a book advent calendar.

November 30, 2017

christmas book advent calendar | reading my tea leavesWe’ll be stringing up our clutter-free advent calendar (and filling it with festive (and activist) activities for the holiday season) again this year, but with so many whisperings from folks we know planning picture book advent calendars, we couldn’t help but to get in on that fun, too. 

We’ve made room on our bookshelves this year by swapping books in and out with the seasons, and so advent calendar, or no, December 1 seemed like the perfect date for pulling our wintry and Christmastime books out from the back of the closet.

The concept of the calendar is simple: Wrapping up 24 (or 25, depending on preference) books to open on each day leading up to Christmas. For our calendar, we gathered all of our wintry and Christmas books and supplemented our own collection with books from the library (and books on loan from Grammy). In an effort to save on space, put our small stash of recycled paper to repeated use, and wait patiently on library returns, we’re wrapping up just a week’s worth of books at a time, but you wouldn’t be wrong to wrap all 24 or 25 books in one go if you’d rather.christmas book advent calendar | reading my tea leaves

In case there’s anyone else hoping to start the tradition in their own home—or just looking for a festive list of seasonal reading—below is a list of some of the books that we’ll be reading at our house this holiday season. We celebrate Christmas and so the list includes both religious and secular options, but of course you can cater the list to your own traditions or interests.

If the idea feels festive, but the holiday not quite right, there’s a great list of Hanukkah books this way, a Conscious Kid list of 26 books to support conversations on race, racism, and resistance right here, a Vamos a Leer list of books celebrating Latino winter celebrations here, and InCulture’s list of African-American Christmas and Kwanzaa books this way.christmas book advent calendar | reading my tea leaves

Here’s some of what we’ll be reading:

SNOW words and pictures by Uri Shulevitz

WINTER DANCE words by Marion Dane Bauer, pictures by Richard Jones

THE CHRISTMAS BOOT words by Lisa Wheeler, pictures by Jerry Pinkney

THE SNOWY DAY words and pictures by Ezra Jack Keats

A CHILD IS BORN words by Margaret Wise Brown, pictures by Floyd Cooper (Out of Print. Check the library!)

FOX’S GARDEN pictures by Princesse CamCam

THE POLAR BEAR words and pictures by Jenni Desmond

BRAVE IRENE words and pictures by William Steig

THE TOMTEN words and pictures by Astrid Lindgren 

THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS words and pictures by Rachel Isadora 

THE TREES OF THE DANCING GOATS words and pictures by Patricia Polacco 

GOODBYE AUTUMN, HELLO WINTER words and pictures by Kenard Pak 

OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW words by Kate Messner, illustrations by Christopher Silas Neal 

KATY AND THE BIG SNOW words and pictures by Virginia Lee Burton 

THE FOX WENT OUT ON A CHILLY NIGHT words and pictures by Peter Spier

MIRACLE ON 133RD STREET, words by Sonia Manzano, illustrations by Marjorie Priceman 

COBWEB CHRISTMAS by Shirley Climo 

WHO IS COMING TO OUR HOUSE? by Joseph Slate and Ashley Wolff 

UNDER THE CHRISTMAS TREE, words by Nikki Grimes and pictures by Kadir Nelson (Out of Print. Check the library!)

WHO BUILT THE STABLE?: A NATIVITY POEM, words and pictures by Ashley Bryan 

TOO MANY TAMALES, words by Gary Soto and pictures by Ed Martinez 

THE NUTCRACKER IN HARLEM by T.E. McMorrow, illustrations by James Ransome 

BABOUSHKA AND THE THREE KINGS words by Ruth Robbins, illustrations by Nicolas Sidjakov 

BEFORE MORNING, words by Joyce Sidman, illustrations by Beth Krommes christmas book advent calendar | reading my tea leaves

What about you guys? No such thing as too many recommendations!

Lots of the books on this list are ones we’ve found at our local library, but when we buy books, we love to support our local bookstores—Stories BookshopBooks Are MagicGreenlight Bookstore, and Community Bookstore, to name a few. I’ve provided links below to where you can find these titles online or in your own neighborhood bookstores.

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  • Reply Helen November 30, 2017 at 1:19 pm

    Aw such a marvellous idea, you have me inspired. You could do it as a gift for someone else too, in the lead up to Christmas, maybe buying books second-hand or at discount shops. Also for a budget friendly option, you could do twelve days of Christmas. Great post! 🙂 xx

  • Reply Jennifer November 30, 2017 at 1:56 pm

    I recognize that marbled wrapping paper! Lucky mama!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 30, 2017 at 1:58 pm

      Ha! Indeed.

  • Reply Rebecca November 30, 2017 at 2:04 pm

    Love your book recommendations! I already broke out our Christmas stash of books, even though I love the idea of the advent wrapping, I just couldn’t wait. We love The Birds of Bethlehem by Tomie de Paola, Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner, and The Christmas Eve Tree by Delia Huddy (as well as many of your own suggestions!).

  • Reply Erin November 30, 2017 at 2:10 pm

    The Gift Of Nothing by Patrick McDonnell is a new favorite of ours. It’s so sweet and simple and gets to the heart of the season so beautifully.

  • Reply Jenn November 30, 2017 at 2:12 pm

    The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston.

    • Reply laura November 30, 2017 at 2:20 pm

      yes! and illustrated by barbara clooney!!!! a favorite.

  • Reply laura November 30, 2017 at 2:15 pm

    absolutely love this idea!

  • Reply Lynn November 30, 2017 at 2:24 pm

    “An Orange for Frankie” by Patricia Polacco. My favorite holiday book—I still cry every time I read it!

  • Reply Alexis November 30, 2017 at 2:26 pm

    I love all of these recommendations! We too incorporate seasonal stories in our advent calendar. My children’s (ages 3 and 1) absolute favorite is “The Friendly Beasts: An Old English Christmas Carol” with pictures by Tomie de Paola. https://www.amazon.com/Friendly-Beasts-English-Christmas-Carol/dp/0698116615/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1512069723&sr=8-1&keywords=the+friendly+beasts

  • Reply Sam November 30, 2017 at 2:47 pm

    I LOVE that you included diverse books in this list – unless you parent a child a color, one doesn’t tend to notice that Christmas decorations and books tend to be very white. I’ve just started collecting a list of diverse Christmas books on my blog. We’ll be checking out The Nutcracker in Harlem!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 30, 2017 at 2:59 pm

      Lovely! We need more of them! The traditional cast of the Christmas season in general is troublesome to me, and I’ve noticed that especially so now that Faye is old enough to be very into the holiday. Between depictions of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as white people, Santa Claus as a white man, snowmen, and Rudolph, there’s a whole lot of men and whitewashing going on. Let’s shift the narrative! More women! More people of color!

      • Reply MissEm November 30, 2017 at 3:07 pm

        Jane Ray has a nativity book (I think called The Nativity depicts the holy family as people of color (which they were). If I ever get an illustration career underway, one thing I really want to do is illustrate a Christmas book or two with diverse racial representation, esp for Santa and/or Jesus.

        • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 30, 2017 at 3:13 pm

          Yes! So important! A few of these on the list above do, too!

  • Reply MissEm November 30, 2017 at 3:07 pm

    This is literally, down to the wrapping style and library usage, why we are doing too. I got my book list from Read Aloud Revival.

  • Reply Shannon November 30, 2017 at 3:50 pm

    How about The Littlest Angel..not sure who wrote it but my copy still comes out for Christmas Eve reading..have had it since I was a small child.

  • Reply Michelle November 30, 2017 at 3:55 pm

    You need “Shall I Knit you a Hat”… you’ll love it!!

  • Reply Anna November 30, 2017 at 4:28 pm

    My recommendations are probably more suitable for older kiddos, but Erich Kastner’s The Flying Classroom is heart-warming and heart-breaking, and filled with some boyish shenanigans and never once judges (also set around Christmas). Snow-White and Rose-Red is captivating, slightly scary and enchanting tale from Brothers Grimm taking place during cold winter nights (I loved to read this during Christmas time). And of course Hercule Poirot (HP’s Christmas, Murder on The Orient Express) for teens and/or after kids are in bed cause what is a Christmas without a little mystery, moustache and tisane? x

  • Reply Darianne November 30, 2017 at 5:08 pm

    This is a great idea! I also love the wrapping of the books!

  • Reply Eva November 30, 2017 at 5:14 pm

    I love that you’ve borrowed books from family or the library – no use letting them go to waste! We recently noticed a “little library” in front of someone’s house a few blocks away and I left a book I was given, and now someone’s reading it! Books should be shared! Lovely post <3

  • Reply Kim R November 30, 2017 at 6:15 pm

    Just want to point out that Harald Wiberg did the pictures for The Tomten and The Tomten and the Fox. The latter has been requested in our home every night this past week!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 30, 2017 at 6:41 pm

      Thanks! Will update!

  • Reply Susanna November 30, 2017 at 8:29 pm

    Thank you so much about the list! I’m Finnish by my self and my husband is Dutch but our daughters are Californians and very advanced readers. Other one is in 4th and other one 5th grade but their reading level is Z … Well for me it’s very difficult to find good books for my kids! I can do it in my own language and my hubby in his language but in English…How would i know?!? So I’m always very happy to get some lists of books for different occasions from people I think know they’re language. In our region is so many non-english speakers that schools and libraries are recommending books which just are not in a right level for my kids and some Z books from the list I feel are too grown up for my little girls. I bought some Elsa Beskow books for my daughters (in English) because they have very Northern European Style and could recommend them because of wintery whimsical stories but am not sure about translation, sometimes I have a feeling that it’s not proper English but it may be just a style:D

    • Reply Connie December 1, 2017 at 3:04 pm

      Susanna, you and your daughters need to make friends with the children’s librarians at your local library who will surely know suitable books for their age and reading level. As everyone gets better acquainted and your daughters tell which books they loved and which just didn’t click, the suggestions can only improve.

  • Reply Carol Wayne November 30, 2017 at 9:19 pm

    Since we a such cat lovers, our family has always loved The Christmas Cat by Efner Tudor Holmes and Pussycats Christmas by Margaret Wise Brown with illustrations by Anne Mortimer….

    also…if Susanna would like to email me, I am a childrens librarian and would be happy to give her some book lists.

    • Reply Susanna November 30, 2017 at 11:46 pm

      Oh, that would be so nice! Please, can I have your email address???

      • Reply Carol Wayne December 4, 2017 at 2:40 pm

        carol.wayne (at) laetx (dot) org!

  • Reply Mary Cate Javed November 30, 2017 at 11:01 pm

    I highly recommend Mr. Dog’s Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn. I love this old classic with beautiful illustrations. My boys also love this book!

  • Reply Hannah November 30, 2017 at 11:16 pm

    As a child I loved The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree: An Appalachian Story (illustrated by Barbara Cooney), Christmas Trolls by Jan Brett, The Tree of the Dancing Goats (which is already on your list), and The Story of Holly and Ivy (the version illustrated by Barbara Cooney). The last one might be for a slightly older child, but I feel like you would like it if you don’t already know it – it’s a classic from 1958 and my Gram always read it to me every year. The last book I think you might like is The Tall Book of Christmas – it’s a colletion of stories and poems. My favorite stories are “Christmas through a knothole” and “Granny Glittens and her Amazing Mittens.”

    • Reply Hannah Lynch November 30, 2017 at 11:25 pm

      Oh and I forgot to add A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas. My family reads that aloud every Christmas Eve – very lyrical and beautiful. Again, a bit old for your kids now but file it away. He has the most wonderful descriptions: “Our snow was not only shaken from white wash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunder-storm of white, torn Christmas cards.”

      • Reply ERIN BOYLE December 1, 2017 at 7:12 am

        One of my very very favorites!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE December 1, 2017 at 7:13 am

      Yes! We loved those Barbara Cooney books too!

  • Reply michelle December 1, 2017 at 12:24 am

    Love your list. We have Star Bright, Little Robin’s Christmas, The Wish Tree, and A Wish To Be A Christmas Tree on our list.

  • Reply Swissrose December 1, 2017 at 4:10 am

    The illustrator Jill Barklem recently passed away – her Brambly Hedge books are classics, so I suggest The Winter Story.
    Our very favourite Christmas book for somewhat older children is by Jostein Gaarder, in English The Christmas Mystery, which you can read to your kids daily from the age of about 8. (It goes from modern Norway back through history to the time of Jesus, so Christian content without being a religious book or quoting the bible particularly, just general interest. We are not religious ourselves.) As Gaarder is something of a philosopher, it is that style, but our girls loved it.
    Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas is a very beautiful book for the season – kids love the concept of letters that can be taken out and read!
    Anything by Astrid Lindgren – apart from the Tomten there are the Noisy Village books with a Christmas special around Scandinavian Christmas traditions. The translation of the title is very unfortunate and unappealing, we know the German versions as the Children of Bullerbü, a tiny hamlet somewhere in Sweden. Delightful and a bit old-fashioned (which I like!). Always popular. There are films, too, but not sure if they are available in English (a very young child might not care?!). Not specifically Christmas but popular for a strong girl protagonist is Ronja (in English I believe it’s Ronia… again, why change the name?!), a forest child.
    Little House stories at Christmas taken from the series (Big Woods or Long Winter have good ones) are good to show a simpler and appreciative side of the season and generally end up with the whole series becoming a favourite! Probably familiar to most readers.
    My younger grandson adores Gingerbread Christmas by Jan Brett because he thinks it’s about him… Although it is supposed to be set in Switzerland (apparently!), the beautiful illustrations look nothing like anything Swiss but way more Scandinavian/Baltic/Russian folklore – still a gorgeous picture story (and features dachshunds, if that’s anyone’s thing!).
    Admittedly, these books are all very “white” but again, in central Europe, it has to be said there are relatively few people of colour. Certainly something to be remedied/considered when I’m looking for new stories for my grandchildren, I welcome tolerance of every kind!

  • Reply Robyn December 1, 2017 at 6:07 am

    Great idea! Another advent idea I learned from a friend is each day they have an activity, many days include books but others include making cards for people who need cheering up, baking cookies and sharing with others, game night, holiday movie night and many other activities.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE December 1, 2017 at 7:11 am

      Yes! Our advent calendar is full of those kind of ideas!

  • Reply Christine December 1, 2017 at 7:40 am

    My favorite books to read that haven’t been mentioned are Santa’s Favorite Story: Santa Tells the Story of the First Christmas by Hisako Aoki and The Money We’ll Save by Brock Cole (you have to check them out–both excellent)!

  • Reply Joanne December 1, 2017 at 10:37 am

    The books you mentioned sounds lovely and I’m thinking I really want to catch a glimpse of The Night Before Christmas. This is a really nice idea, and you wrapped them all beautifully! I am somewhat confused about how the advent part works; so are we just gifting ourselves with 24 books for Christmas though? Are we supposed to finish each daily? (Cause I’m a reader but even that sounds like quite a lot to ask.) Hope you can enlighten me on this!
    Have a happy December! xo

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE December 1, 2017 at 11:07 am

      These are all picture books! We usually read several nightly!

  • Reply Liv December 1, 2017 at 8:05 pm

    No one’s mentioned ‘The Christmas Magic’ which all of my boys love and is such a sweet, gentle story about Santa. It’s become our new favorite.

  • Reply Lisa December 1, 2017 at 11:28 pm

    We’ve had a book advent calendar for several years now and I’ve always found the wrapping part a bit daunting, timewise. This year, I purchased various sized cotton muslin bags that we can reuse every year. I also thought how fun it would be to sew bags out of vintage holiday fabric, but thought I might not see the end of that project in time to use the bags! We tied a kraft tag with the # of the day onto the strings of each bag.


    Our new book additions this year: Santa Mouse by Michael Brown & Christmas by Dick Bruna

  • Reply christina December 2, 2017 at 10:29 am

    Any of the Elsa Beskow books. But for winter with Father Winter, Ollies Ski trip!!

  • Reply Sarah December 2, 2017 at 3:12 pm

    My kids are older now but both enjoyed Once Upon a Northern Night, not Christmas per se but seasonal and my all time favourite is The Olden Days Coat by Margaret Laurence, a hard to find book but you can watch the movie on YouTube with a very young Megan Follows (pre Anne of Green Gables). I love this idea of wrapping books like this and that they don’t have to be new, just new to you.

  • Reply Lizzie December 3, 2017 at 12:04 am

    Brave Irene is such a lovely book. We actually named our childhood dog Irene after that book 🙂

  • Reply Meagan December 4, 2017 at 9:27 pm

    I love this list and the comments! Our favorite winter books are: Bear Has a Story to Tell, The Tomten and the Fox, Now It Is Winter (Eileen Spinelli), and Who is Coming to Our House? Oh, and The Lion and the Bird! Also, Owl Moon by Jane Yolen. So many winter favorites!

  • Reply Katy December 14, 2017 at 10:10 am

    I can’t believe no one has mentioned The Polar Express yet! That book was so magical to me as a child. My mom only brought out our Christmas books during December, so it was like coming back to an old friend every year. And you can’t beat a Caldicot award winner for illustrations!

  • Reply Sarah December 27, 2017 at 10:54 am

    We’ve been doing this for a couple of years now and my children love it, but this year I was really aware that we were just adding hastily ripped (and therefore unable to be reused) paper to the pile thanks to the over excitement of my elder two. We’ve made a decision as a family that in 2018 we’ll try to significantly reduce our consumption and waste so over the coming year I’m going to make simple bags out of Christmassy material and ribbons that we’ll reuse each year. With a 5yo, 3yo and young baby we have a mixture of festive books ranging from the ‘That’s not my…’ and other touch and feel books, other picture books for pre-schoolers and longer books with illustrations ( I love Michael Morpurgo’s books) but as a Christian I try to ensure every few days we have a book about Christ’s birth and on Christmas morning before we open our stockings we read Jan Pienkowski’s beautifully illustrated version of the First Christmas. Finally on Christmas Eve we read The Night Before Christmas illustrated by Niroot Puttapipat before putting down our stockings by the fire. p.s. I’ve just discovered your blog in my search for zero waste advice, what a beautiful blog and fabulous inspiration.

  • Reply Ruth November 9, 2020 at 7:27 am

    I just came across this post. I don’t know by what convoluted route but it was a blog trail clicking here there and yonder! My sister usually comes to stay for the holidays at Christmas and in the summer and I always put a pile of wrapped books by her bed. It will include old favourites from our childhood, books she’s already enjoyed, books by authors she likes and some she wouldn’t normally consider. It’s fun to do and we’re both avid readers expecting to get through at least a book a day. As to the wrapping, some papers are years old and I’ll reuse boxes and bags. I love the Christmas lists suggested here so I may search out a few more “young” ones when the charity shops reopen here in the UK and I’m bookmarking your blog to explore a little further.

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