I’ve got an almost 6-year-old, and an almost 3-year-old, and luckily they both enjoy sitting and listening to me read books that suit both age groups, but I do realize there will come a time when my oldest may not want to sit through the same books my youngest does. Until then, I plan on taking full advantage of their somewhat similar attention spans and introduce them to a range of books while I still can.

At our bedtime reading routine I find myself reading a mix of comic-like books for early readers along with their traditional picture book counterparts, and through sheer luck I’ve discovered a new favourite series for my oldest daughter to collect and enjoy; Narwhal and Jelly.

Happy Narwhalidays by Ben Clanton is the fifth graphic novel in this series, and even though it’s meant for ages 6-9, my youngest sits through it and laughs when his older sister does. Narwhal and Jelly are best friends with totally different personalities; Narhwal is always happy, optimistic, and generally carefree while Jelly gets a bit anxious and hates the cold water. But they both love waffles, and there is a magical ‘mermicorn’ that spreads Christmas cheer and surprises Jelly with secret gifts, so there’s very little tension in this particular friendship. They share silly stories with each other (which got a LOT of laughs from my kids) and there’s a few scientific facts thrown in throughout the 65 pages so this is clearly a crowd-pleaser for both parent and child, which is why I’m not surprised it’s a bestselling series. When my daughter asked me to find the other book in the series I was definitely excited! Future birthday presents already taken care of…

Mistletoe by Tad Hills has quickly become a Christmas favourite for my youngest. I’m not sure why because I don’t think he fully understands the message of ‘giving is better than receiving’ that this particular book espouses, so my guess is that the bright colorful pictures are what he prefers most. Mistletoe is an adventurous mouse who lives alone and loves walking in the snow. She’s friends with a tall elephant Norwell who prefers to stay indoors when it snows, because he likes staying cozy. For Christmas, Mistletoe knits Norwell a big onesie that covers his entire body and ears, all in boldly coloured stripes. Now he can enjoy outdoor walks with Mistletoe! Norwell paints a gorgeous picture of Mistletoe standing in the snow, enjoying the snowflakes falling on her face. Together, they enjoy each other’s talents through their thoughtful homemade gifts.

There is only a small amount of text on each page and the pictures mostly bleed onto two page full spreads, so there’s lots to enjoy for little eyes and hands. And although this may not have been intentional on the author’s part, I like the fact that each creature is depicted as an independent being, happy to socialize with friends but also happy to enjoy their own hobbies by themselves. So many holiday books seem to include the message that being alone is wrong, or means you are a bad person. This story acknowledges that it’s ok to live alone, many people do, and they aren’t horribly lonely or unhappy because of it. Instead, it gives them the space to enjoy their own company, and allows time to meet with friends when preferred.

Santa Baby by Jonathan Stutzman, illustrated by Heather Fox has a story that appeals to parents, and pictures that appeal to kids. Santa is getting tired; Christmas is exhausting, and he’s not getting any younger, especially considering he’s been doing this for hundreds of years. So, he calls upon some Christmas magic and wishes to be younger, but instead, he becomes TOO young, and turns back into a baby. Frantic with worry, the elves struggle to re-train him in the art of being Santa, including jumping down chimneys and driving a sleigh, but it’s hopeless, Santa is just a baby and can’t do any of those things. The thought of all those children going without presents on Christmas morning drives Santa to try harder, so he agrees to get in the sleigh and give it his best shot, but when he falls on his bum down a chimney he “cried with the fury of a thousand carolers”. Hearing his distress, a young girl wakes up and gives him her prized toy from her own first Christmas, which reminds Santa of the true meaning of the holiday, magically turning him back into adult Santa.

Appreciating the wisdom of old age is a strange concept for a children’s book, yet this didn’t seem to concern my children. They love the idea of Santa turning into a baby (and this isn’t the first Santa baby book we’ve read as a family) and the numerous ‘goo goo ga ga’ and ‘ho ho ho’ phrases are always a delight to read aloud; just making those sounds seem endlessly entertaining for my kids. The pictures of baby Santa are adorable, and this seemed to be the best part of the book for my youngest while my oldest enjoyed the references to Santa ‘eating his naughty and nice list’. As a parent, it’s always difficult to pinpoint why certain books are hits and misses, but with my kids’ enduring fascination of babies it’s no surprise they eagerly sit through this particular read-aloud.

No matter the reason, finding holiday-appropriate titles that please my brood is a hunt I’ll always be participating in, and while I tuck these away with our decorations in early January, re-discovering them year after year is the best treat of all.

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