12 “Living Literature” Christmas Picture Books that go deeper than just Holly-Jolly, Ho-Ho-Ho-Hum, Sugar-Plum Dumb!

Welcome to our 12 DAYS OF HOMESCHOOL CHRISTMAS POSTS! If you are just joining us, here’s what you’ve missed so far:

For our 2nd Day of Homeschool Christmas . . .


Today’s post is a special Christmas edition of our Salt-of-the-Earth-Storytime: a giant “Living Literature” List to grow our children in sound wisdom and strong morals! In this post I proposed that we parents adopt a “carrots first, then cake” policy with our children, both in regards to the food we feed them and the books we read them. In other words, we can first ensure that our child is well-nourished (in mind, body, and spirit) before we ensure that he or she is well-entertained. Healthy before happy. When considering what book list to put together for this holiday season, I was convicted all over again in regards to this incredible calling we have as parents to grow our children in sound wisdom and strong morals. Even at Christmas. Or, perhaps even . . . especially at Christmas.

As I was browsing through the many Christmas books we have enjoyed over the past few years, I was elf-smacked by the realization that there are precious few “Christmas Carrots” in the mix. What’s more, most of them couldn’t even be classified as “Christmas Cake.” As it turns out, the majority of the holly-jolly, merry & bright (no . . . not Mary Engelbreit) books out there are just pure “Christmas Candy”— sweet as Santa, Candy-Cane-lame, and just plain Sugar-Plum-dumb. Many even have bedazzled bindings to match. And we wonder why we can never rid our homes of glitter after the holidays.

Well, so what? What’s the big deal? It’s the most wonderful time of the year . . . right? But shouldn’t it be (at least one of) the most meaningful, and truth-telling times of the year as well? I believe we owe it to our children, and the world that will one day be determined by them (gulp!), to give to them meaningful, wisdom-giving literature in every season. And for those of us who believe that Christmastime is a sacred celebration of the Savior’s birth, we have even more reason to get real with our kids during the holidays.

Let’s all take a moment to look at how we are modeling Christmas to our children in this season . . . today. Are the songs we are singing celebrating our Savior? Are the movies we are watching about more than just a merry and magical Christmas wish coming true? Are the books we are reading together unveiling an enriching, more sacred message of the Christmas season? We can still enjoy all of the other sweets and treats of the holidays, but let’s be sure to . . . treat them . . . as dessert.

Join me in going deeper with our kids this month and consuming our “Christmas Carrots” before treating ourselves to the “Christmas Candy.”

12 Living Literature “Christmas Carrots” Picture Books

1.) The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston, illustrated by Barbara Cooney

Did you catch that? Gloria Houston and Barbara Cooney? What more can I say? This Appalachian mountain Christmas book is as fabulous as the two incredible women who divined it.

*Perfect for ages 5 and up, and especially lovely for little ladies

2.) Silver Packages by Cynthia Rylant

I can’t count how many times we read this book together last year, and I have to be up front with you: I didn’t make it through once without choking up. Another Appalachian mountain Christmas story, this book is lovely in story and pictures. Additionally, it is wonderfully enlightening—opening our children’s eyes to how much they may have compared to some.

*Perfect for ages 5 and up and especially great for boys

3.) The Christmas Day Kitten by James Herriot

How can you go wrong with anything by James Herriot? A simple, understated, realistic, Merry-Little-Christmas book with an unexpected message of life and death, sorrow and joy. Although this title is out of print on it’s own, it is included in the James Herriot treasury also linked above.

*Perfect for ages 5 and up and especially lovely for little animal lovers (deals with the death of a pet, but ends very happily)

4.) Humphrey’s First Christmas by Carol Heyer

Ok, I guess this one is kind of crossing over into “Christmas Cake” territory since camels don’t narrate books or kneel down to worship the baby Jesus. But I’m calling it “carrots” because it is simply the most charming telling of Christ’s birth, from the humble perspective of a lowly camel. And after all, one day every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess the name of our Savior, right? This book is just getting a head start really. And what better place and time for it than at the manger of the Christ Child? The words are few and simple, but the message is clear and the illustrations bold and bright.

*Absolutely perfect for introducing very young children to the story of Jesus’ birth, ages 2 and up

5.) The Christmas Miracle of Jonathon Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski

The artwork alone values this book at 24 . . . carrots. As far as depth goes, this book wins the prize. Rich in both story and artistry, this book tackles some tough topics: death, depression, loneliness, and love. The portrayal of the carpenter’s exquisite craftmanship is just the cherry on the top.

*A deeply influencing book for kids 6 and up (deals with death but has a joy-filled ending)

6.) The Legend of the Candy Cane by Lori Walburg

Whew! This book is much more light-hearted than the last but still communicates the true meaning of Christmas . . . just with a lot of sugar to help the medicine go down.

*Perfect for ages 3 and up

7.) The Christmas Train by Thomas Monson

A simple, even subtle storyline that gently warms the heart to generosity and the spirit of giving. Plus, the deeply colorful, retro illustrations are exceptional.

*Great for ages 5 and up, and especially for little boys who love trains

8.) The 12 Days of Christmas; a Celebration and History by Leigh Grant

A very festive and historical peek into the world of Christmas past, this is a very special cross-curricular Christmas book (a rare combo). The gorgeous oil illustrations bring to life a whole other world to Christmas and warm the heart with a sense of rich heritage.

*Perfect for kids of all ages from one to ninety-two!

*This title is out of print but can be found easily used on Amazon used books or Thriftbooks.

9.)The Legend of the Christmas Stocking by Rick Osborne

Discover the story and history behind the tradition of Christmas stockings through rich, vibrant illustrations and a fun, festive story. This Christmas Stocking story centers on a young boy.

*Perfect for ages 5 and up, and an especially great Christmas gift for a young boy

10.) The First Christmas Stocking by Elizabeth Winthrop

Considerably more somber than the previous stocking story, and with storyline and illustrations geared for a slightly older audience, this book also explores the history of the Christmas stocking, this time centering on a young girl. The illustrations in this book are hauntingly beautiful.

*Perfect for ages 6 and up (deals with the death of a mother)

*This title is out of print but can be found easily used on Amazon used books or Thriftbooks

11.) The First Christmas Night by Keith Christopher

This story of Jesus’ birth, told through few and simple words, but brought to life by rich and colorful illustrations, boasts the most beautiful depiction of the nativity I’ve ever seen. We read this as a family every year on Christmas Eve as well as use the pages as a visual while we sing our favorite Christmas carols throughout the season. It is a true Christmas treasure.

*Perfect for the entire family (even babies will love to look into the deep, glossy pages of this book)

12.) A Book of Christmas by Tasha Tudor

It’s an Advent Calendar. It’s a Pop-Up Book. It’s a cross-curricular historical glimpse at Christmases past. It’s a spectacular and interactive look at Jesus’ birth. It’s Tasha Tudor. It’s as much a decoration as it is a book. And . . . it’s out of print. Used copies are pricey, so if you ever come across this book for a decent price . . . snatch it up! We look forward to bringing this piece of art out each and every year.

*Perfect for children 4 and up and longed for by tots (it’s a delicate pop-up!)

3 Bonus “Carrot-Cake” Christmas Picture Books

We absolutely love these three Christmas books, even if they can’t truly qualify as “living literature.” Realism, as you may already have gathered, is a cornerstone of “living literature” and these books are steeped pretty heavily in fantasy. Midnight trains don’t magically appear in your front yard and cart you off to the North Pole . . . there is no such place as Whoville (last I checked) . . . and comic-style cartoon characters don’t really put on Christmas plays or decorate magical Christmas trees. However, I had to add these three titles as a bonus to this list because they are true “Carrot Cake” Christmas books—hiding some incredible nutrient-dense carrots within the pages of a festive and delectably sweet treat.

1.) The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

The artwork alone may be enough to permit this gem some “carrot cred.” This book is so incredibly stunning, it’s no wonder that Tom Hanks was willing to star as every character in the movie version . . . you know the one that didn’t do this book any justice whatsoever. The artwork, the writing, the beautiful story . . . it’s a true masterpiece. And I guess the Caldecott people agree with me. Plus, the last page has enough depth for a college thesis, or at least a fantastic Sunday Sermon.

2.) How The Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss

This may be my favorite Christmas book of all time. There’s a reason why there are FOUR movie version of this Dr. Seuss classic. But the book is still by far the best. And the lesson learned by the Grinch is one we can all truly take to heart: “Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store! Maybe Christmas . . . perhaps . . . means a little bit more!”

3.) A Charlie Brown Christmas by Charles M. Schultz

This book makes this bonus list for one reason only: I simply adore hearing Linus tell the true Christmas story. Whenever I hear Luke 2: 8-14 I always but always picture giant Linus on the ice skating stage at Knott’s Berry Farm in southern CA (a favorite childhood haunt of mine) and I hear his voice shouting the good tidings of great joy over thunderous applause of all people that a baby has been born this day in the city of David and He is Christ the Lord!

Tune in later this week for our 12 Christmas Chapter Book Choices!

Thanks for reading this post, but thank you especially for reading to your kids! Keep up the good work, mamas & papas!

Love, ~Our Holistic Homeschool~

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