Books and Christmas are a great match!
If you would like your children to have an idea of why some people have a special holiday at
Christmastime, here are some lovely picture books you might want to add to your
For a good laugh, read Jesus’ Christmas Party, by Nicholas Allan
This hilarious book tells the story of Jesus being born from the point of view of the grumpy
innkeeper who resents being woken up by all the goings-on in the stable.
First, a poor couple turns up when the hotel’s full. He sends them ‘round the back!’
Pregnant or not, there’s no room at the inn.
No sooner has he gone back to bed but there’s another knock at the door. And another, and
another! Shepherds, wise men, even a choir of angels! Can’t everyone just give him some
When he finally storms round the back himself, to complain about the racket, he sees a
lovely little baby, and finds that he isn’t grumpy anymore.
Children will enjoy anticipating the annoyed responses and laughing at the pacing. It’s a
For a good cry, read The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, by Susan Wojciechowski
My favourite serious Christmas picture book, for older children, is the tear-jerking American
pioneer story, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey.
This award-winning book will appeal to children and adults and might be especially
appreciated if Christmas is a bittersweet time for you or someone you know.
‘Christmas is pish-posh,’ grumbles the unsociable wood-carver. But he accepts the
commission to replace a widow’s lost nativity set. Seven-year-old Thomas is desperate to
watch him work and promises to sit very still.
While Mr. Toomey carved, the widow McDowell poured tea. She touched the wood-carver
gently on the shoulder and placed a cup of tea and a bun next to him. He pretended not to
notice, but soon, both the plate and the cup were empty.
Thomas tried to eat the bun quietly. But it is almost impossible to eat a warm sticky raisin
bun without making various smacking, licking, satisfied noises.
When Thomas had finished, he tried to sit quietly. Once, he almost hiccuped, but he took a
deep breath and held it till his face turned red.
After a very long time, Thomas whispered, “Mr. Toomey, excuse me, may I ask a question?”
“Is that my cow you’re carving?”
Nod and grunt.
“Mr. Toomey, excuse me, but I must tell you something. That is the most beautiful cow I
have ever seen, but it’s not right. My cow looked proud.”
“That’s pish-posh,” growled the wood-carver. “Cows cannot look proud.”
“My cow did. It knew that Jesus chose to be born in its barn, so it was proud.”
One night, when Jonathan is sitting at home alone, sketching the final pieces – Mary and
Jesus – we see what has made Mr.Toomey so sad, and he finds a new way to be happy. I
defy you not to bawl, but I hope you’ll also feel a lot better for reading it.
For the traditional tale in bright, new clothes, read The Nativity, by Julie Vivas
My favourite angel appears in Julie Vivas’ illustrated Nativity, which uses an adapted text of
the King James Version of the Bible.
Gabriel has glorious, multi-coloured wings, spiky red hair, and rugged work boots. The more
time he spends on earth, delivering messages and watching the Christmas story unfold, the
more ragged he looks, but he doesn’t seem to mind.
This is a must-read for little ones in particular. All the funny in-jokes (inn-jokes?) of other
books in this list only make sense if you already know the straight story, and this is a
delightful introduction to it.
It’s written in older, traditional language, but I have found it easy to adapt and simplify as we go if I feel the need, depending on my little audience. Or you could just tell the story as you are prompted by the gorgeous illustrations.
For a rhyming, Kiwi celebration, read Cowshed Christmas by Joy Cowley
Also great for littlies is the fabulous New Zealand picture book, Cowshed Christmas, a
collaboration between two national treasures, Gavin Bishop and Joy Cowley.
In rhythmic verses, on bright pages, drenched with colour and texture, we follow Kiwi
farm animals (bantam hens, a ginger cat, a collie dog) as, one by one, they bring Kiwiana
gifts (hokey-pokey icecream, jandals, a rugby ball) to the cowshed door.
The jersey cow came mooing, mooing, mooing
The jersey cow came mooing to the cowshed door
And who do you think they saw?
Little baby Jesus, Jesus, Jesus
Little baby Jesus by the cowshed door.
For a different perspective, read The Shepherd Girl of Bethlehem, by Carey Morning
Even in the twenty-first century, picture books are still dominated by male characters, so it’s
nice to have this story, by Carey Morning and Alan Marks, in our collection.
The unnamed girl is her father’s right hand, helping each day with the pasturing, shearing
and care of their flock. But she’s not allowed to join him on night shifts because ‘it’s too
But one night it’s not dark! So when she wakes up and sees a light sky, she hikes up her
nightie and follows her Dad and his friends as they head to a stable.
The illustrations are wonderfully evocative and the characters and story are absorbing. The
book feels fresh, both in point of view and visual appeal.
When the shepherd girl meets the baby, it’s a spiritual encounter that stays with her as her
Daddy carries her home across the fields.
For interactive fun, try this Make and Play Nativity, by Joey Chou
This is half book, half toy! The first half contains sturdy cardboard pages with pop-out
figurines to assemble and move around.
The second half of the book gives the Nativity story in more detail, Christmas carol lyrics,
and craft ideas. It’s a little book with a lot of useful stuff in it.
Thankfully there’s also an appropriate range of historically accurate skin colours among the
figures, and a gender mix, too, among the supporting cast of shepherd children, as well as
the usual people.