Do you remember The Jolly Postman books? Each page came with a built-in envelope that harboured mini surprises; little puzzles, simple board games, and tons of letters with special drawings and stories attached. This epistolary tradition continues with three new books this holiday season.

Maisy’s Christmas Party by Lucy Cousins is an introduction into this special genre of picture book. The book itself is small with thick card stock pages and bright illustrations on primary colour backgrounds. Maisy is having a Christmas party and invites all her friends. By way of response, they each send her a Christmas card confirming their attendance, along with a small thank-you gift for their invitation. A joke book, paper tree ornaments and a gingerbread recipe are a few of the things she receives. These little items are durable for small hands, my 18-month-old was able to hold and enjoy them before my 4-year-old ripped them out of his hands for a better look. Similar to the Leslie Patricelli books, the simple colour scheme and bold black text have a special hold on children’s attention, so this relatively simple and short book went over well at story time.

Apparently there are a series of books that feature Maisy, a white rat with a set of friends that span the animal kingdom, so kids who are already familiar with this character will no doubt want the Christmas edition. My kids had never read a Maisy book before, but this didn’t make a difference. The story is simple, it’s equivalent to a board book plot line (meaning, it doesn’t make much sense to an adult reader) but again, my children really enjoyed it, so it’s a story I’d recommend nonetheless.

Next we have everyone’s favourite (parents and kids alike) Crayon characters, back with a Christmas tale titled The Crayons’ Christmas by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. The Crayon series is already known for its beloved epistolary format, but this time the letters are addressed to the various crayons and each envelope contains their own little toy or game. For instance, Gray Crayon is Jewish, so he sends a punch-out Dreidel for everyone to try, Chunky Toddler Crayon ordered a board game online, and it’s a holiday race so you only have to provide your own die and game pieces to play, and Peach Crayon is always naked, so his parents send him some paper clothes to place on a cut-out picture of him. The surprise and excitement of seeing what’s in each envelope is what really grabs the kids attention, but the hilarious text and commentary from each crayon is what entertains me, and no doubt thousands of other parents who have ensured this stays a best-selling series.

Last we have There’s an Elf in Your Book by Tom Fletcher, illustrated by Greg Abbott. This one is just a plain old book with words (no surprise gifts!) but the story requires kids to complete a simple task to turn each page. The premise of the story is a bit contrived but it gets the job done, and I’m sure young children won’t notice this because it’s only bookish snobs like myself that consider the plot lines of picture books this closely. There’s a little elf in the book who wants to help you get on Santa’s nice list, but you have to complete the ‘nice list test’ in order to do that. Activities on the test include; following simple instructions like ‘touch your nose’, answering basic Christmas trivia, and singing a Christmas carol. But the elf also has some naughty tasks, like calling yourself a ‘wisenheimer sparkle butt’, but despite these tricks there is a ‘nice certificate’ at the end of the book it asks you to display for Santa so he leaves toys under your tree.

I can appreciate books that try to introduce new (non-commercialized) traditions into your home, and this one is relatively simple to follow and complete, unlike the unfortunate Elf on the Shelf tradition that asks way too much of parents. (Yes, I have an elf on the shelf, and no, I don’t move him around every day; he sits on a shelf for the entire duration of his stay with us, because he is a Christmas decoration plain and simple) Anyway, despite the strange reasoning that this Elf uses to get the child onto the nice list, it’s a nice Christmas take on a common interactive element that keeps your kids engaged for the entire book. My daughter devours books at an alarming rate, but my son has more trouble sitting still, so when he’s a bit older and can understand the text, I know this will become a favorite of his.