Classic Picture Books for Christmas: choosing my favourite to reread and share with the children with gems from Raymond Briggs, Shirley Hughes and John Burningham

The newspapers are filling up with their Christmas roundups; either the books editor selects their picks of the year, or asks authors to pick theirs. I always enjoy the one the Guardian runs after Christmas which features readers’ selections the most of all. They have a different perspective, and you get a quirkier list.

So with roundups in my mind I was going through picture books on our shelves at home today, looking out the Christmassy ones. My intention was to also have a bit of a clear out, it’s another of the things I’m meant to be doing now I’m ‘time rich’. Well it’s a time rich activity I can tell you looking through gorgeous books… I failed on the clear out front, but with no hesitation I took out my three firm seasonal favourites. Unlike the books in the roundups none of these are brand new.

Harvey Slumfenburger’s Christmas Present by John Burningham (Walker Books)

photo Father Christmas John Burningham

I adore this book. It works on every level; so for the adult reading it every night and for the child snuggled up in bed anticipating Father Christmas’s next challenge as he’s forced – one reindeer sick and with the other one too tired to come out again – to travel across the snowy land and hand deliver his present for little Harvey Slumfenburger. It reminds me what an immensely talented artist John Burningham is. I discovered it one November at the Wessex Book Festival. The events are run by the brilliant and tireless Winchester Children’s Library Service team whilst the enormous festival bookseller is organised by PG Wells, Winchester’s independent bookshop. John’s stories often challenge the child, and reader, to use their imaginations. In this book we’re not told what is inside Harvey Slumfenburger’s present, instead we’re left to talk about it. I used to have to hide this book from February through to the end of the summer – late August felt about the right time to bring it out ready for the 4 month+ run up to Christmas. Yes Christmas books come out in our household even before the decorations go up in the shops.

The illustration below is taken from Harvey Slumfenburger’s Christmas Present by John Burningham (Walker)

photo Harvey inside

Alfie’s Christmas by Shirley Hughes (Red Fox)

photo Alfie cover

I love the comforting scenes in Shirley’s books of children going about everyday tasks. Here we find Alfie and Annie Rose preparing for Christmas, just as families across the country will be too. There’s Christmas baking with Dad, choosing just the right tree, singing Nativity songs at nursery and best of all hanging up stockings bursting with anticipation and excitement. Every page exudes warmth and charm – and as Shirley’s so good at capturing the realities of family life we also see poor Annie Rose’s grumpy tiredness!

The picture below is taken from Alfie’s Christmas by Shirley Hughes (Red Fox)

photo  Alfie inside

Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs (Puffin)

photo Father Christmas RB

Father Christmas was one of my most favourite picture books when I was little, and I am so pleased that our children enjoy it too. We have several copies; there’s the well-worn paperback for frequent bedtime reading, the special signed hardback, and my own very dog-eared copy from my childhood. Do you remember the illustration of the milkman? Surely it’s a nod to Raymond Briggs’s own father, who was a milkman, and one of the only people out and about in time to catch sight of Father Christmas. He shows the logistical challenges Father Christmas faces – delivering to an igloo, to a lighthouse, to a caravan and reminds you both to leave out snacks and drinks of all sorts to fuel the man’s night shift…

Looking for recommendations?

There are a host of really smashing picture book blogs out there reviewing contemporary and classic favourites. I’d like to steer you towards the  list of recommended blogs which Child-Led Chaos has written on here