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The Ultimate Christmas Reading List: Keeping Spirits High!

As the nights draw in and the weather gets colder, there is truly nothing nicer than hunkering down under a blanket with a warm drink and getting stuck into a festive book. There are hundreds of wintery reads to choose from, but here is just a small selection of books set around Christmas for readers of all ages to enjoy.

Now, are you sitting comfortably...?

Children reading Christmas book

Xmas Reading For Younger Readers

The Snowman by Raymond Briggs “We’re walking in the air, we’re floating in the moonlit sky.”

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without an appearance from The Snowman, and for good reason! This beautiful book is a masterpiece in storytelling, without needing to use words to convey even the most subtle emotions. Illustrated in colour pencil, this book tells the story of a young boy who wakes up one morning to see everywhere transformed by the falling of thick snow. He decides to make a snowman who, at the stroke of midnight, becomes real, and takes the boy on a snow-covered adventure where they walk through the air. Briggs himself described it as “clean, pleasant, fresh and wordless and quick”, yet it’s hard not to be moved by the ending! The illustrations are incredibly evocative of cold, crisp wintery weather, and the book is a lovely way to get younger readers engaged with describing the action they see on the page. It’s also a beautiful book for the whole family to enjoy, plus there’s the 1982 animated film to watch to continue the magic long after the pages are closed.

The Polar Express by Chris van Allsburg "Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.”

You may be more familiar with the Tom Hanks film version of this gorgeous book, but The Polar Express, written in 1985, is an illustrated book about a young boy who is awakened on Christmas Eve by the sound of a train, waiting for him outside his house. Unbeknownst to him, the train is en route to the North Pole, where lots of other children like him are on their way to meet Santa Claus. The story that follows is one about the power of believing, and very much encapsulates the magical spirit of Christmas. It is a family favourite of admin assistant Louise, who reads it with her children every Christmas eve, whilst they listen out for Santa’s sleigh bells welcoming in Christmas Day…

For More Advanced Readers

Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson “The air was milder. There was nothing in sight except falling snow, and Moomintroll was caught by the same kind of excitement he used to feel at times when he was wading out for a swim… ‘So that’s winter too!’ he thought. ‘You can even like it!’” This is less of a Christmas book and more of an all round wintery treat, but one that is sure to get you in the festive spirit nonetheless! Moominland Midwinter is a delightful book from the Moomin creator Tove Jansson, which follows the tale of Moomintroll as he discovers his world newly covered in snow. Moomins usually sleep through the winter, except one year, Moomintroll wakes up to begin exploring his once-familiar landscape that has been totally transformed to a still and silent landscape. With the help of his friends, new and old, Moomintroll begins to learn the ways of winter, such as keeping away from the Lady of the Cold, but also the joys of skiing and ice-skating.

As always with Jansson’s writing, there is a profundity with every line she writes, teaching us about the importance of not judging other people’s traditions, how we can move through fear with the help of our friends, and how, if we look for it, there is always light in the darkness. This is great for newly confident readers, or to read with youngsters (but I’m still partial to reading it on a winter’s afternoon, even as an adult!).

Winter reading

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott “The rooms were very still while the pages were softly turned and the winter sunshine crept in to touch the bright heads and serious faces with a Christmas greeting.”

Now, this may not be the most obvious choice when thinking about Christmas books, but there is something about Little Women that emulates cosiness and warmth, partly as a lot of the book is set in snowy Boston, but there is something about the theme of family and togetherness that feels particularly festive. The whole book opens on Christmas Eve, with Jo March famously grumbling how ‘Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without any presents” (although they soon discover that Christmas is not, in fact, about the having of presents!), and ends on Christmas Eve a year later.

For those that don’t know, Little Women is the story of the March sisters, Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth, whose father is away serving in the American Civil War, and follows them over the course of a year as they navigate hardship, friendships, sickness and freedom, whilst learning what it means to grow up despite not wanting to, and the strength and power in imagination. Although there are some lovely summer scenes, the messages at the heart of the book feel very festive, and it’s hard not to imagine yourself in the March home on a freezing December night! Although this can be seen as a book for teenage/young adult readers, I challenge any adult not to be moved and comforted by this joyful story!

For Older Readers

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens "I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me.”

How could this be a list of Christmas books without including the original Christmas story (well, not the original Christmas story, of course)?! Arguably one of Dickens’ most famous works, A Christmas Carol tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly man in Victorian England, who, over the course of one fateful Christmas Eve, is visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, all of whom teach Scrooge a lesson that he has yet to learn, highlighting how his meanness has, and could, cause harm to those around him.

It is, in true Dickensian fashion, an interrogation of Victorian England, especially focusing on the immense poverty that Dickens witnessed around him at that time, but it is a timeless story – demonstrated by the many stage and screen adaptations shown across the world come Christmas time! Not only is it a fantastic book, but it is also a set text for multiple English Literature GCSE exam boards, making it perfect for some festive reading-come-revision over the holidays!

Wintering by Katherine May “We have seasons when we flourish and seasons when the leaves fall from us, revealing our bare bones. Given time, they grow again.”

This is another slightly rogue Christmas choice as it’s more of a book that can be enjoyed throughout the winter months, and one that would also make the perfect Christmas gift! Wintering is a non-fiction book, and is Katherine May’s exploration of how we can navigate the darker, more fallow periods of life, and how humans can have seasons of ‘winter’ that can sometimes last years, but if we learn to embrace these times and turn to nature for inspiration, we can somehow find the strength to work through it. It is a very insightful book, and a great read for older adult readers, especially those who may find the winter months a bit tougher to get through. Like many of the books mentioned, it is a great one to serve as a reminder of ways in which we can find the light through what feels like the darkest of times.

Winter by Ali Smith “That's what winter is: an exercise in remembering how to still yourself then how to come pliantly back to life again. That's one of the things stories and books can do, they can make more than one time possible at once.”

Here is another more seasonal book, and the second in Ali Smith’s Seasonal Quartet series. It is a story about Sophia, a retired businesswoman living in Cornwall, who is visited by her son, Arthur, or Art, at Christmas. He brings with him a ‘replacement’ girlfriend, Lux, who ends up bringing Sophia’s family together in a way that no-one expected. Iris, Sophia’s estranged sister, also visits over this Christmas period, bringing up memories from the past that neither of them want to visit. Ali Smith is influenced by Charles Dickens in a lot of her writing, but there are some clear echoes and parallels between Winter and A Christmas Carol (which might make for some fun thematic reading!), as well as some beautiful references to Shakespeare, particularly Cymbeline. Winter can be read either as part of the quartet, or as a stand-alone book, but either way it is a wonderful depiction of a bleak midwinter, where, once again, it shows that around Christmas, anything is possible, and that the light is always there for us if we look hard enough.

Grandparents reading with grandchildren at Christmas

We hope you enjoyed reading this non-exhaustive list of festive recommendations, and please take a look at our other blogs for tips and advice across all aspects of learning and tuition.


Blog Post Crafted by Cicely

Cicely works on our Admin Team, and also tutors extensively.

In 2020, Cicely discovered her love of teaching, and has been tutoring English Literature and Drama ever since, as well as running a drama school audition help service with her friend and fellow actor to help prospective drama school students with their audition speeches.

Cicely has had her poetry published in anthologies and online, and in her free time is an avid reader. She loves living by the sea, a good podcast, and taking long walks in the countryside.

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