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I LOVE Christmas.
And I LOVE Advent. (I even wrote a book about Advent). I love all the fun and creative ways we can anticipate the excitement of Christmas during December with our families.
One of our favourite traditions is our Advent basket. It’s so simple – I just throw all our Christmas books, games and toys in a big basket and set it out from the start of December for our children to explore. The novelty value of having not seen these items for 11 months really kicks in, and my kids (and I) love to rifle through, checking out old favourites and discovering new ones.
Which brings me nicely to the topic of this post: the best 2019/2020 Christmas picture books. Because, let’s face it, a lot of our Christmas libraries need a little TLC, right? Especially ours, after 11 years.
So if you’re looking to add something new to your Advent basket or Christmas Eve box this year, you’re in the right place.
I’ve scoured the publishers for what they’ve produced in the last couple of years and am proud to present to you here the best 2019/2020 Christmas picture books!
(PS If you’re looking for Advent devotional books for older children, teens and adults, make sure you check out my Best Advent Book recommendations!)
Christmas Books for Preschoolers/EYFS
Here are the best Christmas books for preschoolers and EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage – ages 3-5) – although as I always add, any recommended ages must be taken with a HUGE pinch of salt. Each child is an individual and will be inspired by different books. Some much older children would enjoy these books – whilst other preschoolers wouldn’t!
My kids are aged 11, 9, 6 and 6 – and have enjoyed several of the following books.
I hope my descriptions help you work out the best book to buy for your child 🙂
The Birth of Jesus
This is a waterproof bath book, ideal for babies and toddlers to enjoy as they splash about! The text is fairly lengthy (as there are only three pages!) but most parents could just use the brightly coloured pictures to ad-lib the story with their child – the words are a good reminder for any grown-ups who may not be clear on the details of the story. The three double-page spreads feature Jesus’ birth, the shepherds and the wise men. A fun Advent gift for a new baby or young toddler!
The Christmas Promise (board book)
This gorgeous book was released in large hardback a few years ago and is one of the best Christmas picture books we have in our family stash.
So I was excited to hear that The Good Book Company were releasing it in board book form, for younger readers!
And it’s a thumbs-up from me.
They’ve kept the gorgeous illustrations and focus of the wording, but abbreviated the text so that there aren’t too many words per page, pivoting it around the word ‘WHOOSH!’ for the angel/star appearances in the story. Onomatopoeic words like this work really well when reading with babies and toddlers!
All in all, this is probably the best of the 2020 Christmas picture books for very small children.
Buy from The Good Book Company.
There’s a lion in my Nativity!
Here’s a lovely book with ‘unlikely’ props and characters to represent different aspects of the Nativity story.
A tent represents the fact Jesus was homeless, a phone represents God speaking to us, and so on.
The pictures are colourful and engaging, and the text rhyming. It’s a great read-aloud for kids, with something extra to think about, and a ‘Do you remember…?’ section at the end to see whether kids (or adults, for that matter) can match up the item to the teaching point.
Warning: the title suggests this might be a humorous book, which it isn’t really. That doesn’t make it less good, I just feel I should warn you in case you’re looking for something which will have your toddlers in rip-roaring hysterics. This book won’t (well, I guess it might – toddlers DO find the most bizarre things hysterical) – but, none the less, it’s a great way to engage young children in what Christmas actually means.
Buy from The Good Book Company.
Away in a Manger
This gorgeously-illustrated book is simply the words of popular carol ‘Away in a Manger’ set to pictures, and it’s one of the best Christmas books for EYFS. I can just imagine teachers ending the school day by reading this calming book to their classes of nursery or reception children!
Now hear me on this: Away in a Manger is NOT my favourite carol. So.Many.Theological.Issues. Not to mention parenting ones too: ‘no crying he makes’? As if.
But the stunning illustrations more than make up for it. And both my boys loved the novelty of singing the words as we turned the pages! I also like that it relates the nativity story to our lives now – one of the redeeming features of the carol, in fact!
The First Christmas Song
Each year, 10Publishing produces a nice little Christmas book, then sells it dirt cheap in bulk, intended to be given out to groups of children at toddler groups, Sunday schools or EYFS classes in schools.
Even on its own, it’s inexpensive and will fit in a stocking. What more could you want?
Well, some good illustrations. And this one has them in droves: full-colour pages, engaging characters and vivid colours from Kezia Hulse.
You’d also want a text that captivated young audiences. Again, this one hits the mark, with Alison Brewis’ rhyming text based around the importance of singing for Christians, why we sing at Christmas, and which of the Nativity characters might have sung.
Interestingly, this book leaves out the shepherds and wise men, and instead includes Simeon, the old prophet who had been waiting for the Messiah to come. I like that I can use this book to teach my children the lesser-known characters of the Christmas story.
The Longest Wait
This is 2019’s offering from 10Publishing, and it’s another good one, with enticing illustrations and a rhyming text, again from Alison Brewis, with Jenny Brake’s marvellous drawings providing life and colour throughout.
This time, the theme is waiting – something which most children can relate to, at Christmas! Our waiting for Christmas morning links to all the waiting that people did before Jesus came. I love the repetitive refrain in this book:
“Tickety tock, tickety tock, it feels like forever just watching the clock”
This book features Anna and Simeon, who had waited a long time to see God-made-man. Again – how great to be able to teach our children about these two important characters!
Both The First Christmas Song and The Longest Wait feature dark-skinned characters. Along with being more authentic (Jesus was born into a Middle-Eastern family, after all), these books would be great options if you’re intentionally looking to expand your repertoire of BAME characters in children’s books.
(And for more ideas, check out 25+ Culturally Diverse stories for Children.)
Santa’s Special Gift
A cute, rhyming story of how Santa discovers Jesus! Santa doesn’t think it’s fair that only children who have been ‘good’ get presents – but Mrs Claus persuades him otherwise. However, an unexpected collision with a church exposes Santa to the free grace that Jesus gives us all, whether we’re naughty or nice. A wonderful opportunity to share the gospel with children in a Christmassy way.
The Lost Elf (Called Clive)
A lovely rhyming story based on the story of the Lost Sheep (with elements of the Prodigal Son thrown in for good measure!). Clive is an elf who doesn’t believe he’s as good as the other elves, so he runs away, thinking no one will notice. But it’s Santa himself who comes looking for him. A Christmassy take on this powerful parable for young children.
The King and the Shepherd Boy
Here’s a beautiful Julia Donaldson-style rhyming version of the Nativity which follows the journeys of the shepherd boy and the King as they make their way to the stable, with the resulting lesson that Jesus was born for rich and poor.
The illustrations are beautiful, the text great to read aloud, and the different angle on this familiar story is very welcome to a family who have heard the original oodles of times.
Love Came Down
Despite the Christmassy front cover, the actual nativity story only makes up a small fraction of this book. The rest is basically the gospel, told in rhyme!
From creation through to the second coming, children (and grown-ups) are told the ‘why’ of the story we celebrate at Christmas. Based on John 3:16, and with fun illustrations throughout, this would make a wonderful giveaway book for schools and church groups, explaining the context of the Nativity story.
It’s also available as a board book, and there’s an additional activity book to go with it! (See below.)
Christmas Books for 6 year olds and older
The following titles are a bit wordier, and would make lovely additions to the Christmas library of a child aged 6+. Many of them would be great Christmas books for 8 year olds, 9 year olds – even some young teens will enjoy these!
Again, treat this age guide very loosely – you know your child best.
10 Silly Santas
This is a superb ‘Advent calendar’ of poems that children and adults alike would enjoy. They’d work well in a classroom as well as in a family. You could read one per day throughout December as a lovely Advent treat.
There are also poems that go beyond Christmas Day and through into the New Year, aptly expressing the determination of New Year’s Resolutions, followed by an inevitably defeatist attitude when they’re broken.
From the silliness of ‘Icicle’ to the poignant ‘Our first Christmas without you’, from Christ-centred poems like ‘Holly’ to entirely secular ones such as ‘The Party’, every possible Advent-related emotion is captured within these verses.
Yes, it would make a great stocking filler (it’s small enough) – but get it in time for December 1st if you can!
The Gift of Christmas
If you’re looking for a traditional Christmas picture book, which tells the story in some detail, with no frills, this is a lovely option. The text uses some of the traditional language you might find in various Bible translations, but is easily understood by children.
I love the unique illustrations with muted shades and blurred edges – there’s something quite ‘classic’ about them.
And with plenty of words per page, it would make a brilliant read-aloud option for a family with mixed-age children, perhaps snuggled on the sofa in the evening.
Of all the 2020 Christmas picture books released recently, this is probably the most ‘classic’ in being a straight Christmas story, with nothing added.
If your Advent basket is full of more quirkily-angled Christmas story books, I’d definitely recommend adding in a standard re-telling like this one.
The Newborn King
Here’s another classic re-telling of the Christmas story. This time, the illustrations are in bold, bright colours, with sharp contrasts, and the wording is more up-to-date, making this a great ‘modern’ option for a traditional Christmas picture book.
Unexpected Gift Storybook
This goes with the Unexpected Gift activity book (below) but can be used separately. There are 25 pages, so you could read a page every day from December 1st-25th, doing the accompanying craft from the activity book.
Or you could read it all at once, which totally works. It’s a wordier story, best for primary-aged children, but the way Annie Kratzsch explains it as she tells it is wonderful.
I love how the words ‘OK’ and ‘Let’s go!’ are highlighted in a different font and colour. The emphasis is on how different Nativity characters said YES to God, and how we too have a choice as to whether to say YES to God today.
The illustrations and modern and quirky, making this a thoroughly up-to-date addition to our children’s Christmas book collections.
(And don’t forget the activity book – see below – it’s absolutely brilliant!)
The Greatest Gift
I have to say this is probably one of my favourite Christmas picture books for children.
Author Anika Lillicrap (mum of 6) has written the most beautiful poem which not only rhymes and scans (oh, the joy!) but uniquely tells the story of Christmas using the line “What’s about to happen?” to start each verse.
The book begins in a relatable way for young children, with the kind of Christmas celebrations of which we’re familiar, before whizzing back to the birth of Jesus, fast-forwarding on to what he came to do, and finally returning to us in the 21st century, reminding us that we have a response to make.
Lovely illustrations too by Kezia Hulse – an all-round charmer of a book!
The Christmas Story
This is a masterpiece from acclaimed evangelist J.John. With beautiful illustrations, and in A4 size, this is a lovely book for your own children or to give to others.
Be prepared for its thoroughness! The book takes children through the whole story of why Jesus was born, starting with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. I love that this connects the familiar Christmas story with the whole Bible, and with other concepts that church-going kids will know about. But I also love that you could give this to a child being raised in a secular home, and it would explain everything to them – it’s that comprehensive.
There’s even a prayer at the end for children who want to become Jesus’ friend. Wonderful!
If you and your children like to get creative and prefer your books a bit more hands-on, there are some fabulous recent releases to whet your whistle!
I’ve been blown away by these imaginative resources, from a range of publishers, and know I’ll be buying some for Advent gifts this year!
Unexpected Gift Activity Book
Wow. Just wow. I was hugely impressed with this book when I first saw it.
This is my hands-down favourite Christmas activity book of this year, and I can’t wait to get started on it with the kids! It goes with the Unexpected Gift Storybook, although you can use each book separately.
Printed on heavy cardstock, each page gives a simple craft activity and Bible-verse tree decoration to make. The pages are one-sided and perforated, so you simply tear them out then do the craft.
There are two things I particularly love about this book. Firstly, the very practical way it’s been set out, to make it quick and easy for parents, with minimum set-up and no expensive craft materials to source. Apart from scissors, glue and colouring pens/pencils, everything you need is in the book.
Each craft is simple and wouldn’t take more than a few minutes for an older child, although toddlers might take longer, get really into it and turn it into a full morning’s activity!
Secondly, each craft is related to the Bible verse for that day, so by Christmas Day you’ll have 24 little items in your home which will serve as visible reminders of the Christmas story – a double whammy of Christmassy fun!
How to Draw Nativity
This is an amazing book for any child who’s a budding artist – although the step-by-step instructions make it accessible to ANYONE who wants to have a go!
The book includes a sketch pad, so just grab a pencil and you’re good to go. There are explanatory notes at the start, and the pictures progress from easy to harder.
Each illustration requires a fair amount of pen control and attention to detail, so this book would be an ideal Christmas book for an 8 year old or older.
A Pirate Christmas Activity Book
Does anyone else find ‘run-and-go’ resources just SO useful in December?
With over-hyped, over-tired children, slogging it through to the last day of term, I’m often after simple activities that will keep things calm after school and at weekends – which don’t take me any time to prep!
This activity book is exactly that kind of resource. In fact, my 6-year-old boys couldn’t wait till December, so got stuck in as soon as it arrived in September!
Perfect for a young-ish child (4-8), this book contains all the usual activities this age group loves: colouring, spot-the-difference, dot-to-dot, stickers and more. A really easy book to keep handy for the inevitable crazy moments during December!
Create and Celebrate: The Jesse Tree
We did a Jesse Tree in our family last year (kids aged 10, 8, 5, 5 at the time), and it was brilliant. Simple to set up and do, it engaged all of us and provided us with a short (read: manageable) moment of reflection each day.
So I was really pleased to see Lion release this Jesse Tree activity book recently. It makes this beautiful tradition even easier for families, by doing the hard work for you.
Each day there’s a short Bible reading, and accompanying Jesse Tree decoration to trace and colour, as well as a sentence of explanation as to how it links to the Bible passage.
My only gripe about this book is that each decoration has to be traced or copied from the book. It would have been lovely to have the pages printed one-sided, so that the decorations could have been cut out directly from the book, or maybe included as a tear-out insert instead.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about all these fabulous 2019/2020 Christmas picture books available now, and that it’s given you some good ideas for your own children, grandchildren, godchildren, nieces, nephews, class pupils, or whoever you’d like to surprise this year!
If you’re looking for different gifts, do check out my Stocking Fillers to Nurture Faith posts. (That link will take you to my suggestions for 5-8 year olds. Check out my guide for preschoolers and 8-11s too!)
Let me know in the comments – which book/s are you most interested in? And which older Christmas books are your children’s favourites?
Joanna Chee says
Wow! This is a wonderful post Lucy. And I truly appreciate what a labour of love it is putting together a post like this! Thank you 🙂
Thank you Jo! I hope it’s helpful to parents and others who buy for children in the run-up to Christmas 🙂