestly, I half expected a love story to blossom as this had the perfect set up for a Hallmark movie rather than a children’s book. It may be a stretch for a child to relate with a widower, but it is a good opportunity, like with Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, to teach children what pain and loss can do if not handled right, and that Christ’s love has the ability to heal and restore. This is a beautiful book with very realistic illustrations.
Illustrated Christmas Carols to Sing Along
These lyric books did not fit my criteria for story books, so they could not be in my top ten, but they are well made and lovely. They can be brought out for singing Christmas carols with your children, offering visuals for the lyrics.
I hope this information was helpful for your Christmas book shopping this year!
I’ll be posting my next Christmas book list soon – 12 Best Folk, Fairy and Legendary Christmas Books for Children: Unique Book Recommendations for Gifts.