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The 12 best Christmas books to read with children

If the endless to-do lists are at risk of turning you into the Grinch this Christmas; snuggle up with your kids and give one of these festive reads a try – warm fuzzy feelings guaranteed.*

*Unless you are, of course, the Grinch

By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Nov 24, 2021

Dad reading with child at Christmas

1. Christmas on Exeter Street by Diana Hendry, £5.22

Christmas in Exeter Street

It’s Christmas Eve, and the house in Exeter Street is full to bursting! There’s a guest in every nook and cranny from top to bottom – will Father Christmas be able to find them all? This book perfectly captures the festive atmosphere, with all of its excitement and special moments to be shared with loved ones at Christmas.

“Christmas on Exeter Street reminds me of Christmas at my mum's house – the whole family piles into the house, sleeping anywhere there is space. Often there are unexpected guests too.”

“We read it every year and my kids are 11 and 15!”

For children aged 3+

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2. The Empty Stocking by Richard Curtis, £4.79

The Empty Stocking

It's Christmas Eve and there's one very important question on everyone's mind – have YOU been good this year? For twins Sam and Charlie this is a big worry. Charlie has been especially naughty and everyone is sure that she won't get any presents at all. But when Santa makes a mistake, it's up to Charlie to put things right…

A funny and heartwarming story by Richard Curtis with lovely illustrations by Rebecca Cobb – The Empty Stocking is a festive tale that is sure to put a smile on your child's face.

“The Empty Stocking by Richard Curtis is my favourite Christmas story but seems remarkably unknown!”

For children aged 3-7

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3. Letters from Father Christmas by J R R Tolkien, £5.90

Letters from Father Christmas

Every December an envelope bearing a stamp from the North Pole would arrive for J R R Tolkien’s children. Inside would be a letter in strange handwriting and a beautiful coloured drawing or some sketches. The letters were from Father Christmas. This is a lovely book to read with your children, both young and older, with its wonderful, imaginative tales of life at the North Pole from the one and only J R R Tolkien.

“We read Letters from Father Christmas each year, one a night. They're beautiful handwritten letters from Father Christmas and the polar Bear to the children of J R R Tolkein. Lovely little tales and amazing drawings too. Really lovely and a great tradition. The edition we have has all the letters in envelopes that you take out and read. I love it and our three kids will fight over who inherits the book!”

For children 6-11

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4. Bear Stays Up for Christmas by Karma Wilson, £5.61

Bear Stays up for Christmas

Bear's friends are determined to keep Bear awake for Christmas. So they wake Bear up and have him help them find a Christmas tree, bake cakes, hang up stockings, and sing Christmas songs. Bear stays up – by discovering that giving is one of the best Christmas presents of all.

This picture book is perfect for celebrating the festive season with younger children, with its simple, sweet story and the lovely illustrations by Jane Chapman.

“Bear Stays Up for Christmas is a really nice story.”

For children aged 2-4

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5. Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs, £5.75

Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs

Father Christmas awoke from his dream of summer in the sun, and there it was on the calendar, 24th December, Christmas Eve – the start of his longest night's work of the year! This award-winning story is told in a comic strip style with wonderful illustrations and minimal words, which makes it a nice book to share with younger children especially.

“A grumpy Father Christmas for once, hooray! We all love the illustrations and snuggle on the bed to narrate them. My own paperback edition got so shabby from being read all through the year that I got a new one two Christmases ago from a secret admirer!”

For children aged 2-5

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6. Ernest & Celestine by Gabrielle Vincent, £5.24

Ernest and Celestine

Celestine is Ernest's best friend, so when she loses her beloved toy penguin, Simeon, Ernest does everything he can to cheer her up. But buying her all the toys in the town can't replace Simeon, so Ernest sets to work on a new plan…

A classic that has now also been made into an animated film, Ernest & Celestine is a wonderful story about a friendship between a bear and an orphan mouse. At the centre of this beautifully illustrated book is a touching tale of generosity, gratitude and love – all conveyed in simple sentences suitable for young children.

Additionally, Ernest & Celestine: Merry Christmas is a lovely companion to the original story.

“Ernest and Celestine is quite Christmassy. I've had it since I was a child.”

“Ernest and Celestine is adorable.”

For children aged 3+

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7. Harvey Slumfenburger's Christmas Present by John Burningham, £6.99

Harvey Slumfenburger's Christmas Present

It's Christmas Eve and there is one present left in Father Christmas's sack. It's for a small boy called Harvey Slumfenburger, who lives far, far away on top of the Roly Poly Mountain. But no journey is too far for Father Christmas! A charming festive tale that is full of adventure, which might be just the thing needed to capture the attention of little children who'd rather run around the Christmas tree.

“Harvey Slumfenburger's Christmas Present isn't a nativity story but we love it so much. It's all about Father Christmas getting home with the reindeer and realising he's forgotten to deliver one last present. So he sets off again and, with various people's help, he gets to Harvey's house to deliver the present. It's by John Burningham and is THE BEST Christmas book ever.”

For children aged 3-5

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8. The Night before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore, £5.99

The Night Before Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.'

This classic Christmas verse is well-known to every parent and child preparing for Christmas, and in many Mumsnetters' households this book is a must-read on Christmas Eve.

“We read The Night Before Christmas every Christmas Eve to my two, freshly bathed and in their brand new pyjamas, with bright eyes excited for Santa coming! Some traditions never die.”

For children aged 3-5

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9. Alfie's Christmas by Shirley Hughes, £5.10

Alfie's Christmas

Celebrate a very special Christmas with Alfie, as he prepares for the big day. He opens his advent calendar and makes cards and presents. He sings carols and decorates the tree with his sister. And he writes a special letter to Father Christmas… But what will Father Christmas bring on Christmas Day? This cosy book perfectly captures children's joy and excitement over the holidays, and is sure to get you into the festive mood too.

“I read Alfie's Christmas by Shirley Hughes – it's a newish release, but I find all Shirley Hughes' illustrations nostalgic.”

“Nobody does cosy like Shirley Hughes!”

For children aged 3-5

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10. Dear Father Christmas by Alan Durant, £4.87

Dear Father Christmas

When Holly sees a man who looks like Father Christmas, she decides to write him a letter: “Dear Father Christmas – is it snowing in Lapland? Please answer. Love Holly.” And so begins the start of a sweet penpal friendship with Father Christmas himself in which Holly learns about the magic of elves, reindeer and life in Lapland, as well as getting some very special Christmas surprises.

The book comes with letters to read and and a special silver ticket from Father Christmas for your child to join in and enjoy the magical story.

“Dear Father Christmas is one of my favourites, I often read it to the kids in my class at Christmas. At the end of the story the child is sent a holographic ticket for a ride on the sleigh. One year, a little boy came over to me when I'd finished reading and asked, with a mystified look on his face, “How did Santa get the magic into that book?” It is one of the moments in teaching that will always stay with me."

For children aged 4-7

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11. The Jolly Christmas Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg, £8.44

The Jolly Christmas Postman

It's Christmas Eve and the Jolly Postman is delivering greetings to everyone's favourite fairy-tale characters. He has a card for Baby Bear, a game for Red Riding Hood, a get-well jigsaw for poor Humpty Dumpty and lots more packages to deliver…

This is a lovely interactive book, as children will enjoy opening the envelopes to reveal the different letters and even a jigsaw puzzle. With its wonderful illustrations (prepare for some major nostalgia feels) it's no wonder The Jolly Christmas Postman is loved by generations.

“The Jolly Christmas Postman is a total MUST! The book is filled with Christmas letters to fairy tale characters, in little envelopes. The Wolf, now rehabilitated, sends a 'Beware' game to Little Red Riding Hood and Humpty Dumpty has a get well soon jigsaw (of himself). It's lovely – and really good fun for the reader, too.”

“I loved it as a child and have passed on that love to the next generation.”

For children aged 3-5

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12. The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder, £6.47

The Christmas Mystery

Fifty years ago a girl disappeared from her home in Norway. She ran after a lamb and found herself travelling right across Europe to Palestine, and back through 2000 years to meet the Holy Family in Bethlehem.

In present-day Norway, a boy acquires a strange old Advent calendar. Hidden in each of the windows is a tiny piece of paper. Little by little these pieces unfold the girl's story and as we learn what happened to her, another story is revealed – that of the strange old man who made the calendar.

This is the perfect Christmas read for older children who enjoy a bit of mystery and adventure.

“For older children The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder (the author of Sophie's World) is lovely. It's in chapters designed to be read on each day of advent.”

“Magic advent calendars, nativity lambs that come to life – a really Christmassy, non-commercialised story.”

For children aged 6+

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