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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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Help! I Suffer from PDHE–Public Display of Holiday Enthusiasm

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Well, it’s officially September, so I guess I can say this: Happy Fall. That’s right, I’m calling it, two weeks and two days early which is hardly significant if you suffer from PDHE. I’ve had it since I was little–Public Display of Holiday Enthusiasm–and a common side effect is launching into seasonal festivities before they’re actually due. Forget this “Official First Day of Season” crap. The calendar I measure all things in life by is the one Target sends out to their set-up crew employees for those specialty back aisles erected three months before the holiday they’re promoting. In fact, I got so excited for the Christmas aisles going up the day after Halloween last year, that I was with the set-up employees as they put them up: “Um, ma’am, we’re not quite ready yet. You might want to come back tomorrow when we’re finished.”

“What’s your name tag say? Phil? Yeah thanks, Phil, but no. Let me help! Pass me that box of tinsel. OH MY GOD, PHIL! THESE REINDEER PILLOWS!”

The fact is, one day is simply not enough to celebrate my enthusiasm for holidays. Remember, I’m a minimalist. Just kidding. Honey, there are 18 tricycles, 9 scooters, a bike with a broken chain and two pogo balls in my garage on the off chance we’ll host a big driveway party and need them all to make sure every kid feels included and has a toy. Minimalist genes don’t run in my family, and PDHE certainly doesn’t jive well with KonMari’s approach because, in case you haven’t noticed, ALL the holiday things bring me great joy. All of them. My life motto: MORE TWINKLE LIGHTS, and Marie Kondo can whittle down my collection of holiday knick-knacks when she pries them from my cold, dead hands.

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I find this time of year gets a little tricky though with PDHE. There’s a split crowd, and the ones fighting for the preservation of “the season it still is” aren’t always so understanding of premature ejaculation of holiday spirit. Listen, we can’t help it. It’s a condition. I once knew a girl (who shall not be named to protect her identity) who posted a photo of a Christmas tree on November 1 with the caption “Yay! It’s that time of year!,” and her social media community paid to have her killed. Okay, I made that up. But I thought I should be transparent here and tell you and that late August, when I post a picture of a beach on my Instagram to appease the “Too Early!” crowd, just know that my caption “Still loving summer!” is code for “I’ve already put in 6 hours of research on ways to decorate with hay bales, and there’s a pumpkin pathway up my driveway.” K? Good, glad we’re straight.

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Another problem with PDHE is that we’re not really into the subtle decorating thing. I see your simple white-pumpkin-against-white-walls scene that subtly whispers “faaaaaaallll” (Does it?), and I raise you some decorating vomit of a giant “HARVEST” sign next to my cornucopia of glittered pumpkins in the room I just painted “Autumn Blaze Orange” for this very occasion. Why whisper “Fall” when you can scream it? Listen, I don’t do surface relationships well. I want intimacy, and this year will be my 38th year with Fall. “Subtly” isn’t how I want to celebrate; we’re past that. Go ahead, September. You can touch my boobs.

4-foot “HARVEST” on barn wood sign. Too much? I kid, I kid.
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The problem with living in a tropical climate though is that we don’t have weather shifts to signal seasonal changes and upcoming holidays. The only thing we really have to launch us into festive displays of enthusiasm are shop aisles and the release of merchandise that leaves no room for questioning the calendar. Who needs the sight of the first robin to mark spring when there are 200 packages of pink sugar-coated Peeps that told me in Target three weeks ago?  Our cider mills, our hay rides, our pumpkin patches, our tree farms? Why, we find them in the aisles of Hobby Lobby, in the end caps of Target, in the wreath rows at Homegoods. These places are Messengers of God to a PDHE living in the hot holes of southern Florida, and because he’s a gracious giver, he grants us access early–pinecone turkeys in September, snow-dusted evergreen boughs in October.

Hey Mom, can I have this pumpkin? Thanks.
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These establishments are holiday churches in a way, and walking through the garland-strung aisles of fall splendor in any of these stores sets off a rush of dopamine that puts me in a full-flung pleasure stupor. The pumpkin-shaped molds for little individual spice cakes? Great joy. The Halloween cat tights and dangly skeleton earrings? Great joy. The wheat bundles I have no idea how to decorate with but love them just the same? Great joy, great joy, great joy.

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So, forgive me now as I prematurely break forth into Seasonal Festivities Mode. From here to forth, you may see me wearing tights on hot days, skipping beach outings to bake pumpkin bread and throwing around the word “cozy” far more times than you can handle. “Tone it down” isn’t a phrase you’ll hear around here until the last of Target’s Christmas aisles are picked over and cleared out. It’s time to dial it up–because, after all, it’s Fall.

Happy September, folks.

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