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24 of the Best Children’s Holiday Books for Advent Countdown

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When Lainey was about two years old, one of my friends had the brilliant idea of hitting Barnes & Noble the day after Christmas to scrape up as many kids’ holiday books we could get our hands on, for 75% off. The goal was to stash them away in a closet and pull them out each night in December the following year. I started a great collection that year and have since expanded our compilation slowly so that we now have 24 of our very favorite winter and Christmas-themed books.

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This year, our advent calendar is going to be focused on reading together before bed–books that celebrate everything we love about the season. Even though the kids have already seen several of the books, I wrapped each of them up to add the excitement of surprise and opening a gift together. To bring a little more fun to the tradition, several of the books have added treats and instructions on where and how the book should be read…

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Hot cocoa and a fort for one…

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Popcorn under the stars for another…

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And a S’mores kit for a reading session under our twinkle lights on the lanai.

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Since 24 books can be a hefty cost (we built our collection over the years), a few tips if you’re interested:

*Buy paperback books if available: much cheaper, and they shouldn’t get too much wear and tear if you tuck them away after the holiday to save for next year.
*Buy used books: While it might take a little longer to receive and cost you a few dollars for shipping, it often still works out to be a great deal–many used books on Amazon cost literally only pennies.
*Rotate books: Find a few mom friends who want to join the tradition and each commit to buying 4-5 different books and rotating them at the end of the week. Let your kids wrap them up for the next recipients.
*Check them out at your library. If you’re a regular library visitor, check out 7 each week, and swap them out every Friday.

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I can easily gush about children’s literature–kids books are one of my great loves–and I’ve included a list of the favorite Christmas books in our collection at the end of this post, but first: a few ideas to bring a little holiday sparkle to your book ritual.

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*Buy an extra copy of one of the books (preferably an inexpensive one) and have it sent to a family member or friend far away. On the evening that book is opened, include the instructions: “For tonight’s book, Grandma is waiting for a FaceTime call. She will be reading you the story while you follow along.” I had one sent to my mom in New York and can’t wait to hear her read it to the kids while we’re snuggled together looking at the pictures.

*Have fun with changing up where the book is to be read and who reads it. Beds are cozy and an obvious choice for bedtime reading sessions, but kids will love the excitement of changing up the instructions: “Take a flashlight and a blanket outside, and read this book under the stars.” “Get a bubble bath ready. Mom will read this one to you while you’re in the tub tonight.” “Dad reads tonight, but build a blanket fort in the living room first. He’ll meet you there for the story.”

*On the outside, tape snacks or treats to be enjoyed while you read–cocoa packets, microwave popcorn, Hershey’s kisses.

*Try the audio version for a couple (especially longer/wordier stories). You’ll love quietly relaxing while you listen with your kids (don’t fall asleep!), and if you’re lucky, you might get a great reader (see James Earl Jones for one of them below!).

*Include a fun activity: “Run around the house two times before the book tonight.” “Make up a dance to Jingle Bell Rock.” “Cut these sheets of paper into snowflakes and hang them over your bed before the story.” Or, my personal favorite: “Warning. Tonight’s story will be read in a British accent.”

Also, very important: Skipping activities or anything extra is just fine because BOOKS ARE MAGIC JUST AS THEY ARE. And even more magical? Snuggling together to read them in a huddle.

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Cue Drummer Boy’s pa-rum-pa-pum-pum…
Our 24 Favorite Christmas books

1. A Winter Story, Brambly Hedge. I’ve expressed my love for Brambly Hedge on social media before, but truly these books are magical and, sadly, many out of print. You can easily find them used on Amazon though (see third-party sellers), and you’ll be happy you did when you open the book to find Jill Barklem’s enchanting miniature fantasy land of mice. This cozy story will take you inside the tree home of the mice during a snow storm and make you wish you were attending their Snow Ball. Your kids will get lost in the illustrations and surely dream of the magical Brambly Hedge at Christmas.

2. Christmas in the Big Woods (Little House picture book) Whether you’re a Laura Ingalls fan or not, this sweet picture book version of Christmas at the Ingalls cabin will bring out all the good feels.

3. The Polar ExpressA holiday classic, this one is a great book to be followed by the movie. All aboard!

4. Splendiferous Christmas (Fancy Nancy). Expand your Christmas vocabulary and get your fancy on with this favorite.

5. Almost a Full Moon. Newly published this year. The illustrations capture all the enchantment of winter, and the simple text of a winter gathering story is perfectly combined to evoke warm feelings of togetherness.

6. The Jolly Christmas Postman. If you’ve read the original Jolly Postman, you’ll know the fun that’s tucked inside this book–tiny envelopes that open and reveal pull-out treasures. Follow the Christmas postman as he makes his mail journey, delivering holiday letters to all our favorite fairy tale characters.

7. The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree. I found this book at a little cabin store nestled in the mountains of North Carolina, and the illustrations took my breath away. Every time we read it, I remember that little shop and how the illustrations in the book represent that cozy setting. It’s a bit of a longer story, but my kids love it, and we stop at every page to point out all the winter magic in the pictures.

8. Eloise at Christmastime. The Plaza Hotel in New York City. Christmas. Eloise. A trifecta of holiday fun.

9. The Snowy Day. A little boy in the city and all the possibility that lies in the first snowfall. If only we could read this in Florida and dream of waking up to school canceled from our first snow.

10. Charlie and the Christmas Kitty (Charlie the Ranch Dog). My kids love the adventures of the Pioneer Woman’s ranch dog, Charlie. This is Christmas version is one of Dash’s favorites.

11. Winter Poems. Snowy landscape paintings accompany 25 different poems of winter from the world’s greatest poets.

12. How Santa Got His Job. A cute story about how Santa met the elves and found his dream job.

13. A Very Marley Christmas. Another one of Dash’s favorites (rambunctious lab is his spirit animal).

14. A Wish to Be a Christmas Tree. An overgrown pine tree has his wish come true with help from his woodland friends. The illustrations make me want to book a ticket north, just to walk through the woods in the snow.

15. Room for a Little OneA sweet version of the nativity story, the simple text and warm illustrations of the stable animals are a delight, especially for little ones. “There’s always room at the inn.”

16. The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey a long story but a truly meaningful one that captures the importance of caring for others. This anniversary issue comes with an audio narration by James Earl Jones as a complimentary download. Let him read this one. In fact, anytime you ever have a chance to have James Earl Jones read anything to you, go with it.

17. Jenny’s Winter Walk: A Kids’ Yoga Winter Book. A fun winter story that will have you practicing stretches and yoga positions. Nella is going to love this one.

18. Snowmen at Night. What do snowmen do when we all go to bed? Why, they come alive and have fun. A kindergarten favorite.

19. The Mitten. My kids have heard me read this story so many times, but they never tire. The part they wait for? The giant, overly dramatic AH-CHOOOOOOOO!

20. The Sweet Smell of Christmas. Great for little ones, this book is full of scratch and sniff stickers that invite kids to experience the story with their senses–pine, cookies, peppermint, etc.

21. Madeline’s Christmas. Another classic, we like to read this story with our best French accent.

22. The Most Perfect Snowman A touching winter story about kindness and what perfection is truly about. We love this one.

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23. Owl Moon. A Caldecott medal winner, and one I save to the end because I love it so much. The illustrations, the descriptions (snow that’s “whiter than the milk in a cereal bowl”), the truth of finding magic in the simplest acts in nature. Jane Yolen dreamily captures the imagination with this winter tale that engages all the senses.

 24. The Night Before Christmas. A Christmas Eve tradition, but the real predicament is which version to choose? The Classic illustrated version or the sweet Holly Hobbie one?

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The countdown begins two weeks from today. We can’t wait to start our tradition and end our evenings cuddled up, lost in story.

Did I forget one of your holiday favorites? Do tell.

All the Holiday Glitter: Pear Tree Greetings

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This post is sponsored by Pear Tree Greetings. We like the way they make holidays festive and pretty. 

Prepare your mailboxes! Hang tiny twinkly lights inside them, pipe in Nat King Cole from itty bitty speakers and dangle some spruce sprigs from the door. Mailboxes are the venue, after all, for the best Christmas party of the year–the place where all your friends and family from near and far will soon gather, their faces and celebrations and all their love from 2014 tucked into envelopes and sealed with pretty stamps and curly penmanship and address labels handpicked for this very occasion.

My mail lady is my best friend this time of year. I wait for her arrival and run to the mailbox to see what holiday cards (we call them “holiday mailers”–and we say it in a British accent) have arrived. Sometimes I save them to open late at night, when the kids are asleep and I’ve found a cozy spot on the couch with a glass of wine, a candle and the Carpenters streaming from the kitchen. Sometimes I open them right away, eager to see new pictures of friends. I’m a bit of a card junkie, I admit–enthused by all the silly details–the pictures, the colors, the font, the simplicity, the glitter, the curved edges, the way the paper feels in my hand. Most certainly what’s most important isn’t the product but the love in it–the heartfelt “Merry Christmas, We Miss You. Love Brent and Joann.” But I do love a good card, and after years of photographing families and designing that very special gift that often serves as the only opportunity in one year to get the family together for a photo, I have a little extra appreciation for a beautiful holiday card.

With work, three kids, school drop off and dinner plans, I also appreciate any opportunity to make holiday tasks simpler, easier, more streamlined. Pear Tree Greetings does just that. You bring your family, your photos and your wish to create something beautiful to Pear Tree’s site, and they finish the job for you, giving you an incredible selection of beautiful Christmas cards to customize in a matter of minutes. Cards are printed on heavy premium paper with a variety of envelope colors and styles to choose from. Their award-winning designs are unique and offer you exactly what you want from simple and classic to funky and modern. Flat, folded, tri-fold, laser cut, foil, rounded edge–you name it, they have it.

I love this colorful modern collage style that gives you the opportunity to use several different photos.

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And this book style card is a stunner–definitely one I’d call Heidi with a, “Dude, did you get the Dashners’ card yet? So cute!”
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This peek-through laser-cut card is another favorite, simple yet unique.
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And if you want to have fun and go a little out of the box, how about New Year’s cards? This resolution card made me smile. I want to print 100 different resolutions and make a collage from them.

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Our holiday cards aren’t just to mail out. They’ve become an important part of our family memories with all of our cards from past years preserved in albums that will be passed down to the kids. I love the artful way we can express love for our family and friends through a simple card, and Pear Tree does a beautiful job of capturing that in their products.

We have yet to wrangle up the family for our annual Christmas card photo this year, but I did play around with some of last year’s photos.
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Pear Tree Greetings is giving one of our readers a $100 gift code (expires 12/31/14) to use toward their holiday cards with free shipping. Click over to Pear Tree Greetings, pick a favorite card design and share your favorite card design in a comment on this post. Winner will be randomly selected and announced in next Monday’s post (11/24/14). See terms and conditions HERE.

*Note: This giveaway is completed and comments have been closed.

All this talk of Christmas cards has me excited now. Time to order stamps and pick out what Christmas movie we’ll watch while I address envelopes (last year was Family Stone).

Thank you Pear Tree Greetings for sponsoring this post and for all the holiday glitter.

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I’ll take Holiday Craftastic for $400, Alex

Hear ye, hear ye: Holiday love shall now be proclaimed from this day forward. Thanksgiving’s only two-plus weeks away, putting Christmas at six–give or take–and by my calculations, that makes today Raise the Freak Flag Day (cue cartwheel, cartwheel, interpretive dance move, cartwheel).

Let there be crafts. And smiling. And high-on-life reflection.

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In case you wondered, shadow pictures make me happy and no, I’m not wearing elf boots.

Oh, I had something good to say, but let’s just do this stream-of-consciousness, shall we? Because deciding to do a blog post stream-of-consciousness is like showing up for a job interview in an expensive borrowed blazer with a prepared stage-crap, sell-yourself speech only to find your soon-to-be boss in a kaftan, with his feet on his desk, holding a popsicle with your name on it. “Sit down,” he says. “Let’s talk about our kids and how we’re going to change the world. Over popsicles, of course.” And we sit, laughing, licking Bomb Pop juice off our fingers and tapping our popsicle sticks in a toast to Coldplay or aged cheese or, maybe, to Mary Oliver’s poetry, if I’m lucky. We both cry, trade friendship bracelets, and then he gives me the job.

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*****

Weekend Delivered. Or perhaps, weekend delivers every single time it arrives, but it’s our job to accept delivery and sign for the package.

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So, Friday night, I signed. In a moment of “I take thee, Life, to be my lawfully wedded whathaveyou,” I called my friend to arrange something grand at the beach. Last minute parties? Oh, they are the best.

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Really, truly, I heard word that temperatures were shifting again in our parts, and if you take it to the beach at night in November, there’s a good chance you will encounter a sweet sliver of the north. Cold winds, cool water, the opportunity to bust out some ear-flap hats and sweaters. Hollah.

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Top it with a bottle of “kid wine,” some grapes and cheese, and a line-up of jam jars full of candles as the sun is setting? Take me away. A secret place. A freaking pocketful of sunshine, at twilight, on the beach.

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My friend, Andrea, actually said once we got to the beach, “I know you. You just did this for the sweaters and hats, right?” This is true. This is true. She knows me well. You can take the girl out of Michigan, but you can’t take Michigan out of the girl. Pink-flecked skies and Mason jar glow was just a bonus.

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I interrupt this blog post to gush about what I love right now.

Billie Holliday is breakin’ it down on Pandora, and the great loves of my life have collided…late night writing, candle light glow, and my sweet baby, asleep on couch cushions next to my desk.

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This makes me insanely happy.

So, I’ll keep it simple.

My happies, this weekend:

T-Soup with Parm
Tomato soup, doused with parmesan cheese and garnished with easy Jiffy buttermilk biscuits (smeared with butter and honey). Holiday magazine, optional yet imperative.

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Twirl-a-whirl

Lainey put on a 12-18 months size dress this weekend and decided to give us a show. Cue Gustav Mahler CD and Nella in a chair watching, entranced.

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And I had an “I am blessed to have two beautiful daughters” moment.

Car Wash
Daddy’s car first.

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But, most importantly, the kid car. No airbags, but seriously, the workout that Flinstone pedaling gives ya?

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Sister Rides
Late afternoon, when our feet hit the driveway pavement and the sun is slowly bowing out, you can hear this staccato giggle from Nella. Most likely, it’s induced from the thrill of Big Sister thrusting the little car forward on a fast ride along the sidewalk. And, in the exhileration of a fast ride, Nella stands in the back of that car and smiles while Brett and I holler “Nella, sit!” from the sidelines.

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Sometimes, she listens and sits. Sometimes, she keeps on smiling while she stands and proclaims “I’m doin’ it my way!” And though I appropriately react with attention to safety and obedience, somewhere within, I’m fine with her defiance. I freaking love her spirit.

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*****

And this is the part in that imaginary job interview where my kaftan-wearing soon-to-be-boss finishes his popsicle and says “Break it down, now.” As in, bring it. High on life? Show me. Like holidays? Prove it.

Oh, I’ll prove it. It’s November 7th, Dude. I see your kaftan and I raise you a 20-minute Christmas Craft, okay?

Here’s the deal. The word “Christmas Craft” alone makes me perk up much like a text announcing a new baby.

The first presence of the holidays in our home? A quick, homemade wreath. I wanted to add a bow or buttons or something more, but I loved it for its simplicity. Simplicity is good for me. Sometimes I peter out. And this craft easily welcomed a four-year-old’s assistance.

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It’s as simple as a styrofoam wreath form from a craft store, some fabric scraps and a bottle of Tacky glue.

Voila. It’s a little grandma-ish and, being that I’m thirty-two and now appreciate the beauty, wisdom and experience of that generation, I dig grandma-ish.

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Of course, Wreath is begging for some friends, and he will soon be joined by some other freak-flag-waving decor cousins.

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Meanwhile, we are brainstorming special gift ideas for friends and family. And I am loving watching my girl beam from the satisfaction of creating things to give away.

An easy, inexpensive gift for friends?
Embellished chalkboard.

Seriously, it’s a five dollar gift, and it took maybe fifteen minutes to create.
Materials: Wood frame, assorted felt, embroidery floss, embroidery needle, Tacky glue, primer, chalkboard paint.

Prime frame, paint with chalkboard paint, adorn with felt bunting.

Keep for yourself or decorate with twine and chalk to give away for a holiday gift.

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*****

Remember cool artist chick, Casey Leigh?
Well, congratulations to Comment #202, Talia: Love the photo of the girls sharing. Just lovely. Like you, we are practical and when the opportunity presents itself for me to take my girls to dinner – we go and cherish each moment!

Talia, your home is about to be graced by Casey’s love of art. Please e-mail your contact info to kellehamptonblog@comcast.net, and your wall will be soon be happy!

*****

I’ve gone through far more pony tail holders and barrettes for my girls than I’d like to admit. I’ve proclaimed new methods for organzing trinkets many times, but I’ve never found the right fit for us. So, naturally, I’m excited to lauch our our new sponsor, The Adorned Abode, which provided the perfect fix for our hair accessory storing problem.

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Kelly, of The Adorned Abode, does custom decoupage work to all her trinket and jewelry boxes, and her husband custom creates all the wood recipe boxes.

We love our new accessory box. And Lainey likes the whole idea of opening drawers and choosing accesories from a tiny dresser, just her size.

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You can enjoy a 10% discount from The Adorned Abode, using code ENJOYING10, and two commenters will be randomly chosen from this post to receive a $25 gift certificate, courtesy of The Adorned Abode shop.

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And tomorrow is a special day. Gary turns 50. Happy Birthday to a very special part of our family…thank you, Gary, for everything you do. We love you. 50–that’s a big year, Dude. Celebrate that life.

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(and sleep it off later)

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Have a great week.

Brett has proclaimed his holiday love by promising only to use the snowman mug for his coffee from now until the New Year. If only I could think of such a badass way to declare my holiday love.