The Magic of Christmas Books

Gift wrap 2 Last week I spent my time catching up on my holiday book reviews (like two years worth of books in the TBR pile). I am thrilled to say that despite reading a baker’s dozen of various Christmas books, I still love the holiday. There is plenty of variety in the storytelling, and much to my wandering eyes didn’t appear any cloyingly sweet stories. Nary a repeat in the bunch – even The Night Before Christmas as interpreted by Barbara Reid and The Twelve Days of Christmas by Susan Jeffers – fit in the unique Christmas books category.

Rather than pick my favorite Christmas books (can you really have a favorite?) I want to share three seasonal stories that you may not have heard about.

Each of these Christmas books offer especially unique, timeless stories. They are picture books that embody the magic and warmth of the season and will work for all ages. These are books that I will be buying for our permanent family collection.

christmas books - rockrhydinRockrhydin
by Cheryl Elizabeth Waddell; illustrated by Janice Prey Wolfe

When he was a little boy, Jon Michael had a rocking horse he named Rockrhydin (rock-ride-in). For years, even though he was too big, Jon Michael would visit Rockrhydin … until one day he was gone. With the help of Tanyabelle, Rockrhydin returns to Jon Michael’s life in a very special way. This is a magical story that takes the idea of a toy coming to life in a new direction. 

Review summary:  Part fairy tale, part coming of age story, Rockrhydin is a very special story. The illustrations are beautiful, but the story itself is magical. It would be the perfect choice for kids struggling with the push and pull of growing up and leaving toys behind. Just be prepared to have a beloved toy as an ornament when you share the book.

Read our full book review.

magic christmas booksThe Magic Christmas Key
by Leann B Smith; illustrated by Kip Richmond

Everyone is gathering at Nana and Papa’s house for Christmas. Andy loved Christmas with Papa, especially Papa’s beautiful sleigh. Papa showed Andy a key, and said simply “All things are possible when you believe.” The next day, Papa explained the significance of the Magic Key and Andy was now its keeper. Being the Keeper of Santa’s Magic Key turned out to be much harder than Andy thought. With Andy in charge, Christmas was turning into a disaster! What would Santa think? There is a lot of depth to this story about family, tradition, and the meaning of Christmas.

Review summary: Families will share this treasure of a book for many years (if not generations). It has that days-of-old feel, but is timeless, too.  I especially loved Andy’s relationship with his grandfather and the special bond they share. For younger children, the story will help explain how Santa visits different homes. For older children, it is a story about responsibility, honesty, and being careful what you wish for.

Read our full review.

Spirit of Christmas - Christmas books about givingThe Spirit of Christmas; a Giving Tradition
by Nicky Benson; illustrated by Jason Cockcroft

Drew loves Christmas! Who doesn’t? When Mama tells him that sometimes children don’t get presents (even if they want to), Drew has an idea. He writes a letter to Santa offering some of his own toys and clothes. Santa picks them up, takes them to the North Pole, and then delivers them to children so their Christmas wishes can come true. This seasonal picture book shares the story of a young boy’s generosity.

Review summary: This Christmas book is a very special story that all ages can enjoy, appreciate, and bring to life. What a fabulous story. It is so hard for children to let go of some of their things. This Christmas story helps them see how letting go can make someone as happy as they have been, and also opens their hearts to giving.

Note: You can buy just the book, or a book set with the giving bag and bell. A portion of the proceeds go to The Savlation Army.

Read our full review.

More Christmas books. The Reading Tub has been reading and reviewing Christmas books and seasonal stories for more than 10 years. If you’re looking for that “just right” story for you family, read the full list of Christmas books.

Book bloggers – if you’ve reviewed any of these over the years, we’d love to add your review to our link list. The more families can learn about great Christmas books the greater the chance we have of creating a new generation of readers.

What are the Christmas books you and your kids love to share year after year?


Need a Unique, budget-friendly gift? Think Journals

writing journals for kidsThe summer I turned eight, my family camped our way across the United States from Baltimore, Maryland, to Monmouth, Oregon. Just before we left, my mom gave me a small, spiral-bound notebook for memorializing our trip. That little notebook (that cute little notebook to the left over there) launched a lifelong love of writing.

collection of journalsFrom the mundane to the sublime its all there in my nearly 20 year collection of little diaries with keys, fancy journals (including Papyrus journal that was a wedding present from Bill), and college-ruled spiral notebooks! They’re not worthy of a memoir, for sure, but they remember moments long ago forgotten, and in the times that I spent writing, they were comfort and refuge, joy and elation.

Having a journal is like having a best friend who is always there, always listens, and never judges.

So why the trip down Memory Lane? Because journals make a great gift! They are personal items that the recipient can completely personalize. If you’re stuck for a unique gift, then consider notebook or journals. Pair it with a nice pen and you’ve got a wonderful gift for less than $25.

  • Hard-to-buy-for teen? Check.
  • Fourth grader with a big imagination and lots of stories to tell? Check.
  • High school student who doodles all over their notebooks? Check.

If they imagine it or think about it, a journal is a great place to save it.

What I like about the two journals below is that they offer guided journaling. Some of us are intimidated by nothing but a blank canvas. With these journals, you have the best of both worlds. There is plenty of space for free-form entries, whether narrative or illustrated. Yet these two journals also have “writing prompts” that can spark a memory or launch some thoughtful reflection.

Gift-worthy Journals

Fireflies – A Writer’s Notebook
by Coleen Murtagh Paratore
Hardbound, $12.95

The fireflies that SPARK for you, SPARK for you and you alone No one else can see them. Only you can catch them. How do you catch them? Write them down! … Are you ready to open your firefly jar? ~ Coleen Murtagh Paratore


Connect the Thoughts: Dot Your Life, Free Your Mind
by Eloise Leigh and Taylor Norman
paperback, $12.95

This journal is for you to … connect all your thoughts in one place. It is set up so you can connect your thoughts however you want. You can connect thoughts in writing. You can connect thoughts in sketches, you can connect thoughts in glue or spackle or glitter or highliter or graphs. (if you want).

Both of these journals are wonderful choices for children, (hard-to-buy-for) teens, and adults, too.

Yes, Fireflies might appeal more to girls by looking at the cover, but you’re selling it short if you only think of girls.

Connect the Thoughts is a unique, fun format that will appeal to everyone and work for elementary-aged children, too. The journal is color-organized into categories that will appeal to everyone: family, friend, music, dreams, travel, and more.

Shop and Support Literacy, Too

donate to literacyOne of my favorite things to do during the holidays is shop for books. Yes, I like browsing the bookstore (and library!) shelves all year long. At Christmas, though, I wear a different hat. Instead of looking for books that I will like, I wander through the aisles in search of books that are “just right” for the person on my gift list.

  • Laugh-out loud books for the preschoolers
  • Thrillers for the mystery lover
  • Biographies for the history lover
  • Cookbooks for the FoodNetwork addictees

Sadly, not everyone loves books or reading or Thankfully, I have an alternative. I can shop for gifts at their favorite stores AND support my literacy passion.

Shop = Gift + Literacy

Best of all, you can do it too! For the past several years, I have done my holiday shopping through

shop for holiday gifts and give back, too

Here’s a little secret – Goodshop has C-O-U-P-O-N-S at many of the participating 2,500 retailers. [Crate & Barrel coupons anyone?]

I save on the holiday purchases when I shop for my in-laws (shhh!), and Crate & Barrel puts a percentage of the purchase to the charity of my choice – The Reading Tub!

A win-win-win this holiday! Lots of people will be asking for donations this holiday. offers you a way to shop for gifts AND donate to a cause you’re passionate about … without stressing you or your budget.

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