getting started with a kids book advent calendar tradition - tips, tricks, and book picks

One of the holiday traditions that I get super excited and all squealy about is our children’s book advent calendar. Since we’re big-time book lovers, it made perfect sense for us to turn our “calendar” into a basket overflowing with books. We do the whole cheap chocolate thing too, but the girls and I absolutely love the excitement of opening up a book each and every night leading up to Christmas, getting under a cozy blanket, and reading by Christmas tree light.

Before I give you a peek at some of the books that are included in our tradition, I thought it might be helpful to give you a few tips. This does not have to be an expensive tradition! I am the Queen of Cheap. I would not run to the nearest bookstore and shell out hundreds of dollars on books that we’ll only read once a year.

How to build a children’s book advent calendar library without going broke

our children's book advent calendar basket

1) Be flexible. The books don’t all have to be about Christmas. I include any wintry books that make us all holly jolly. If there’s snow involved, it can be considered! This makes it much easier to do the next step.

2) Shop your personal library. Comb through your children’s book collection and make a great big pile of books that could work. You might be surprised at what you already have. Depending on how many books you own, you might not even need to go out and purchase more.

3) Get thrifty. If you do need to fill in (we did), don’t head straight to the bookstore. Hit up tag sales, consignment stores, and library sales first. You’d be amazed at how many used books you can grab for a dollar.

4) Shop around for titles that are important to you. Classics from your own childhood or books you’ve borrowed again and again from the library are must-haves. Shop around a little to find the best prices on these.

5) Make it special. I usually tuck these books away so that we don’t read them over and over and over again throughout the year. The fact that they’re only pulled out during this very specific time makes them extra special. To present the books, I wrap them all (in the picture shown here I used only wrapping paper scraps leftover from the year before) and put big, glittery reusable numbers on each. I then pile all of the books into a big basket (paying no attention to the order). Each night, the girls sift through the basket to find the number that corresponds to the date and we unwrap that book and read it.

It helps to start early and slowly add to your stockpile, but if you’re scrambling to pull a kids book advent calendar together at the last minute, don’t forget that you can use your local library to fill in too. If you’re like me, you’ll want to own the books in the end—but that doesn’t mean you have to blow your budget and purchase them all today.

24 Children’s Books to Consider for Your Kids Book Advent Calendar

  • The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats – A timeless classic, this book follows a little boy on his adventures around the city on a very snowy day.
  • Uncles and Antlers by Lisa Wheeler – This story gives a silly look into what Santa’s reindeer do when they’re not flying around on Christmas Eve.
  • The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers – Our favorite adaptation of the classic tale, this book is gorgeous and a must-read every holiday season.
  • Snow by Uri Shulevitz – Beautifully illustrated, this is the story of a city that is magically transformed by snow.
  • The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg – The classic story of a little boy who takes a magical train ride to the North Pole.
  • Mrs. Claus Takes a Vacation by Linas Alsenas – Mrs. Claus needs a break. She doesn’t think it’s fair that Santa gets to do all the traveling so she hitches up a sleigh and travels the world—leaving Santa to take care of himself. Will she be back in time for Christmas?
  • When Santa Lost His Ho! Ho! Ho! by Laura Rader – It’s almost Christmas and everyone at the North Pole is working hard when they notice that something is wrong—Santa has lost his laugh! His friends do everything they can to help him get it back, but they can’t help but wonder: can there be Christmas without Santa’s Ho! Ho! Ho!?
  • Arthur’s Christmas by Marc Brown – Arthur wants his gift for Santa to be absolutely perfect. In the end—with a little help from DW—Christmas is a success.
  • Fancy Nancy Splendiferous Christmas by Jane O’Connor – Nancy adores the fanciness of Christmas, but when a brand-new super sparkly tree topper (which she bought with her own money!) breaks, can Christmas be saved?
  • One Snowy Night by Nick Butterworth – Percy the park keeper takes really good care of the animals in the park. One night it gets so cold that the animals start knocking on his door, looking for a place to stay.
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss – This classic is an absolute must on our list. It’s not Christmas without reading about how the Grinch goes from grump to happily carving roast beast!
  • Click, Clack, Ho! Ho! Ho! by Doreen Cronin – All of your favorite barnyard animals are back from Click, Clack, Moo!, but this time they get stuck!

Chirstmas books advent calendar for kids

  • Bear Stays Up for Christmas by Karma Wilson – We love the Bear books and this one doesn’t disappoint. Bear’s friends decide they won’t let him sleep through Christmas. They do their best to keep Bear awake… but end up falling asleep themselves!
  • Snowmen at Christmas by Caralyn Buehner  – Fun and magical like Snowmen at Night (which is another good pick for your book advent calendar collection), this story explores how snowmen celebrate the holiday.
  • Olive, the Other Reindeer by Vivian Walsh and  J.otto Seibold – When a cute pup named Olive mishears the lyrics to a popular holiday song, she decides she must be a reindeer and heads straight to the North Pole. When trouble strikes, Olive uses her unique skills to keep Christmas on track.
  • How to Catch Santa by Jean Reagan – If your kids enjoy How to Babysit a Grandpa, they will love this one. Two siblings give readers a cute step-by-step guide to catching the big guy in red.
  • Madeline’s Christmas by Ludwig Bemelmans – It’s Christmas Eve and everyone at school is sick—except for Madeline. When Madeline encounters a magical merchant, the girls go on a special Christmas journey.
  • Santa’s Underwear by Marty Rhodes Figley – Santa is carefully getting ready for Christmas Eve but there’s one problem—he can’t find his special Christmas underwear!
  • Dream Snow by Eric Carle – Good for the little crowd (and with lift-the-flaps that reveal snow-covered animals), this is the story of a farmer who goes to sleep wondering how Christmas can come without snow. When he wakes up, it really has snowed! He suddenly remembers something and puts on a bright red suit, grabs a sack and leaves presents under a tree for all of his animals.
  • Merry Christmas, Stinky Face by Lisa McCourt – Stinky Face has lots of imaginative what if?! questions about Christmas—most of which end in disaster. Luckily, Mama knows just how to turn those disasters into Christmas magic.
  • How Santa Got His Job by Stephen Krensky – This book tells the story of all of the jobs Santa tried out and wasn’t too good at (chimney sweep, postal worker, zookeeper, etc.) before he found a job that was perfect for him.
  • Llama Llama Holiday Drama by Anna Dewdney – With so much going on to get ready for the holidays, Llama Llama is having trouble waiting for the big day to come—until Mama Llama gives him a cuddle and reminds him what their true gift is.
  • Santa’s Stuck by Rhonda Gowler Greene – Santa eats one too many cookies on Christmas Eve and finds himself stuck! The silly rhymes and repetition in this story draw my girls in every single time.
  • The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore – Without fail, we read this classic every Christmas Eve.

There are plenty of other books I’ve found secondhand that are also great options but which are hard to find (some that come to mind are: The Forgetful Bears Help SantaBear NoelHuggly’s Snow DayMrs. Toggle’s Zipper, and Mooseltoe). There are also some books that I’d rather not include but that the girls love so they get thrown in there (I’m talking to you, licensed character books!). We change things up some years—especially to help our collection grow with the girls—but the tradition is one that we won’t compromise on. It gives us all the warm and fuzzies.

getting started with a kids book advent calendar tradition - tips, tricks, and book picks

What is your favorite holiday tradition? Are there any that make you all excited and squealy? And are there any children’s books that you have to read this time of year?

This post was originally published in 2013 but was completely revamped in 2017.

Written by Jennifer Garry
Jen is a freelance writer and girl mom from New York. When she's not knee-deep in glittery crafts and girl talk, you can probably find her sprawled across her couch in the middle of a Netflix marathon with dark chocolate smeared on her face. The struggle is real.