The following article comes from Kate Heap, Primary English Consultant and author from Leeds.
It’s a special time of year: a time of honouring traditions and making memories. Reading together allows families to do both.
These ten festive books will leave you with a warm feeling as you share their wonderful messages of love and hope.
Eight Nights, Eight Lights by Natalie Barnes & illustrated by Andrea Stegmaier (Little Tiger)
Winter brings so many special festivals of light. Eight Nights, Eight Lights introduces the celebration of Chanukah through a wonderful story of community and traditions. Each day Max and his friends look forward to lighting the next candle in their menorah. They share special foods and games, sing songs, help others and visit the synagogue. Through the dark nights, their candles burn brightly and they remember a time when people fought for their religion and God gave them a miracle.
Eight Nights, Eight Lights is a lovely overview of Chanukah traditions and helps children understand how what makes us different also makes us special. The final illustration showing a city filled with menorahs, Christmas trees, stars and a variety of religious buildings celebrates diversity and acceptance.
We Disagree About This Tree by Ross Collins (Nosy Crow)
Decorating for Christmas can be stressful! When bear and mouse can’t agree on how to trim their tree, chaos ensues. First the baubles are too big, then there are too many lights. Add in yards of tinsel and a blast of a fire extinguisher and there’s a huge mess! In the end, they realise that what makes Christmas truly special is being together.
We Disagree About This Tree is an absolutely charming story. Children will love the unlikely friendship and funny decorating styles. The illustrations are big and bold making this book perfect for sharing with an Early Years or Year One class.
The After Christmas Tree by Bethan Welby (Scallywag Press)
What happens to a Christmas tree once January arrives and no one wants it in the house anymore? In this charming story, children explore all the emotions of the end of the festive season.
Brian spots an abandoned tree and can’t bear to leave it outside in the cold. He brings it in the house – to the dinner table, in the bath tub and even to bed. Finally, Mum has enough and suggests they take it to the garden. Brian worries about the tree all alone on the cold, snowy night but the next day, he realises the tree is where it needs to be – and he can bring it inside again next December.
The After Christmas Tree is such a lovely story of innocence and concern for something that was once so special and has now been discarded. I remember many years ago, my own daughter looking sadly at our Christmas tree waiting to be collected at the end of the drive. This book would have been perfect for helping her to express her feelings.
Where Björn Belongs by Samuel Langley-Swain & illustrated by Mirna Imamović (Owlet Press)
When Arthur loses his favourite toy polar bear, he asks Santa for a new one. He doesn’t expect a real polar bear to arrive in his snowy garden. It’s more wonderful than he ever imagined. Unfortunately, Bjorn the bear soon grows too big and Arthur knows he needs to send him back where he belongs.
But this isn’t the end of their friendship. Arthur dreams of becoming an Arctic explorer and Santa shows him how to follow the northern lights to visit Bjorn each year. As their friendship continues, Arthur learns more about looking after the Arctic and the animals who live there.
This is a wonderful story of Christmas wishes, friendship and following your dreams. Arthur shows every reader how important it is to look after nature and protect those we love the most.
The Christmas Department Store by Maudie Powell-Tuck & Hoang Giang (Little Tiger)
Christmas can be hard. This year, Benji’s family can’t afford a tree or even a turkey. Where has the magic gone?
Just when Benji is about to give up hope, he discovers the most amazing department store with fun, animal employees and an opportunity to make very special Christmas wishes. It seems the best gifts are the ones money can’t buy. Being together, feeling loved and making each other happy is the true magic of Christmas.
The Christmas Department Store is a timely story that will resonate with many children. Even those who have no worries of a Christmas without the usual trimmings will develop empathy and begin to understand that Christmas isn’t all about the things we receive but what we can give to others.
The Woodcutter and the Snow Prince by Ian Eagleton & illustrated by Davide Ortu (Owlet Press)
The Woodcutter and the Snow Prince is a beautiful Christmas story of love and friendship. The traditional tale of The Snow Queen has been transformed into something truly special.
It’s Christmas Eve. A lonely woodcutter remembers his grandmother’s story of a cursed Snow Prince who would turn everyone he met to ice. Was this prince someone to fear or was he someone who was just as lonely as the woodcutter? When fate brings them together, the woodcutter realises this is his chance for a life of adventure and understanding. They go on a magical journey the woodcutter will never forget.
Waking up on Christmas Day, he wonders if it was all a dream. Determined to find the prince, he sets off on an emotional quest to break the Snow Prince’s curse. Through bravery and acceptance, they rescue each other.
Davide Ortu’s illustrations are stunning. Readers are taken on an epic adventure with a classic feel. This is a book to be treasured and read again and again.
The Snow Bear by Holly Webb (Little Tiger)
10th anniversary special edition of Holly Webb’s gorgeous story, The Snow Bear.
Sarah loves visiting Grandad. They build an igloo, tell stories and wonder what her new baby brother or sister might be like. As the weather worsens, Sarah realises she might not make it back home for Christmas.
The magic of the Christmas snow and Grandad’s stories of his time in the Arctic fill her head with wonders. One night, she wakes up and everything looks different. Has she really travelled back in time to the land of Arctic hares, wild snowstorms, dog sleds and northern lights?
Sarah meets a baby polar bear and offers to help it find its mother. Together, they show readers the adventure and beauty of the frozen north. Along the way, she meets Alignak, an Inuit boy. His people’s rich traditions and unique way of life are disappearing.
Holly Webb challenges readers to think about how the past links to the present, relationships between animals and humans, and the value of cross-generational family bonds. The Snow Bear celebrates family stories that are passed on and never forgotten.
Libby and the Highland Heist by Jo Clarke & illustrated by Becka Moor (Firefly Press)
It’s Christmas and Libby is visiting her best friend, Connie, in her family’s large estate in the Scottish countryside. Sadly, the family has fallen on hard times and must make some tough financial decisions. Connie’s mum and dad are on edge but everyone is still determined to have a wonderful Christmas with plenty of hot chocolate and shortbread.
Libby’s incredible observation skills tell her that something isn’t right in the house. A secret passageway, hints of an intruder and missing art work lead to an even bigger mystery. Do the girls have what it takes to solve this mystery on their own or will they put themselves and others in danger?
The Libby series is perfect for readers who love searching for clues and working out what’s happening right along with the characters. There are enough hints that children can start to formulate a solution but enough twists that they are always left surprised in the end. In this second book, the stakes are raised with villains who aren’t afraid to get rid of anyone who stands in their way. This creates an urgency to the story and glues readers to the pages.
Libby and the Highland Heist has all the charm of the first book in the series, Libby and the Parisian Puzzle. A celebration of the story setting weaves through each chapter with the delicious food, fun traditions and beautiful landscape that makes each place unique. The Scottish countryside and the city of Edinburgh are painted with such vivid description that the reader almost feels as if they are there and would certainly recognise locations if they ever visited. The travelling school is such a wonderful concept and I can’t wait to see where they go next!
Operation Nativity by Jenny Pearson & illustrated by Katie Kear (Usborne)
Operation Nativity is everything a Christmas story should be: light-hearted, innocent, and fun with a powerful message about the importance of family and love.
Peace on Earth? Not this year for Oscar and his costume-loving little sister, Molly. Their family has been summoned to their wealthy grandparents huge house for the annual family nativity. Their mum has managed to convince Dad to avoid it for quite a few years but with news that Grandfather isn’t well, they decide to make the journey.
This is not your usual nativity, especially when “the” Angel Gabriel crashes down outside the house reporting a catastrophic time-travelling, history-altering disaster that will cancel Christmas as we know it. Oscar and Molly set out on a race against Christmas to track down the rest of the nativity cast with hilarious, touching results.
We Wish You a Merry Christmas and Other Festive Poems chosen & illustrated by Chris Riddell (Macmillan Children’s)
Chris Riddell has pulled together the most wonderful collection of classic and contemporary poems perfect for the Christmas season. A Visit from St Nicholas, favourite Christmas carols and traditional blessings sit alongside future classics by the likes of Neil Gaiman and Benjamin Zephaniah.
But what makes this anthology a must-have for every classroom poetry collection and every Christmas book box is the illustrations. The poems come to life and leap off the page with interpretations that will make the reader think. Some are peaceful and beautiful, like The Holly and the Ivy, while others are laugh-out-loud funny. The Twelve Days of Christmas take an unexpected turn at “Ten Drummers Drumming” while the “Talking Turkeys” are a sight to behold. These illustrations would make a fantastic set of Christmas cards depicting so many aspects of this very special time of year.