When my children were young, I gave them each a Christmas picture book on St. Nicholas Day. I’d wrap the books, and they’d find them at their seat at the breakfast table.
I still love Christmas picture books. Here are a few of my favorites. (The book covers are affiliate links to Amazon.)
Picture books featuring St. Nicholas
The folks at The St. Nicholas Center have a comprehensive list of picture books for younger children, and another list of picture books for older children. I haven’t yet read all of them. But of the ones that I have read, these two are my favorites.
The Baker’s Dozen by Aaron Shepard
On St. Nicholas Day, an old woman comes to Van Amsterdam’s bakery. She tells him that she wants a dozen of his St. Nicholas cookies. And when he counts out twelve, she tells him that a dozen is thirteen. She wants thirteen cookies. Van Amsterdam refuses. He tells her that his customers get exactly what they pay for. Never more, and never less. She leaves without the cookies. And for the next year, Van Amsterdam has nothing but trouble. Until he dreams about St. Nicholas, and the old woman returns to his shop for a dozen of his St. Nicholas cookies.
The Saint Nicholas Day Snow by Charlotte Riggle
It’s Saint Nicholas Eve, and Catherine is excited about Elizabeth coming over for the night. But Elizabeth’s grandmother is in the hospital, and Elizabeth is worried about her Nana. The book combines the story of the overnight with a second, wordless story about what’s happening with Elizabeth’s grandmother. In the main story, the girls bake cookies, catch snowflakes, and listen to stories about Saint Nicholas. At the same time, you see Elizabeth’s grandmother and her parents at the hospital. The priest arrives and prays with them, as Elizabeth and Catherine and Catherine’s mom pray at home.
Of course, I haven’t reviewed The Saint Nicholas Day Snow, because I wrote it. So check out these reviews by other people. (And if it happens that your favorite bookseller doesn’t have it, or if Amazon is out of stock, you can by The Saint Nicholas Day Snow at my webstore.)
Picture books about Christmas celebrations
These books aren’t about the Nativity story. Instead, they’re about people celebrating Christmas. And they’re just wonderful.
King Island Christmas by Jean Rogers and Rie Muñoz
The Native Alaskan village on King Island had been without a priest for many months. The new priest arrives at the island on the last ship before winter ice sets in. But the wind and the waves make it too dangerous for the men of King Island to go to the freighter in their small boat to get their priest. If they can’t get their priest off the ship, he will have to leave, and there will be no priest to celebrate the Christmas liturgy.
The Queen and the First Christmas Tree by Nancy Churnin
Before there were Christmas trees, people brought yew branches into their homes, and decorated them with paper flowers, candles, and sweets. But in the year 1800, Queen Charlotte of England was celebrating the first Christmas of the new century with a party for 100 poor children. She decided that a yew branch wasn’t special enough for the occasion. Instead of a yew branch, what she needed was a yew tree. And since she was the Queen, she could make that happen.
Sweet Song by Jane G. Meyer
Romanos didn’t start out as a saint. And he didn’t start out as a melodist. In fact, he could hardly sing a note. But writing songs and singing for divine services was part of his job at the cathedral. One Christmas, he was publicly shamed for his lack of musical ability. In his sorrow, he went to the Theotokos, and beseeched her for the gift of song. She heard his prayer. And at the next service of Christmas, he created and sang the kontakion of the Nativity, a hymn that is still sung in every Orthodox Church to this day.
Picture books about the Nativity
How can you tell a story as well known as the Nativity of our Lord, and make it unique and interesting and fun? I’m not sure I could pull that off. But these authors did. Their Nativity picture books are utterly delightful.
Jesus’ Christmas Party by Nicholas Allan
Jesus’ Christmas Party features an innkeeper in Bethlehem. A very grumpy innkeeper. All the innkeeper wants is a good night’s sleep. And that’s just what he can’t have. He keeps being interrupted – by Mary and Joseph, by a star, by kings, by angels. Every time, the innkeeper deals with the interruption, then goes back to bed. Every time, it’s the same, but different. The repetition with variation makes this book incredibly appealing to young children. And the story lends itself to giggles and laughter and play-acting the role of the innkeeper.
Room for a Little One by Martin Waddell
Kind Ox welcomes Old Dog to his stable. Old Dog and Kind Ox welcome Stray Cat. And then, of course, Stray Cat, Old Dog, and Kind Ox welcome Small Mouse. And when Tired Donkey arrives, the animals welcome him, with Mary and Joseph, and the Little One who is born that night. The language in the book is full of warmth and safety, peace and welcome. And Kind Ox’s words form a refrain: “Come inside,” Kind Ox said. “There’s always room for a little one here.”
Father and Son by Geraldine McCaughrean
This book is a prose poem as much as it is a picture book. In it, Joseph considers what it means to be raise a child whose true Father is God. His musing is used to explore the mystery of the Incarnation. Joseph thinks about this new child, “Mine, but not mine.” He thinks of the future, framing his relationship with this Child in the sorts of contradictions and juxtapositions that you find in Byzantine poetry. The story works for children. But the poetry is rich and deep enough for any adult.
17 essential picture books for Orthodox Christian kids: These delightful books all have engaging stories and Orthodox Christian people as main characters.
Stories from the Life of St. Nicholas: The stories we have about St. Nicholas developed over the centuries as they were told and retold by people who loved the saint.
Five tips for a merrier Christmas: Advent and Christmas can be overwhelming. These five tips will help you find a path through the chaos to joy in the season.