a garland of Christmas stories for merry December reading

Over the years I’ve gathered quite a sleighload of books reveling in the joy of the Christmas season. You can find a link to my index displaying all those titles at the end of the post today. There are plenty of choices to add copious goodwill to your December reading stacks.
Today’s batch sparkles with love, joy, generosity, and merriment. It encompasses several cultures, reaches back to bygone eras, and celebrates with diverse contemporary families (plus one clever little monkey!)
Enjoy with mugs of cocoa, drifts of whipping cream, and a sprinkle of peppermint flakes!

The Night Before Christmas, words by Clement Clarke Moore, illustrations by Loren Long
published in 2020 by Harper

There are oodles of picture book renditions of Clement Moore’s classic Christmas poem so it takes a mighty original spin for me to investigate any new options being published. Today, though, I’ve got three — THREE! — that I mightily enjoyed. This first one is interpreted by well-loved illustrator Loren Long. I was immediately drawn to his concept of portraying multiple children from varied families in today’s world, all experiencing Jolly Old Saint Nicholas in their own context.

Long zeroes in on four such families — one living in a cozy farmhouse, one in an urban loft, one in a tropical location, and one at a trailer park.

The text is comprised completely of the poem while Long’s lovely wall-to-wall artwork seamlessly shifts from one setting to another, conveying both the uniquenesses of our lives and the similarities — the belongingness of home, the anticipation of Christmas, the jovial, magical generosity of St. Nick.

It’s a brilliant mix of tradition and modernity, commonality and diversity, blanketed in warmth. Great choice to return to year after year, for ages 3 and up.

Native American Night Before Christmas, adapted and written by Gary Robinson, illustrated by Jesse T. Hummingbird
published in 2020 by 7th Generation

Next up — Gary Robinson (Choctaw/Cherokee) and Jesse T. Hummingbird (Cherokee) have pooled their talents to bring us this spry, witty, contemporary, Native spin on the old poem.

Robinson’s text contains many Native American terms from tipis to moccasins, fry bread to beadwork, buffalo to medicine bundles. He ingeniously maintains the joy, rhythm, and plot of the original poem, while weaving in common Native surnames, expressions, and aspects of tribal culture dear to many communities.

The vivid illustrations brilliantly showcase the adapted text, celebrate the traditional artistry of Indigenous peoples, and set us firmly in modern times with televisions and strings of Christmas lights in tipis, a baseball mitt tucked into a Christmas stocking, the ’69 Lincoln and a Skidoo parked in the snowy yard. An appended glossary explains some of the Native terminology for us. It’s an exuberant way to celebrate the holidays and Native culture all in one go.  Ages 3 and up.

Mouse’s Night Before Christmas, written by Tracey Corderoy, illustrated by Sarah Massini
first published in the UK in 2019; first US edition 2020 by Nosy Crow

The last of the three diverges from the poem to give us the mouse’s rendition of that famous Christmas Eve. That mouse who was supposedly not stirring? He was actually a very busy mouse.

It all begins with his wish for a friend, wished on the star atop the Christmas tree. All in a twinkling what should appear but a lost Santa and his team of reindeer. A storm has blown Santa quite out of his way, but Mouse is familiar with the neighborhood and in a jiffy he’s perched on the sleigh, guiding Santa and helping deliver packages.

One last little surprise from Santa at the end of the night’s work helps Mouse’s original wish come true. A lilting, rhyming text and lovely illustrations sparkling with snowflakes, charm, and jollity, all make this a safe bet for little listeners looking for something purely sweet and adorable. Ages 3 and up.

Monkey with a Toolbelt and the Craftiest Christmas Ever!, written and illustrated by Chris Monroe
published in 2021 by Carolrhoda Books

Duluth-ian Chris Monroe has truly spun gold with her fantabulous character, Chico Bon Bon, a monkey with a passionate propensity for tools who travels everywhere from the seaside to outer space using his cool gadgets to fix stuff.

This latest episode takes place, of course, at Christmastime. Chico’s toolbelt is a wonder of holiday extrava-gadgetry. As he kindly helps out his friends and neighbors — stringing lights for the hen house gals, hanging a wreath of cheese for the mice — he begins to fret. How’s he going to find time for gift shopping?

Not to worry. With his genius creativity, handyman know-how, and shedful of odd bits and bobs, Chico is set to craft the best presents ever. Soon it’s time to host a festive shindig with his pal, Clark, and as their friends arrive, what a spectacular holiday gathering it is!!

Call me juvenile but I love me some Chico Bon Bon. As ever,  a blast of craftiness and good heartedness for ages 2 and up.

May Your Life Be Deliciosa, written by Michael Genhart, illustrated by Loris Lora
published in 2021 by Cameron Kids

Discovering the unique ways various cultures celebrate Christmas is like unwrapping a lovely present. This book opens the door to one Abuela’s kitchen and the arrival of her close-knit family for their annual Christmas Eve tradition of making tamales together.

As the husks are soaked, the chiles roasted, the meat carefully seasoned, Abuela relates, as she does each year, the recipes in her heart for both mouthwatering tamales and a deliciosa life.

Bold illustrations singing with vitality, spice, and familial love create a hearty, joyous atmosphere. Occasional sepia-toned segments portray Abuela’s memories of her younger days which dance in her mind as she passes down her art of cooking and wisdom to another generation. Author and illustrator notes relate their own childhood memories growing up in loving Latinx families. Ages 4 and up.

The Cat on the Dovrefell: A Christmas Tale, written and illustrated by Tomie DePaola
published in 2021 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Christmas tales with a Nordic bent are favorites for me with my Scandinavian heritage. This new story, frosty with snow and bumbling with trolls, created by the late, great Tomie DePaola will delight any of you with similar bents.

In the far off land of Finnmark, a man captures a great white bear and sets off to deliver it as a gift for the Danish king. On Christmas Eve, he comes to a cottage in the mountains of the Dovrefell and asks to spend the night. Fella by the name of Halvor lives there.

Halvor apologetically explains that he and his family vacate the cottage every Christmas Eve, for every year “a slew of trolls” invades their home. If the man and his bear want to take their chances on their own, they’re welcome.

Man and bear settle in for the night and sure enough, the grim and raucous crew of trolls barges into the house and gorges themselves on the wonderful feast Halvor’s wife has set out for them.

When then try to prod the large white “cat” snoozing under the stove, though, those trolls get the surprise of their motley lives! Marvelous fun. The pristine artwork, featuring DePaola’s trademark style and some long-nosed, uncouth mountain trolls, captivates on every page. Share it with ages 3 and up.

Christina’s Carol, original poem by Christina Rossetti, illustrations by Tomie DePaola
published in 2021 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

I love Rossetti’s old carol, In the bleak midwinter, and here the one and only Tomie DePaola has illustrated it with hush and beauty and grace.

DePaola’s gallery of jewel-toned images combines drawings done in his iconic style with some 3D pieces and Byzantine elements, all working together to tell the traditional story of Jesus’ birth, uniting with Rossetti’s elegant lines.

The last lines are often excerpted for children’s poetry collections, but the whole is a truly lovely choice to share with ages 3 and up.

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Find dozens more delightful stories to enjoy during the holiday season on my list here.
Or look for books simply set in wintertime on my list here.

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