‘Tis suddenly the season of…staying home. Yup, it’s Christmas 2020.
Maybe this is the year you can finally start some of the traditions with your kids that you have always dreamed about.
If reading something together is one of them, there are many wonderful classic Christmas stories and books out there that are in the public domain (that means it’s legal to copy them as much as you want). The classics you know are great, of course, but there is a lot of choice if you want something different.
I suppose that publishers figured out a long time ago that people spend money at Christmas. Up until recently, the marketing of most children’s literature was aimed at libraries and schools, but I guess if families would buy a child a book once a year, it would be at Christmas.
Here are some of my favorites…so far.
Note: I provide links to the Amazon version on Kindle. The books are offered free or at a low price there, but you might be pleasantly surprised to discover how easy it is to head over to Project Gutenberg and download your books there for free with no account or log in needed! Downloading to Kindle or other devices is much simpler than it used to be. Just about every electronic format is offered, including html.
If you are outside the U.S., don’t have an Amazon account, or especially, if you are a teacher, these are perfect for you!
Adventure, Fantasy, and Realism
This Way to Christmas by Ruth Sawyer
Ruth Sawyer is best known for her Newbery Award winning classic, Roller Skates, but she wrote a Christmas book that is pretty amazing too.
It’s basically a collection of stories, but the stories are linked together by a little boy named David…well he’s eight, so not so little ;)…who goes to live with his former nurse (as in baby nurse) and her husband while his parents go off to a war zone to study a bacillus. As Christmas approaches, he starts to feel sad and lonely, but as he gets to know the people in his community, he finds out that he is not the only one “locked out”, and that you can find Christmas in lots of places.
It has a little adventure, a little fantasy, a little realism, and will put you in the Christmas mood without too much syrupy sentimentality.
Roller Skates isn’t free, but libraries typically own every Newbery book that is in print. This one was ahead of it’s time when it was written, and is still a great read about a girl’s adventures in New York City.
The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus
Who better to write the story of Santa Claus than the man who invented The Wonderful Wizard of Oz? And Baum’s version is exactly what you would expect, too. He created an Oz-like world for Saint Nicholas.
More about L. Frank Baum and The Wizard of Oz from The Lois Level: How L. Frank Baum Invented Wizardry in North America (beating J.K. Rowling by nearly 100 Years)
The Children’s Book of Christmas Stories
The Children’s Book of Christmas Stories is a collection of stories from a variety of authors and sources.
The nice thing about this book is that the stories are rated so that you know which will work well with older children and which with younger children, so you can choose accordingly.
I can’t find any information about either one of the compilers, but I suspect this collection was primarily designed to be used in schools…during the 19th century when schools often had few books, and many of them also had multiple grade levels in one class.
Check the Project Gutenberg pages for both authors for collections of stories focusing on different seasons of the year.
Allegory and History
The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke
The Story of the Other Wise Man is a classic novella about what it really means to follow the spirit of Christ, even if you don’t know exactly who he is (because of course the Wise Men didn’t really).
The story is highly allegorical, with the Wise Man seeking something he never really finds, except, perhaps within.
The thing I really like about this book, however, is that it helps readers situate the Nativity in a real time and place, as the Zoroastrian Wise Men travel from ancient Persia/modern Iran through Syria and down into Palestine, to Bethlehem. The story eventually ends in Jerusalem.
So you get a feeling for the meaning of Christianity at the same time that you get a sense of the Holy Family as historical figures.
If you prefer a comic twist, try this 1985 movie with Alan Arkin and Martin Sheen…at this writing, available on Amazon Prime.
Survival and Nature Stories
The Ice Queen by Ernest Ingersoll
Don’t let the title of The Ice Queen fool you: this is an inventive story about four adolescents who decide to skate 100 miles on Lake Erie to go to their uncle’s house in Cleveland. Along the way, the ice breaks up, and they find themselves marooned.
This is a winter story more than specifically a Christmas story (although there is a Christmas scene in it): it’s perfect for older kids or adults who are over all of the Santa Claus cuteness.
These kids are gritty: after being orphaned, they have already been supporting themselves for 4 years at the start of the book, even though the oldest is only 18. When the oldest loses his job in the wake of a factory fire, and they realize they need to finally accept previously offered help from their uncle, they decide to save the train fare by skating and pulling all of their belongings on a boat attached to runners (to protect their belongings in case the ice breaks up).
Ernest Ingersoll was a naturalist and reporter, so he includes plenty of specific information about how to survive outside in freezing conditions. The female character, Katy, is a big reader about the Arctic, so she is full of helpful information she gets her brothers and a family friend to implement.
If you like this book, you can find several more of Ingersoll’s books on Project Gutenberg.
The Birds’ Christmas Carol by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Kate Douglas Wiggin’s best known book is Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, which I highly recommend if you are a fan of Anne of Green Gables: Rebecca kind of the American version of Anne.
The Birds’ Christmas Carol is also very well known although, to be honest, it’s a bit sentimental for my taste; however, I recommend it is you are looking for a story that focuses on giving rather than receiving.
For many families, reading The Birds’ Christmas Carol is a tradition.
For more about Kate Douglas Wiggin from The Lois Level: If you love “Little Women” and “Anne of Green Gables”, have you read “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm”?