December is a time for traditions and rituals, from hanging the familiar decorations and singing carols to making that family Christmas cake recipe or sharing a seasonal story.
We’ve picked ten classic books with a festive theme that have timeless appeal and will give parents and grandparents the warm glow of nostalgia as they introduce them to a new audience.
1 How The Grinch Stole Christmas (60th birthday edition) by Dr Seuss. £14.99 (hardback), HarperCollins Children’s
Who hates Christmas? The Grinch does – and this year, he’s determined to do something about the toys, feasts and singing he loathes so much. Could he really steal them all?
Now 60 years old, this Dr Seuss story with its iconic lead character (allegedly inspired by the author himself) is a sharply written tale of redemption and the power of good over grumpy. This special collectors’ edition makes an ideal keepsake gift that your child will treasure more with each passing year.
2 Mog’s Christmas by Judith Kerr. £6.99 (paperback), HarperCollins Children’s.
The 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 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.
3 A Child’s Christmas In Wales by Dylan Thomas, illustrated by Edward Ardizzone. £4.99 (mini hardback), Hachette
The Welsh poet’s recollections of his own childhood Christmases in the 1920s are charmingly nostalgic for a simpler time and were a big part of my own Christmases growing up. We regular acted out scenes for school plays and this particular edition was a gift I received one year. There are lots of beautiful alternatives though.
What I particularly love is Thomas’s 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 for the older reader but an ideal introduction to this famous author’s work.
4 The Jolly Christmas Postman by Janet & Allan Ahlberg. £12.99 (hardback), Puffin.
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), hospitalised Humpty Dumpty gets a get-well jigsaw and Baby Bear gets a card from Goldilocks.
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?
5 Madeline’s Christmas by Ludwig Bemelmans. £7.99 (paperback), Scholastic.
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!
6 A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, illustrated by Quentin Blake. £14.99 (hardback), Pavilion.
This list 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.
7 Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs. £7.99 (paperback), Puffin.
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.
8 The Nutcracker by Shobhna Patel. £14.95 (hardback), Thames & Hudson.
Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet receives a breathtaking retelling in this enchanting book featuring a new pop-up technique invented by the author, 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. A special gift for an older child that is simply stunning.
9 The First Christmas by Rod Campbell. £5.99 (board book), Macmillan.
What Christmas story is more classic than the nativity itself?! The bestselling Dear Zoo author gives the birth of Jesus a simple retelling in this sweet 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 of Christmas.
10 The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore. Left hand version: illustrated by Niroot Puttapipat, £7.99 (papercut edition mini hardback), Walker. Right hand version: illustrated by Angela Barrett, £6.99 (paperback), Orchard.
Last but not least, a story that needs no introduction. Is there any better way to build Christmas anticipation than this cherished Clement C. Moore poem?
These two delightful versions are filled with all the magic of the well known verse. The Niroot Puttapipat one uses black and white silhouettes with splashes of red and green, plus papercut techniques and a stunning final pop-up scene to tell the story.
The Angela Barrett edition is classic and atmospheric, with moonlit snowy landscapes and St Nick dressed in a traditional white fur coat.