Squnching together with my kiddos curled up with a book? I feel like there is no better use of my time than that. We have connected and laughed and cried (yes, I’m mostly the one crying) and learned so much just by sharing great books with great stories. While Blake was in the hospital, sitting beside him on the hospital bed to read a book, or reading with the other three kids on the couch at home made life feel normal again, if even for a moment.

I decided to try to make some mental (and on paper) notes this year to share some of our family’s favorite stories in hopes that they can bless yours in the year to come. At Christmas, we often try to give our children “something they want, something they need, something to play with and something to read.” And we usually try to make the thing they want the thing they play with, too… 😉 If a good book or two is something you’d like to put under the tree this year, I’ve done my best to organize some favorites below!

The Ones We Laughed At…

  1. Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis features insects speaking a made-up language and building a fort in a flower. It is a very simple story but there are tiny little things of interest on each page, like stories within the story. We see something new every time we read it… and we apparently cannot stop checking it out from the library!
  2. Creepy Pair of Underwear by Aaron Reynolds (and Peter Brown the illustrator is a favorite!) is just so so adorable. Jasper Rabbit is a big bunny and shouldn’t be afraid of his underwear… but he is! This is a sort of sequel to Creepy Carrots, which is equally delightful and hilarious, and Blake’s favorite book.
  3. Elephants Cannot Dance or basically any Piggie and Gerald book by Mo Willems. These would make great “stocking stuffer” books! Or you could grab an Elephant and Piggie Biggie and get five of these magical books in one. I have been reading these books to my kiddos for at least six years now and they have not gotten old!! There’s a Bird on Your Head, I Broke My Trunk, Should I Share My Ice Cream, Pigs Make Me Sneeze… y’all, they’re all so good.
  4. Runny Babbit and Runny Babbit Returns by Shel Silverstein (posthumously published). Every bit as magical as his classics Where The Sidewalk Ends and a Light in the Attic, but twice as funny, these collections of poems will introduce you to Runny Babbit and his Funny Bamily, Toe Jurtle, Ploppy Sig, and Even a Dire-breathing Fragon that might fart your stire for you. Yes… the language is totally mixed up and my kids totally love it, and then ask me to read the poem over again “In English!” I read these books to Blake in the hospital not knowing if he’d wake up and remember anything — but gosh they made me sit and laugh even in those dire circumstances. What a gift laughter is!
  5. My Teacher is a Monster (No, I am Not!) by Peter Brown. This is another book that is engaging and good fun, with illustrations that make you notice something new each time. Give the teacher a posh British accent to bump this one up a notch at read-aloud time. {I also love Brown’s Mr. Tiger Goes Wild!}
  6. Read the Book, Lemmings! by Ame Dyckman: These little lemmings are adorably funny and you will laugh at this amusing story with engaging illustrations — another one I don’t mind reading again!

The Pictures, the Text, the Children’s Book Magic

  1. Goldfish on Vacation by Sally Lloyd-Jones (illus. Leo Espinosa). I might have a special affinity for this book because I saw an interview of Sally Lloyd-Jones and loved her thoughts on this based-on-a-true story picture book. Sweet, lovely and engaging.
  2. Tabby McTat, the Musical Cat by Julia Donaldson (illus. Axel Sheffler) This one has been out for a bit. The rhyming never misses a beat, it is such a charming and adorable story, and the illustrations are the kind that you can look at for ages. (And if you’ve ever been to Edinburgh, you might feel as if you’ve been whisked back for a visit!) Donaldson and Sheffler are the team behind some of our all-time favorite books like The Gruffalo and The Scarecrow’s Wedding. So fun, so charming, so good!!
  3. Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick (illus. Sophie Blackall). Every once in a while, you come across a story that is so fantastically unique and special, you’re sure it just has to be true. This is one of those too-good-to-not-be-true stories. It weaves together family history and the story of a REAL bear cub who made her way across the Atlantic along with Canadian troops during World War I. The origin of Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin… and so much more, tied together in this remarkable story. We LOVE it! {Caldecott Medal Winner}

The Ones That Really Meant Something… (Yes, I Cried.)

  1. Between Us and Abuela: A Family Story From the Border by Mitali Perkins: You might find you have different thoughts about issues like immigration when you view the issues through the eyes of your children. If you’re hoping to spark some deep conversations, about the world outside your neighborhood, what a great starter this will be. {If you specifically want to discuss immigration with your children, Lubna and Pebble is another deep, beautiful meaningful immigration story. Yes, I cried at both.}
  2. Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney : This one is a classic that has so much to communicate to a new generation. It might challenge your children (and you) to think about what simple things they could do to create more beauty in the world around them. Conversation opportunity: What does it mean to leave a legacy?
  3. Otis and the Kittens by Loren Long : Our tenderhearted Blake adores Otis. Otis, Otis and the Puppy, and Otis and the Tornado, are all simple stories that hold deeper layers of truth. They engage ideas about empathy, fear, welcoming ‘the other,’ and courage… and Otis and the Kittens far and above has a theme of bravery and self-sacrifice, with illustrations that truly made me teary-eyed, even at a child’s picture book. Can books teach care, compassion and empathy? Yes. Especially books like this one.
  4. Fiona’s Lace by Patricia Polacco: MANY of Patricia Polacco’s books bring tears to my eyes, but this one perhaps the most. It’s a beautiful story of hardship and overcoming and an illustration of how no matter what your family may face, when you face it together, you’re “home.” Polacco’s text is much more lengthy than a typical picture book, so I don’t recommend her books to very young readers.

Chapter Books To Read Aloud

While picture books are my happy place, Mark is kind enough to be the regular reader during our evening story time, where we often have kids doodling on blank sheets of paper and listening to a story. We typically reserve chapter books for special bedtime stories.

  1. The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: Book I: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood :: The humor in this book is fantastic. It is dry and witty and well paced and your kids are likely to howl for another chapter. (And good news, if they like it, there are six books in the series.)
  2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis :: Clearly I treasure the classics and the Chronicles of Narnia should be on every child’s bookshelf. Enough said.
  3. The Mercy Watson Series by Kate DiCamillo, illus. by Chris Van Dusen :: Oh, how we love the Porcine Wonder that is Mercy Watson!!! These books are early reader chapter books that can be finished in one sitting or broken up into two of three, but they are hilariously funny with absolutely fantastic illustrations and we laugh and laugh at these books. I do my best to give each character a unique voice, but there are so many good and interesting ones often interacting with one another, it’s a bit of a workout. I truly LOVE these books!
  4. Tales from Deckawoo Drive (also Kate DiCamillo/Chris Van Dusen) This spinoff of the Mercy Watson series has longer books and “fuller” chapters, but is still laugh-out-loud-funny with the clever and witty writing and hilarious illustrations that complement the stories so well. You might discover you sat down to read a couple of chapters with a kiddo, an hour has passed and you’ve finished the whole book! So far we’ve enjoyed Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln? but I’m hoping more of these books will find their way under our Christmas tree.

Most Requested: Stories of Faith

Last, but not least! I so often get asked for recommendations about sharing your faith with your children, and I think books are so powerful in this regard. They do not have to be children’s Bibles to communicate Biblical truth. (Hello, Narnia!) I love to remind friends (and myself) about that thought — so many books (like Otis and Goldfish on Vacation) have a person who makes a big (or small) sacrifice or shows up and changes things for the better. Remember to be on the lookout for any theme that can help you think about goodness, beauty and truth. But here are some ‘overtly’ faith-based books that I think will be a gift to your family.

  1. Unwrapping the Greatest Gift (Ann Voskamp) Yes, I share about this book every year. It has become so central to the Christmas experience for our family, and I’m always excited when December 1st arrives and we start reading this together and coloring the corresponding ornaments which you can print from Ann’s website! This will be our fifth year enjoying this Christmas devotional. {I’ve reviewed this book and shared more details about it here.}
  2. Love Letters from God (Glenys Nellist) Arabella was just given this book for her birthday and I already adore it! It contains a selection of Bible stories told in new and different ways. Along with each story, there is a corresponding verse of encouragement and a fold-open love letter from God. You can write your child’s name so that the letter reads “Dear Arabella…” Each of those letters relates to some aspect of the story and brings a new perspective to God’s love for His children. It’s a beautifully done, lovely book and would be a very special gift!
  3. Tiny Bear’s Bible (Sally Lloyd-Jones) This sweet and simple little Bible is for the youngest of readers. It has a sweet, teeny little collection of Bible stories told in the form of poems. A great jumping off point for beginning to share God’s love with little ones.
  4. The Jesus Storybook Bible (also Sally Lloyd-Jones, illus. by Jago) When Sally Lloyd-Jones set out to write a Bible for children, she had no idea what an impact it would also have for adults around the world. She retells Bible stories in ways that help us think about things we may not have considered before. Every story really does help connect the threads of God’s love, and that from the beginning, the plan was always our rescue. The plan was always Jesus.

There are so many more favorites I’m sure I’ll slap my palm against my forehead that I forgot to mention them here, but I hope this list gives you some great ideas and introduces at least a few books this might be a blessing to your family! When those forgotten books do pop to the surface, I plan to share them on Facebook, right here. So if you have any questions about any of the books I’ve mentioned that you might like to ask before you buy them, please don’t hesitate to comment on Facebook and ask away!

I pray this Christmas season will be full of God’s goodness, that His Presence will trump all the presents… and that it will be a time to for your family to remember: The Plan was always Jesus.


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