To say that I love Christmas is a bit of an understatement. The consistency of my childhood Christmases means that the fond memories run deep: decorating the tree, dozens of Christmas carols that I learned to sing and play on the piano, East-West Christmas dinner of turkey stuffed with Chinese sausage glutinous rice, Nutcracker ballet, praying for snow in mild Vancouver, and annual viewings of "A Christmas Story" ("Ralphie, you'll shoot your eye out!").
When I moved to Hong Kong and had my own home for the first time, I started my own annual traditions: a 9-foot fir tree from Sophie's and fully-dressed turkey from Mandarin Oriental (for 18 almost-consecutive years), and annual viewings of "Love Actually".
When I got married and started a family, I continued and added to the above: Nutcracker ballet, visit to The Peninsula... and Christmas story books.
Here is a rundown of our family collection, which will no doubt continue to grow.
[Click HERE for Christmas-themed chapter books for children aged 10+]
We have many versions of THE NUTCRACKER; some are translated versions of the original tome by E.T.A. Hoffman while others are more digestible re-tellings for young children.
The Nutcracker, illustrated by Susan Jeffers
One of the few versions based on Tchaikovsky's ballet, it's such a treat to see the characters as ballet dancers, just like the actual performances from Hong Kong Ballet.
The Nutcracker, illustrated by Alison Jay
Our first Nutcracker book, illustrated in a style reminiscent of Eric Puybaret.
The Nutcracker, illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger
I really came to appreciate the art of this award-winning Austrian when I attended an exhibition of her artwork at the Taipei Book Fair a few years back. What I love is her depiction of well-known scenes from a completely new perspective.
This is the translated version of the original long tale, with illustrations that feel like oil paintings suited for framing and display in an art museum. My children have yet to hear the long tale in full, but they have learned from perusing our various books that, in the "real" version, the little girl is named Maria instead of Clara, and the mouse-king has seven heads.
Another original long tale, this time with the iconic illustrations of my favorite Maurice Sendak. Reading the introduction to this edition, I learned that his art was translated into the costume and set design for Pacific Northwest Ballet's Nutcracker performances. Attending this ballet in Seattle is on my bucket list.
A wonderful re-telling with images in black scissor-cut paper that are intricate and breathtaking.
FUN AND FAMILIAR STORIES FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN
My First Night Before Christmas
This is an illustrated version of Clement C. Moore's poem that famously starts with "Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring not even a mouse." It was the perfect story for my kids to enjoy when they were very little, with tactile Santa's beard and sparkle-papered Christmas tree.
The Night Before Christmas
A more artful version of Clement C. Moore's poem is illustrated by Eric Puybaret. He is one of my favorites when it comes to beautifully rendered images of classic tunes like "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "Puff the Magic Dragon", to name a few.
The Stick Man
This rhyming tale by the best-selling duo of writer Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler begs to be read aloud. I bought the jigsaw book version when I went on my first mommy-daughter trip, and wanted to bring a book that I knew could keep my young daughter entertained when we had down time in the hotel room.
The Twelve Days of Christmas
Jan Brett's vintage style illustrations help my children visualize this vocabulary-rich song; at the very least, they know the difference between a partridge and a French hen.
Also illustrated by Niroot Puttapipat, this is a picture book version of the catchy holiday tune.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
I purchased this book thinking it contained the lyrics of the song by the same name, but this is actually recounts the tale of Rudolph in narrative prose. It is billed as "the only authorized reproduction of the original Rudolph from 1939", but I'm not sure by whom?
I bought this book because of William Joyce, also the creator of "The Numberlys", one of my younger daughter's favorite picture books.
Christmas Eve at the Mellops
Tomi Ungerer is a genius when it comes to creating funny, poignant classics. This book is a great way to introduce to children the Christmas spirit of giving and spreading joy to others. We laugh aloud together at the porcine Mellops family. In our home, they rank right up there with Peppa Pig.
The Jolly Christmas Postman
A Christmas rendition of "The Jolly Postman". Created by Janet & Allan Ahlberg, these books are the only other epistolary (letter-writing as a storytelling form) books I know of, which are designed in the same format as Griffin and Sabine (one of my favorite books of art), with actual letters in envelopes on each page. In this entertaining read, the postman delivers letters (and the odd junk mail) to familiar fairy-tale characters.
The Polar Express
This title instantly brings to mind the computer-generated image of Tom Hanks as the train conductor. I knew the movie before the book, and love our edition which contains an audio-book narrated by Liam Neeson.
The Christmas Wish
Husband-and-wife team dresses up own daughter and uses fine art photography to create winter wonderland images for an adorable holiday tale.
ORIGIN STORIES ABOUT NATIVITY, FATHER CHRISTMAS AND EVEN POINSETTIAS
A Christmas Story
This is the nativity story of the birth of Jesus Christ. If you like Brian Wildsmith's gorgeous illustrations, you will love his other books, including "An Easter Story".
The First Christmas
A master of the scissor-cut silhouette style of illustration, Jan Pienkowski's version of the birth of Jesus Christ is a favorite in our home.
The Christmas Story
Robert Sabuda is THE master paper engineer (a.k.a. pop-up book maker). Every page contains an engineering feat.
A Boy Called Christmas / The Girl Who Saved Christmas
Award-winning novelist Matt Haig has created a middle-grader classic about what Santa Claus was like as a youngster. His second novel, about a girl named Amelia and her adventures with Father Christmas, is hot off the press.
A picture book about how a little boy grew up to become Father Christmas.
The Legend of the Poinsettia
Tomie dePaola writes and illustrates lovely, gentle stories full of love for family and for life. And this story, a re-telling of a Mexican legend explaining how the poinsettia came to become a part of Christmas holiday tradition, is no exception.
The Baker's Dozen
This re-telling of the Dutch colonial legend of why a baker's dozen means thirteen.
POIGNANT AND TIMELESS TALES FOR OLDER CHILDREN
The Little Match Girl
When my kids were young, I made a conscious decision not to buy Raymond Briggs's wordless classic "The Snowman" because it was too sad of a story. At some point in the past couple of years, I forgot about that conscious decision and we now have two versions of an even sadder story.
The Little Match Girl
Jerry Pinkney creates beautiful art that complements Hans Christian Andersen's story so well. If you love Pinkney's wordless award-winner "The Lion and the Mouse", you will fall for his heart-rending images for this sad but uplifting tale.
A Christmas Carol
I grew up with many movie, made-for-TV and cartoon versions of this classic tale by Charles Dickens, but didn't read the original story until adulthood. The small red-covered version is from the Folio Society and we also have a beautiful read-aloud version illustrated by the acclaimed P. J. Lynch.
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey
Touted as a classic must-read, this book was out of print when I first learned of it, and was only reprinted in the past couple of years. It has the perfect Christmas formula of a family facing hardship but finding a happily-ever-after ending. The big bonus here are illustrations by P. J. Lynch. We can't get enough of his artwork in our home.
I don't remember how I came across this book, but I bought it last year and I love it. It is a lovely, gentle tale with just the right dose of "Christmas spirit".
The Twenty-four Days Before Christmas
The fact that it's written by Madeleine L'Engle is all the reason I need to own this book. I know that I over-use the word "favorite" when I write about authors, illustrators and their books, but her classic "A Wrinkle in Time" is undoubtedly one of my top three childhood favorites. She has the special ability to write in the voice of a child. Written from the point of view of 7 year-old Vicky, it is a story of a big family with an imminent increase in size as they await the birth of a new baby.
Michael Morpurgo is such a wonderful yet prolific writer that it's quite a challenge to pick just one of his stories as a must-read. Thankfully, you can sample his writing style in this collection of original stories with masterful plots and a good pace that will keep children's attention for longer read-alouds.
Letters from Father Christmas
When your dad is J. R. R. Tolkien, creator of "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings", you can expect nothing less magical than hand-written letters from the North Pole every December. Tolkien's letters "from Santa" to his children are full of humor and love. In this keepsake book, the actual letters are also reproduced, along with his original illustrations. A bibliophile's dream.
The Gift of the Magi
O. Henry is the quintessential writer of short stories, that most challenging genre which requires a writer to create concise worlds with fully-developed characters but without the luxury of hundreds of pages of narrative. I didn't realize until I started writing this piece that this is our third holiday book with illustrations by P. J. Lynch; of course, this led me to do a quick scan around our home library to see just how many Lynch-illustrated books we have. Only four. The other is non-holiday book "Oscar Wilde Stories for Children".
Christmas Day in the Morning
Originally published in 1955, this tale perfectly captures the spirit of Christmas giving. I have not read Pearl S. Buck before, though I appreciate that she has won both the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes.
CHRISTMAS STORY COLLECTIONS
I love the idea of a reading a story each night. In theory. Every year I plan to bring this book out and start reading on December 1. But with favorite Christmas stories to revisit, new Christmas books to discover and whatever non-holiday books my kids are currently reading, this Advent Storybook just keeps getting pushed down the priority list.
A Very Russian Christmas
Any Russian literature geek will enjoy this collection of stories, including those by literary giants Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Chekhov. This book was just published last month, and I can't wait to dig into it on my own this season.
I'd love to hear your feedback. Are any of the above books also favorites in your home? Do you have a book recommendation for me? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.