The Night Before Christmas? Sure! How The Grinch Stole Christmas? Of course! Those are wonderful picture books for December. But everyone knows those. Here are some great Christmas books for children that you might have missed if you live in The Netherlands. As an added bonus, these are all books that grown-ups won’t mind having to read again and again.
This one ticks all the boxes for anyone who loves picture books: Gorgeous illustration? Check! Humor? Check! Interactive bits? Check! The Jolly Postman is delivering mail to fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters. Each letter, card and gift is actually in the book, and can be taken from its envelope and read, and even played with! There’s a board game, a peep show, a jigsaw puzzle and lots more to discover, and the detail in the Janet Ahlberg’s whimiscal illustrations will keep you busy for hours.
A few years ago I found a gorgeous facsimile edition of this book that – clearly inspired by The Jolly Christmas Postman – had the letters printed on separate sheets that could be removed from their envelopes. I wish I’d bought it now, because it really brought something special to Tolkien’s charming letters. Each year, he wrote a letter for his children, purporting to be from Father Christmas, in which he detailed the latest exploits of the inhabitants of the North Pole. Each letter was decorated with fantastical illustrations drawn by J.R.R. himself. The letters seem terribly dated now, and were clearly written especially for his children rather than a wider audience, but they are quite funny and very entertaining, and full of the magic and fantasy you’d expect from the creator of The Hobbit.
Briggs created the beautiful The Snowman and the disgusting Fungus The Bogeyman. Somewhere in between those two, is Father Christmas, an antidote to the thousands of sappy, sacharine Christmas books that are churned out for children. In this colorful comic book, we see Santa, sans suit, going about his daily business on December 24th – getting dressed, feeding the reindeer, even using the bathroom. Briggs’s Santa is the grandad next door: he does not live at the North Pole, or have hordes of elves to help him. In fact he’s even quite grumpy – and you would be too if you had to deliver millions of presents in one night on your own. But that’s the charm of this book which is 100% Raymond Briggs: magical and ordinary at the same time, and chock-full of chuckles.
The first Olivia book, with its Eloise-esque black and red illustrations and hyperactive, bossy heroine, was an immediate success when it was published. It was so fresh, in all sorts of ways, and like many other successful picture books, it was full of knowing nods to parents. Olivia has had a few more books since then, and even her own cartoon show, but this is one of my favorites. Olivia and her family are getting ready for the arrival of Santa: setting the table, caroling at the piano, hanging up stockings, putting up the tree, going shopping, and keeping Santa Watch. There’s not much of a plot, and the text is spare, because the point here is to enjoy Olivia’s antics, and the clever and witty illustrations.
Olive isn’t a reindeer. She’s a small terrier dog. Hopelessly confused by the line “all of the other reindeer” in the song Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, she runs away to the North Pole to see if she can join Santa’s team. Santa agrees to take Olive on, she’s hitched up to the sleigh with a red ribbon and soon makes herself indispensible, helping Santa and the reindeer out of all sorts of trouble. This is such a simple, happy, silly story; it’s really irresistible. The text is sharp, and begs to be read aloud, and the very cool and quirky illustrations are full of lovely little details.