The holidays are often a whirlwind of emotions and wanting. Teaching children the true meaning of giving and receiving gifts can be challenging. In particular, what quantity and kinds of gifts one should expect. Below is a list of eleven picture books that promote the kind and generous spirit behind doing thoughtful things for others rather than focusing on material goods.
“All grateful for this special day, and helpful friends at work and play, for all that’s given and received.”
Calling all construction lovers! Construction Site on Christmas Night follows five friends—Bulldozer, Excavator, Cement Mixer, Dump Truck, and Crane—as they prepare for Christmas Day. Along the way, they find customized gifts they left to thank one another for all they do. The story promotes hard work and has a catchy rhyme scheme to keep readers engaged.
“The spirit is here! The spirit is you!”
I Got the Christmas Spirit celebrates many wonderful holiday traditions, including decorative lights, special music, tasty treats, and winter sports. The narrator is seen giving gifts to others and learning that the holiday spirit should be celebrated not just once a year but every day! With a rich color scheme and realistic drawings, the fun storyline captures the true spirit of the holiday season.
“Each present was so soft and red and Christmasey and felt just right… just how Christmas should feel.”
Just Right for Christmas follows the journey of a scrap of red cloth and explores how being generous can help so many without the original giver even realizing it. The story starts with the king buying red cloth to make a cloak for the princess, but he leaves the extra fabric on the back porch to allow someone else to use it. From there, many characters create meaningful gifts out of the scraps, some of whom would have been unable to give a present otherwise. The carton drawings are charming, and I like the message of giving others the extra things that you do not need.
“You gave away all of your warm clothes to help others. You are full of the spirit of Christmas.”
Little Robin prepares for the week before Christmas by wearing a different vest. However, every day, he runs into a freezing forest animal. To warm them up, he offers each of the animals a special Christmas vest until his whole collection is given away. As a reward for his generosity, Santa brings Little Robin to the North Pole, where Mrs. Claus knits him a magical red sweater that will always keep him warm. Little Robin’s Christmas not only teaches children that the holidays are about being selfless and helping others but also how to count and identify different colors. Pick up a copy to see the true spirit of the holidays in action!
“A day with a friend is the best gift of all!”
Hedgehog has been celebrating the holiday season by baking all of her friends and neighbors cookies. She wants to make something extra special for her best friend, Bear, and creates a gingerbread house. However, on her way to deliver it, the wind knocks the house over, and it crumbles! Fortunately, Hedgehog and Bear work together to build a new one and learn that spending time together is the best present. I loved the adorable illustrations, and readers who enjoy baking will appreciate the theme and the included recipes for Hedgehog’s gingerbread cookies and honey frosting.
“Nick had almost forgotten why people gave presents at Christmas. He wanted to feel that same joy of giving.”
To Nick and many young readers, the holidays are about getting, not giving. Nick dreads picking out presents for his younger brothers at the store until he stumbles upon a store Santa telling the story of Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas was a wealthy child who used his fortune to provide life-changing gifts for the poor. Through the story, Nick rediscovers the spirit of giving and realizes how good it feels to give someone something they will enjoy. The Legend of St. Nicholas: A Story of Christmas Giving is a tale young readers can learn from as well.
“A TRUE friend (maybe even two) was the BEST and MOST WONDERFUL gift of all!”
Esme and Bear are confused when they find one last present under their Christmas tree addressed to Little Bunny Boo-Boo. Bear thinks they should keep it for themselves, but Esme insists they deliver it to its owner. The journey is perilous but well worth it once they learn that Little Bunny Boo-Boo hasn’t received a single gift. However, it turns out that the present isn’t an object at all but rather the gift of friendship. During the holidays, children can get bogged down by the overwhelming feeling of wanting, and The Most Wonderful Gift in the World helps remind readers to appreciate how special friendships and those around them are.
“He closed his eyes and hoped and wished with all his might for that tiny speck—the smallest gift.”
Roland can’t wait for Christmas morning, but he is disappointed by the small size of this gift. He wishes it to be bigger and bigger, but no size seems to please him. The present gets so large it no longer fits in his house or even on Earth, forcing Roland to fly in a rocket to retrieve the gift. However, in space, he sees Earth and realizes if he goes any further, he will lose his family and friends forever. The Smallest Gift of Christmas teaches children that it is not about the size of a gift that matters, but instead, the holidays are about spending time with those you love.
“The wish tree was nowhere to be found. But they did find… Fox, who was late getting berries to her burrow.”
Charles sets off with his trusty toboggan to find a wish tree in the forest, despite his sibling’s insistence that they are not real. He doesn’t have much luck but instead runs into forest animals in need of his help. Charles transports Squirrel’s acorns home, helps Beaver bring birch to his lodge, and assists Fox in carrying berries to her burrow. He discovers the good feeling accompanied by doing for others and is rewarded when the animals he helped bring him to the wish tree to thank him. The Wish Tree captures the selfless act of lending a helping hand and not expecting anything in return.
“It is more than enough. It is everything.”
Two bear best friends struggle to come up with big and “wow” gift ideas for one another. The bears feel that the only way they can show each other how they feel is by being extravagant. They switch gift ideas multiple times throughout the book, each fearing that their newest gift isn’t enough. In the end, they both make one another something from the heart. The message of This Is (Not) Enough is very valuable. Personally, I often get caught up in the monetary value of an item when deciding on a present, but this story reminds us all that it is the thought, not the physical item, that counts.
“There’s light, there’s you, and there’s us. What more do we need?”
Thomas is devastated when he can’t find the basket of dried fruit he collected to make his annual wintercake. He fears the holidays won’t be the same without it, despite his friend Lucy saying it will be. She tracks down the culprit at the tea house, jumping to conclusions along the way. However, after the stranger returns the fruit to Thomas, the friends feel terrible for misjudging him. To make up for it, they bake him a wintercake. The journey to deliver the treat is treacherous, and after they arrive, they learn all that you need to celebrate is one another. Wintercake teaches readers not only the true meaning of the holidays but also to apologize when you make a mistake and not to judge others unfairly.
Emilee Ceuninck, Pine Reads Review Lead Writer & Editor