In the whirlwind of the season, it can be hard to find time to slow down. So snuggling up for a bedtime story with your child is the perfect way for both of you to relax while building the festive feeling. We’ve picked a selection of classic and current, sentimental and stylish Christmas reads for all ages – one to enjoy each day of December – that will get the whole family in the mood for the big day. They all make excellent gifts too.
1. Pick A Pine Tree by Patricia Toht, illustrated by Jarvis. £11.99, Walker. For age 3+ (above)
Perfect for: kicking off the festive season.
The tradition of choosing a tree and decorating it with your loved ones is at the heart of this delightful rhyming tale. It follows a family as they select the perfect pine, bring it home, take out the tinsel and baubles, and invite friends to help them trim up. The evocative book ends with a sparkling switch-on of the lights that will make every heart soar, while the illustrations by Jarvis have a magically retro feel.
2. The Jolly Christmas Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. £12.99, Puffin. For age 3+
Perfect for: reluctant readers
It’s Christmas Eve and one of the Ahlbergs’ most loved characters sets out to deliver seasons greetings to the residents on his round. He peddles up hill and down dale to ensure Red Riding Hood receives a gift from Mr Wolf (a game appropriately called Beware) and hospitalised Humpty Dumpty gets a get-well jigsaw. With its interactive cards and gifts, and cast of familiar fairytale characters, this clever book never fails to charm. Because who can resist opening those little envelopes?
Perfect for: showing your child you love them.
This sweet tale about two penguins preparing for Christmas has the same festive feelgood factor as the song of the same name. As Little Penguin and Big Penguin decorate the tree and send a list of Santa, it turns out that they have everything they need in each other. Rachel Bright’s cute artwork and catchy rhyming text make this a reassuring book for little ones that is perfect for reading cuddled up together.
4. Elmer’s Christmas by David McKee. £5.99 (mini-hardback edition), Andersen Press. For age 2+
Perfect for: teaching the joy of giving not to receive.
The much-loved patchwork elephant teams up with Papa Red to give the young elephants a Christmas surprise to remember as they travel to see snow for the first time and get to spot someone special flying in. In return for this magical experience, the children learn a valuable lesson about the importance of giving to others. The sweet mini hardback edition has a delightfully sparkly cover and is just the right size to fit in a stocking or changing bag to read on the move.
5. Last Stop On The Reindeer Express by Maudie Powell-Tuck, illustrated by Karl James Mountford. £12.99, Little Tiger Press. For age 3+
Perfect for: children missing a loved one.
Being apart from a parent at Christmas is at the subject of this striking story, where heroine Mia boards a mysterious reindeer to deliver her card to Daddy, who she is missing terribly. The little girl travels through the sky, over snow-filled landscapes and beautiful cities, until she arrives at a house in the cold mountains. Who could be inside? The folksy festive artwork and clever lift-the-flaps peep-through-pages add to the charm of this really touching book that teaches how you can still feel someone’s love without being together.
6. The Empty Stocking by Richard Curtis, illustrated by Rebecca Cobb. £6.99, Puffin. For age 3+
Perfect for: ensuring good behaviour for the whole of December!
Twin sisters Sam and Charlie share the same birthday and appearance but the similarities end there. Charlie can be a rather mischievous little miss and her family fear that she is on Santa’s naughty list. But when Father Christmas sets out to teach Charlie a lesson, an unfortunate mix-up results in an act of kindness that proves this bad girl is actually the most loving of sisters. A truly charming and funny tale by award-winning director Richard Curtis.
7. How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr Seuss (60th anniversary edition). £14.99, HarperCollins Children’s. For age 3+
Perfect for: conveying the spirit of Christmas.
This Christmas classic from the incomparable Dr Seuss turns 60 this year but is still as witty and wise as ever, filled with the author’s zany rhyming text and energetic cartoony illustrations. Your child will love watching the grumpy Grinch, with his mean heart two sizes too small, go through his transformation from the scourge of the season to festive fan, joining the residents of Whoville to celebrate. This special anniversary edition makes a lovely keepsake to read year after year, too.
8. Robin’s Winter Song by Suzanne Barton. £6.99, Bloomsbury. For age 4+
Perfect for: teaching your child the seasons.
This beautiful book tells the story of that most Christmassy of birds, the robin. The hardy little creature sees the leaves starting to fall and wonders why his friends are making preparations for something scary called winter. But when it arrives and the countryside is coated with snow, he realises what a magical season it is. A touching and gentle story that features wonderful animal illustrations and gorgeous collage effects.
Perfect for: learning about being a good sibling.
Sisters Greta and Gracie share many similarities except that Greta is chitty-chatty and Gracie loves to listen. It means the younger sibling can sometimes be dominated by the older – until her quiet nature means she spots a special visitor to the house on Christmas Eve… It’s brilliant book if you have one child more outgoing than the other and we adore the clever way the story is conveyed, in part by standard text and in part through speech bubbles from the characters. Boy, does Greta love to talk!
10. A Child’s Christmas In Wales by Dylan Thomas, illustrated by Peter Bailey. £7.99, Orion. For age 6+
Perfect for: sharing a story with older children who normally read for themselves.
The Welsh poet’s memories of his own childhood Christmases in the 1920s is charmingly nostalgic for a simpler time. We love the affectionate retelling of family gatherings with snoring uncles among handmade decorations and the hilarious debacle of the fire in Mrs Protheroe’s house on Christmas Eve. This classic book is the ideal introduction to this famous author’s work, with rich language to expand your child’s vocabulary. Peter Bailey’s simple drawings really capture the spirit of the stories, too.
11. Morris Wants More by Joshua Seigal and Amelie Faliere. £11.99, Flying Eye Books. For age 2+
Perfect for: making your child laugh.
Spoilt Morris is the apple of his parents’ eye but no matter what gifts they bestow on the demanding child, he wants more. The little prince receives increasingly large and lavish presents from the doting pair, only to complain and sulk. This anarchic retelling of the 12 days of Christmas is a superb alternative to sugary seasonal stories – and has a very funny ending. The bold and bright illustrations are extremely distinctive too.
12. Dream Snow by Eric Carle. £6.99, Puffin. For age 2+
Perfect for: an interactive read.
When a farmer falls asleep on Christmas Eve, he wakes to find his dream of snow has come true. It has covered his beloved animals and the whole world in a gorgeous white blanket.
But he needs to get his presents to his creatures – named One, Two, Three, Four and Five – so he pulls on his warmest clothes (which leave him looking suspiciously like Father Christmas…) and sets off to deliver them. With flaps to explore, numbers to learn and Carle’s signature collage illustrations, this book is made for exploration.
13. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, illustrated by Quentin Blake. £14.99, Pavilion. For age 8+
Perfect for: discovering the true meaning of Christmas spirit.
It’s one of the most famous festive stories of all time. What Christmas wouldn’t be complete without the tale of mean-spirited miser Ebenezer Scrooge and his redemption after being visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve? Charles Dickens’ classic work has been retold many times over, by everyone from the Muppets to Michael Rosen, but this luxurious edition illustrated by the incomparable Quentin Blake makes a stunning addition to your family library and a wonderful gift. There’s a fascinating foreword from the man himself too, explaining the enduring appeal of this book.
14. Red & Lulu by Matt Tavares. £11.99, Walker. For age 3+
Perfect for: experiencing the magic of New York at Christmas.
The power of love is at the heart of this epic tale about two birds separated when the proud pine they call home is chosen to be the Rockefeller Centre Christmas Tree. Lulu is asleep in the branches when the men come to take the tree away, leaving her mate bereft. Red’s journey to New York and search across the city, to be reunited with Lulu thanks to the song O Christmas Tree, is beautifully illustrated and reminiscent of a classic festive film.
15. The Twelve Dogs of Christmas by Alison Ritchie & Marisa Morea. £6.99, Simon & Schuster. For age 3+
Perfect for: a bit of festive fun.
The traditional seasonal song gets turned on its head with this riotous tale about a little puppy getting ready for his first ever Christmas. Your child will laugh to see two dachshunds delivering cards, four bulldogs picking a tree and five comical golden retrievers drooling at the sight of ‘rings’ in the bakery window. It’s hugely entertaining and the illustrations by Marisa Morea are full of energy and humour. Who doesn’t love a puppy in a Santa hat, after all?!
16. Mog’s Christmas by Judith Kerr. £6.99, HarperCollins Children’s. For age 2+
Perfect for: introducing your child to this classic character.
Judith Kerr’s forgetful feline gets herself into a Christmas conundrum when, already unnerved by all the decorations and visitors at home, the sight of a seemingly walking, talking tree sees her flee to the roof. The Thomas family try everything to coax their beloved moggy down to no avail, and fear the festive season is ruined until a furry present arrives down the chimney… This adorable seasonal story about this lovable cat also has the most fabulously 1970s illustrations that will have parents and grandparents feeling all nostalgic.
17. That’s Not My Elf by Fiona Watt. £6.99, Usborne. For age 0-2
Perfect for: getting your baby excited about Christmas.
This elf-themed edition of the celebrated ‘That’s Not My…’ board book series will let the youngest members of your family to join in with Christmas story time. The textured patches, repetitive language and simple drawings are just made to grab your baby’s attention. And there’s a lovely sparkly bell at the end to enjoy.
18. Make & Play Nativity by Joey Chou. £7.99, Nosy Crow. For age 3+
Perfect for: crafty kids.
Bring the nativity story to life with this activity board book, featuring 20 colourful play figures and animals that can be pressed out and assembled in different scenes from the story. There’s even a 3D manger! The book includes this most famous story, Christmas songs to sing and even crafts tokeep them busy. The pieces can be pressed back into the book for easy storage or leave them on display during the festive season. Genius!
19. The Christmas Eve Tree by Delia Huddy, illustrated Emily Sutton. £7.99, Walker. For age 5+
Perfect for: teaching your child that there is more to Christmas than presents.
A triumphant tale about the runt of the Christmas tree litter who sees all the other pines find happy homes while he is left alone in the shop. But then a homeless boy comes along who doesn’t mind that he is crooked and small, and his love allows the tree to become part of a impromptu Christmas Eve celebration to remember.
Your child will especially love the surprise pop-up scene in the middle of this heartwarming book which has a classic feel while being a thoroughly modern story.
20. Madeline’s Christmas by Ludwig Bemelmans. £7.99, Scholastic. For age 3+
Perfect for: inspiring budding feminists.
Feisty French schoolgirl Madeline is the epitome of small but strong. In this festive rhyming tale – first published in a magazine in 1956 – the iconic character spreads Christmas kindness, caring for her flu-stricken teachers and friends, and taking in a magical carpet seller. He rewards her good deeds with a trip home from boarding school for all the pupils in time to see their families – the best present!
21. The First Christmas by Rod Campbell. £5.99, Macmillan. For age 0-2
Perfect for: teaching the nativity story from a young age.
The bestselling Dear Zoo author gives the nativity story a simple retelling in this sweet board book that will appeal to babies as much as older children. The drawings are in Rod’s classic style, with distinct outlines and appealing faces, while the text is uncomplicated and easy to follow. It’s a great introduction to the main characters and events around the birth of Jesus.
Perfect for: a special gift.
Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet receives a breathtaking retelling in this enchanting book featuring a new pop-up technique invented by the author that is called paperscope. As Clara’s nutcracker toy takes her on a magical midnight journey, through a world of dancing candy canes and mouse soldiers, each chapter is punctuated by a intricate laser-cut illustration which you reveal by pushing down on the top of the page, acting like a stage set. Simply stunning.
23. Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs. £7.99, Puffin. For age 2+
Perfect for: giving both parent and child a giggle.
The wonderful Raymond Briggs gives a very human take on this Christmas character, depicted him as a slightly grumpy man living in a normal house with only his pets for company and happily partaking of a few stiff drinks as he delivers his gifts to children around the world. The comic strip style sequences and limited words just add to the humour, as our man ponders how to get into a caravan, curses too tight chimneys and worries he’s catching a cold. It’s so well observed, no wonder it won the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration in 1973.
24. The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore, illustrated by Angela Barrett. £6.99, Orchard. For age 3+
Perfect for: a Christmas Eve bedtime story.
Is there anything better for building Christmas anticipation than this cherished Clement C. Moore poem? In this lovely edition, the well known verse about a visit from St Nick is given an atmospheric treatment by award-winning illustrator Angela Barrett. We just love the main man’s traditional white fur coat and the magical moonlit and snow-covered setting for the story. It’s super stylish and truly embraces the spirit of the season.
Alex Lloyd writes about children’s books at BooksWithBaby and you can see what she is reading at bedtime on Instagram @bookswithbaby