Drafting an advent calendar


Alongside the tiny-door cardboard calendars for the girls, this year I’d like to do a book calendar to mark the passing days of December. Unwrapping and reading a favorite book every morning sounds lovely. I first encountered this idea on Andrea’s bookscout blog two years ago. I’d love to wrap them up this way created by Oh Happy Day, pictured above. Brown paper book packages tied up with string.

Last year out of the twenty or so holiday books we checked out of the library, I found twelve favorites that the then-four-and-two year old loved (that means I need to come up with thirteen more!). I look for books that have detailed illustrations and writing that hints at even more of a story than it tells. All of these have that!

Here are last year’s favorites:

Christmas in Noisy Village, Astrid Lindgren // by the author of Pippi Longstocking, enchanting stories that portray life in a tiny Swedish village. Three small neighboring houses celebrate together, bake gingerbread once a year, and expect bright new rag rugs on Christmas Eve. It’s a peak into some amazing traditions that you’ll want to copy. amazon

The Tomten, Astrid Lindgren // This is a book that should be creepy but instead it’s calming. Last year it really spoke to two-year-old Joan. It’s quiet story about a tiny elf that wanders around a farm and checks on everyone who is sleeping. It’s not particularly about Christmas, more about quiet winter nights. Joan spotted these sweet Tomten ornaments in a catalog and I couldn’t resist getting them for her to accompany the storyamazon 

The Christmas Party, Adrienne Adams // I feel that Wes Anderson must have used Adams’ illustrations as inspiration for some of his own characters and dialogue. These trim and buttoned-up bunnies are so charming. The rich pastel colors are a break from the REDGREEN illustrations of many Christmas stories. amazon used

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree, Gloria Houston // It really doesn’t get better than Barbara Cooney illustrating a snowy mother & daughter tale set in Appalachia. If your town has a Christmas tree, time the reading of this book with a visit to see it. amazon

Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree, Robert Barry // a rhyming romp, fun to read, plenty of critters scattered across the pages, and the moral of sharing the season. “Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree came by special delivery…” amazon

The Night Before Christmas makes for fantastic reading aloud no matter, dare I say it, how many times you’re asked to read it. The poem is packed with vocabulary words and simply by reading it I feel like I’m introducing the girls to our rudimentary American approach to Santa. Two favorite illustrated editions of mine: by Roger Duvoisin or by Holly Hobbie.

Joy to the World, Tomie dePaola //  gives children a peek into some of the Hispanic Catholic background of our traditions, like Poinsettias flowers. DePaolo’s illustrations so soothing and cozy, yet artfully Romanesque. amazon

The Jolly Christmas Postman, Allen & Janet Ahlberg // I submit to you that you’d better buy this one, and you may have to re-buy it after a time, because those letters are just too fun for children to keep them in one place! amazon

Letters from Father Christmas, J.R.R. Tolkien // Though Joe read this one as I kid, I don’t know how I managed to miss it! A collection of illustrated letters that Tolkien wrote to his children for over twenty years. swoon. Please note: buy the 1999 version that I’ve linked to, or a much older one. There is an edition from 2004 that omits many letters and abruptly cuts off others–outrageous! amazon

The Littlest Evergreen, Henry Cole // A story told from the tree’s perspective: too little to be cut, he is instead dug up and brought inside, only to be planted after Christmas. He has a long life alongside the family. We loved the forest illustrations. amazon

Two wordless tales: I find that children love wordless books because it makes the reader-adult talk so much more!

Don’t Forget Me Santa Clause, Virginia Mayo // a little boy who notices his crib was skipped by Santa, so he tags along to the North Pole to get his due. Warm cozy illustrations and good for houses with sibling babies. amazon used

Peter Spier’s Christmas // Peter Spier’s spirally sketchy warm fuzzy spilling-over-everything illustrations are so amazing. The holidays in this book are not tidy, but rumpled and doing the best they can. amazon

Please share your favorites, I would love to check them out!


anything, everything, here:

15 Comments on "Drafting an advent calendar"

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11 months 27 days ago

Lucy and Tom’s Christmas! Illustrations are really beautiful and have stayed with me since reading as a child. Thanks so much for these suggestions Rachael!

11 months 27 days ago

Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden is my absolute favorite…make sure you get the copy with illustrations by Barbara Cooney!

Kellee Lewis
Kellee Lewis
11 months 27 days ago

Before Morning by Joyce Sidman and Beth Krommes….a library discovery as well. Thanks for all the wonderful recommendations!

11 months 27 days ago

Not holiday books specifically but winter favorites in our house are “The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats, “The Mitten” by Jan Brett and “Katy and the Big Snow” by Virginia Lee Burton. We love these!!!

11 months 27 days ago

The Mitten adapted and illustrated by Jan Brett – retelling of a Ukranian folktale. Simple story with beautiful, detailed illustrations!

Susannah Williams
11 months 26 days ago

This is such a lovely idea. Thank you for the links and the link to Andrea’s blog as well. One Christmas book that always makes my now 7 and 4 year olds laugh is “Olivia Saves Christmas.”

11 months 26 days ago

Oh you MUST MUST MUST include Margaret Wise Brown’s A Pussycat’s Christmas! The illustrations are gorgeous! And I love the Jan Brett reindeer one, forgot the title.

11 months 26 days ago

Thanks for sharing these! Great suggestions.

11 months 26 days ago

[…] O O K M A R K I N G: this book-loving advent calendar. For someday, not very far away from […]

11 months 26 days ago

I adore the Snowmen at Night and Snowmen at Christmas books. The illustrations are just so beautiful and serene.

11 months 25 days ago

I second a lot of these books! Lucy and Tom’s Christmas is my favorite (I love Shirley Hughes’s illustrations). My oldest girls (almost 3 and 5) also really love the Snowmen books, and Jan Brett’s as well. We also love Catherine Stock’s Christmas Time and Carol and Donald Carrick’s Pauls Christmas Birthday (my oldest’s birthday is Dec 20 so she likes this one a lot. We also just ordered our second copy of The Jolly Christmas Postman as the baby chewed up one of the letters while my oldest was ‘reading’ it to her.

Jennifer McLellan
Jennifer McLellan
11 months 24 days ago

Forever Christmas by Tasha Tudor
The Night Before Christmas by Tasha Tudor
Any illustrated books by Tasha Tudor
A Newbery Christmas: 14 stories by Newbery Award winning authors
Christmas, Panhaligon’s Scented Treasury of Verse and Prose ( it is actually scented, the art work is gorgeous)

11 months 20 days ago

one of my favorite topics ever! so neat to look through these, just ordered a few for my girl’s “something to read” our favorites, and new to us books, are “christmas magic” (illustrations and words take my breath away, a simple, beautiful telling) and “good night manger” which gives me a whole new appreciation for how noisy a manger would be and makes the nativity come to life! merry christmas to you — i love your writing!

Jenny Haller
Jenny Haller
11 months 15 days ago

SO many good ones! Thank you for this. I’m ordering the Tolkein one right now; how did I miss this?! The Circe Institute here in Concord, NC is an amazing Classical Education resource and they put out ’11’ (15, really) novels to read. Also so many good ones: https://www.circeinstitute.org/blog/11-christmas-books-everyone-should-read

11 months 11 days ago

What a lovely idea! It’s probably too late for this year, but one of my favorites is The Story of Holly and Ivy, about an orphan girl and a doll who find both each other and a new family at Christmas. Very precious, and the illustrations are beautiful!