The holidays are all about enjoying time with friends and family (provided you have a flexible definition of “enjoying,” of course). But if you’re less thrilled about your relatives turning the home into a holiday hostel, look on the bright side: free child care. If your sister objects to being pressed into service, leave her with one of these new holiday classics and, with a little luck, you’ll return from your 6-hour, get-’em-all-what-they-want shoptacular to find them nestled snug in their beds. Enjoy it, because come Christmas morning, they’ll be tearing apart your living room like the present-fiending savages they are.
The Christmas Story
You know the story: It’s a cold winter’s night and Mary, with her husband Joseph by her side, gives birth to baby Jesus in a manger. The happy family is then visited by animals and a trio of wise men who’ve heard of Christ’s coming. Here, the biblical tale is told the way it always is, except it’s given the pop-up book treatment: gleaming angels expand from the corner of a page; the North Star unfolds at the top of another, streaming down onto the wise men; Jesus’ halo is gilded with gold foil when animals appear around him to form a beautiful, 3D nativity scene. It’s the classic in kid-friendly form.
Ages: 4 – 8
The Christmas Story by Robert Sabuda ($26)
The last thing you want to do this holiday season is buy tickets to a showing of the Nutcracker only to have your kids turn it into the most expensive nap ever. Before you bring them to the beloved pirouette-fest, psych them up for the Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy with this telling of the tale. It’s exquisitely illustrated, easy to understand, and features beautiful pop-up art. Best of all: You won’t care if they fall asleep during the reading.
Ages: 4 – 7
The Nutcracker by Niroot Puttapipat ($12)
Daddy Christmas And Hanukkah Mama
The holidays can be confusing for blended families, or at least the parents. For kids like Sadie, eating gelt while singing Maccabee carols under a Christmas tree and a candy cane menorah isn’t confusing — it’s awesome. Mixed-media collages cleverly underscore the mixed marriage of Saide’s mom and dad, who should be commended for emphasizing what the holidays really are: cultural celebrations of indulgent foods and sweet, sweet presents.
Ages: 4 – 7
Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama by Selina Alko ($14)
The Christmas Truck
A rhyming, critically acclaimed “night before” story in which Papa, Dad, their precocious son, and Fire Chief Grandma share family traditions and discover the true reason for the season by saving Christmas for a little boy they’ve never met. It’s written by a world traveler who spends his time volunteering with a literacy organization that has kids read to therapy dogs. Ladies and gentlemen: the Christmas story in 2015.
Ages: 4 – 8
The Christmas Truck by J.B. Blankenship and Cassandre Bolan ($10)
Samurai Santa: A Very Ninja Christmas
Christmas is the season of giving, and young ninja Yukio wants to dish out cold justice. Literally — he wishes for a snowball battle. None of his ninja friends will join, though, for fear of being tagged as naughty (or by a frozen projectile to the face). Santa saves the day, of course, illuminating a whole new theory: Only a ninja could deliver all those presents, completely undetected, in just one night.
Ages: 4 –8
Samurai Santa: A Very Ninja Christmas by Rubin Pingk ($12)
The Christmas Wish
Little Anja decides she wants to be an elf, straps on her skis, and heads for Santa. And it’s goddamn magical. Author Lori Evert tells the heartwarming story while photographer Per Breiehagen captures their adorable daughter talking to birds and reindeer, swooshing down mountains, and riding a freakin’ polar bear on her epic journey. The photos are digitally composed, but the tiny kid in the snow is definitely real, because Norway.
Ages: 3 –8
The Christmas Wish by Lori Evert and Per Breiehagen ($10)
“Young boy flees to America alone as Nazis rise in Europe,” doesn’t exactly scream, “Merry Christmas,” but remember, miracles happen on Christmas Eve/Hanukkah Night 7 in New York City. While wandering 100 blocks to find his aunt, Oskar meets Eleanor Roosevelt and Count Basie, and gets a free copy of Superman #1. Each encounter references actual New York City events from 1938, though New Yorkers treating tourists kindly was and is still a miracle.
Ages: 4 –8
Oskar And The Eight Blessings by Tanya Simon, Richard Simon, and Mark Siegel ($14)
How To Catch Santa
Here’s a sibling team building exercise for Christmas morning: when they throw fits over not getting what the other one got — despite getting exactly what they asked for — have them take it up with the big man. If they’re anything like the kids in this book, they’ll pool their collective resources, work really hard to capture Santa together, and end up completely bewildered and tuckered out. Merry Christmas to you.
Ages: 4 –8
How To Catch Santa by Jean Reagan and Lee Wildish ($8)
When Santa Was A Baby
This cheeky new Santa origin story will clear up a lot if your kid prefers the color red, stares intensely at the chimney, or has more of a “HO, HO, HO!” than a coo. The book is as much about Santa’s coming of age as his proud, nurturing parents, who caught him training his hamsters to pull a matchbox sleigh and were like, “We’re not even mad.”
Ages: 3 – 7
When Santa Was A Baby by Linda Bailey and Geneviève Godbout ($13)
Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein
A young girl learns a valuable holiday lesson: Jews don’t get Christmas miracles. Kidding! Rachel calmly explains to Santa in a letter why she’s deserving of Christmas despite her parents’ denials, and … still doesn’t get a visit from Saint Nick. But she does get loads of perspective about her identity and culture as well as her friends’ and family’s, and she gets to live the lyrics to a modern classic.
Ages: 3 – 8
Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein by Amanda Peet and Andrea Troyer ($13)
Everyone knows about Rudolph, but nobody talks about the 8 guys downwind of him. Until now. Santa feeds Rudolph his sprouts instead of choking them down, and Rudy lets loose something fierce for every good little boy and girl around the world. If your kid ever asked where Santa’s sleigh gets its power, this should (ahem) clear the air. And they’ll learn the phrase, “rear-end trumpet,” which is the greatest gift of all.
Ages: 4 – 8
Rudy’s Windy Christmas by Helen Baugh and Ben Mantle ($13)