Classic Christmas Stories for Children and Families

Learn about a variety of Christmas classics for children and their families, including several editions of "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens, "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," an anniversary edition of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" by Dr. Seuss, "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry, and "The Polar Express" by Chris Van Allsburg.

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"A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol Book Cover
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, with Illustrations by P.J. Lynch. Candlewick Press

This attractive edition for children of the classic Christmas tale "A Christmas Carol," by Charles Dickens, would make an excellent gift for a family with children nine years old and older. The story of the miserly Scrooge and the visits of the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future that redeem him was first published on December 17, 1843 and has remained popular ever since.

The book itself is well designed, with dramatic watercolor illustrations by P.J. Lynch, a handsome cover and dust jacket, and high quality paper. There are illustrations on every two-page spread throughout the book, many with decorative borders. Muted colors help to create the illusion of looking into the past.

The story of Scrooge has been told and retold in many different formats and styles. For example, our family loves "The Muppets' Christmas Carol." However, while many of these versions may capture some of the spirit of the original, none can come close to capturing the author's use of language and the ability of Charles Dickens to tell a story. I highly recommend the book for families to enjoy year after year.  (Candlewick Press, 2006. ISBN: 9780763631208)

Quentin Blake's "A Christmas Carol" is another edition of Charles Dickens' classic tale that I particularly recommend for young people and families.

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"'Twas the Night Before Christmas"

Cover art of children's Christmas classic - 'Twas the Night Before Christmas
'Twas the Night Before Christmas. Candlewick Press

This gift edition of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas: Or Account of a Visit From St. Nicholas" is unlike most of the editions of the classic Christmas story in poem. It is not particularly big, just the right size for a child's hands. It does not have flashy color illustrations. While it's a hardbound book, it costs less than $10.00. It is also not attributed to Clement C. Moore, the man usually cited as the author.

The book's illustrations, beautifully rendered in black pencil by artist Matt Tavares, capture the atmosphere of a quiet Christmas Eve, suddenly interrupted by a strange noise and the arrival of St. Nick.

In a note from the illustrator at the beginning of the book, Matt Tavares explains the uncertainty about the actual author of the Christmas poem and the reasons for the decision to list the author as "Anonymous." Tavares also explains that although over the years the words of the poem have been changed, "the words in the edition you are about to read appear exactly as they did when "Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas" was first published anonymously in the Troy Sentinel on December 23, 1823."

The gift edition of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas: Or Account of A Visit From St. Nicholas" is an appealing book, with smooth sturdy paper, illustrations for every verse, and an illustration of St. Nick by a candle-lit Christmas tree on the cover. (Candlewick Press, 2006 this format. ISBN: 9780763631185)

Additional Versions of the Christmas Classic

Jan Brett's illustrated version can be found in a picture book edition and as part of "Jan Brett's Christmas Treasury." There's an edition illustrated by Mary Engelbreit. More unusual versions include a retelling set in Africa.

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"How the Grinch Stole Christmas" by Dr. Seuss

Cover art - How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr Seuss - 50th-Anniversary Retrospective
How the Grinch Stole Christmas!: A 50th-Anniversary Retrospective. Random House

In honor of the 50th-anniversary of the publication of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," by Dr. Seuss, Random House published two special editions of the classic children's Christmas picture book. The first (not pictured) is the Party Edition, which features a bright foil cover. The second, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!: A Historical Retrospective," is for the dedicated Dr. Seuss fan.

"How the Grinch Stole Christmas!: A Historical Retrospective" not only features the complete original text and illustrations, it also features a 32-page commentary by Seuss scholar and collector Charles D. Cohen. Find out how Dr. Seuss' view of Christmas changed over time, how the Grinch evolved, and about the Grinch's dog, Max, and the inhabitants of Whoville. As an added treat, there are three additional offerings from Dr. Seuss: a poem "Perfect Present," a story "The Hoobub and the Grinch," and a painting and poem "A Prayer for a Child."

Children 4-8, as well as their families, will enjoy the story, which is a terrific family read aloud. The Grinch hates seeing everyone in town happily preparing for Christmas. In fact, he hates Christmas. When the Grinch steals everything related to Christmas in the whole town, including the gifts and Christmas trees, the result is not what he expected. The townspeople remain filled with Christmas spirit, with a profound effect on the Grinch. Older children, teens, and adults will also be interested in the additional information, illustrations, and insight to be found in retrospective. (Random House, 2007. ISBN: 9780375838477)

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"The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry

Cover art of classic Christmas story The Gift of the Magi Christmas picture book edition
The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry, with illustrations by P.J. Lynch. Candlewick Press

"The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry is a classic Christmas story that makes a wonderful Christmas read-aloud for children 10 and older and their families. The 2008 children's Christmas picture book edition of "The Gift of the Magi," published by Candlewick Press, is illustrated with memorable artwork by P.J. Lynch. His poignant and expressive watercolors strengthen the impact of the story. This moving tale of love and sacrifice can help to put the purpose of gift giving into perspective for tweens and teens with “wish” lists a mile long.

"The Gift of the Magi" – The Story

The story is set in New York City in the early 1900s. A young couple, Mr. and Mrs. James Dillingham Young – Della and Jim – live in a shabby apartment. They have very little money, but a great love for one another. Della and Jim have two treasures of which they are both very proud – Della’s beautiful long hair and Jim’s gold watch, which belonged to his father and grandfather before him.

The story that unfolds reveals the true meaning of gift giving as both Della and Jim sacrifice their own treasure to buy a Christmas gift to enhance the other’s treasure. Unbeknownst to one another, Della sells her long hair to buy a platinum fob chain for Jim’s watch, and Jim sells his watch to buy tortoise shell hair combs for Della’s long hair. While the result is shock and confusion when Della and Jim exchange gifts, the depth of their love for one another is revealed by the sacrifices each has made for the other.

"The Gift of the Magi" is a good book to read together as a family and then, discuss what O. Henry meant when he said, “…of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest... They are the magi.” (Candlewick Press, 2008. ISBN: 9780763635305)

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"The Polar Express" by Chris Van Allsburg

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
Houghton Mifflin Company

Since "The Polar Express" was first published in 1985, it’s become a tradition for many families to read the story together each Christmas. This heartwarming tale about a young boy’s magical Christmas Eve experience and its life-long impact was written and illustrated by Chris Van Allburg.

Van Allsburg received the 1986 Randolph Caldecott Medal in recognition of the excellence of his illustrations for "The Polar Express." Almost all of his story takes place at night, and Van Allsburg’s dark and sometimes mysterious illustrations give the story a dream-like quality. The story about a childhood experience is narrated by an old man and is an account of his unforgettable childhood Christmas Eve ride on the Polar Express train to the North Pole, and a very special lasting gift from Santa Claus. To learn more, read my review of "The Polar Express."

Houghton Mifflin Company is the publisher of "The Polar Express." The book’s ISBN is 9780395389492.

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"Quentin Blake's A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens

Quentin Blake's A Christmas Carol
Anova Books

The size, illustrations, and format make "Quentin Blake's A Christmas Carol" a family-friendly edition of the classic tale of Scrooge by Charles Dickens. The book, which is unabridged, is very much a gift edition. The 150-page hardbound book is large — 8½" x 11" — with a bright red cover featuring a colorful and lively holiday scene by Quentin Blake. The type is larger than usual, making it easy for young readers and those reading aloud to enjoy the book. Extras include the foreword by Quentin Blake and illustrated biographies of the author and illustrator at the end of the book.

In the foreword, Quentin Blake discusses Dickens' story, saying, "At the centre is the wonderfully drawable, memorable figure of Scrooge. He seems the very spirit of anti-Christmas... But he is human all the same, and in the travels of that strange Christmas Eve he finds his true human feelings again. In his company we are reminded (as we still need reminding) of the importance of generosity of spirit, and the possibilities of worth in ordinary people."

Quentin Blake is a well-known and beloved illustrator in both his native England and in the US. Blake's characteristic quirky pen-and-ink and watercolor sketches are an excellent complement to Dickens' story. Full page and spot illustrations, some black and white and others in full color, are scattered throughout the book. Blake is probably best known in the United States for his illustrations of children's books by Roald Dahl, including "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "James and the Giant Peach." Blake's artwork is so distinctive that once you see it, you will recognize other examples of it immediately from then on.

Pavilion Children's Books, an imprint of English publisher Anova Books, published this edition of Quentin Blake's A Christmas Carol in 2011. The ISBN is 9781843651659.

Another edition of A Christmas Carol for young people that I recommend is the one illustrated by by P.J. Lynch. To learn more about Charles Dickens and "A Christmas Carol," see Why and How Charles Dickens Wrote the Classic Story of Ebeneezer Scrooge and "A Christmas Carol" Adaptations.

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"'Twas the Night Before Christmas" - 1912 Edition

'Twas the Night Before Christmas book cover
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

What makes this edition of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" so special is that it is a reissue of the 1912 edition featuring the delightful illustrations of Jessie Willcox Smith. At about 8" by 8", the book is a good size for small hands. Throughout the book, each double-page spread features a page with text facing a page with one of Smith's charming illustrations set against a white background. A simple red border is used throughout the book.

On the pages of text, the first letter in the first word is enlarged and in red, and appears in a black bordered rounded square with a black and white scene in the background, adding to the festive atmosphere. The one double-page spread that differs is the two-page wide illustration of Santa and his sleigh pulled by reindeer landing on the rooftop. In Jessie Wilcox Smith's illustration, Santa really is "a right jolly old elf" who is "dressed all in fur," just as described in the poem.

While some question whether Clement C. Moore is the author, that's not the case in this edition. In fact, there is an interesting introduction that provides a brief overview of Moore's life and the continuing impact of the poem. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1912 (reissue 2014). ISBN: 9780544325241)

More Recommended Versions of the Christmas Classic

In addition to the 1912 edition and the gift edition of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" illustrated by Matt Tavares, I have several more to recommend, including the one in "Jan Brett's Christmas Treasury," "The Night Before Christmas" illustrated by Mary Engelbreit and a retelling set in Africa.