The year in awesome used kids' books
September 19, 2016 4:18 AM   Subscribe

What are your absolute favorite seasonal or holiday children's books? Bonus points: lovely illustrations; likely out of print or otherwise not on the front page of the relevant section of Amazon.

I only recently realized what a huge body of amazing kids' literature is currently out of print-- usually very available, but not necessarily easy to find if you don't already know what to look for. I'd especially like to beef up our family's stash of seasonal books beyond the standard 5 or so currently in vogue for each holiday. Can anybody recommend any out-of-print gems for me to track down used?

** I'm mostly looking for the conventional USA secular + Christian roster of holidays and seasons (thus: winter, spring, summer, fall; Christmas, Valentine's, St. Patrick's, Easter, 4th of July, Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, etc., etc.), but if anyone's got great ideas for books about holidays or seasons beyond that category, then heck, please toss them in there too. Thanks!
posted by Bardolph to Media & Arts (33 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I love White Snow, Bright Snow for the illustrations alone. I read it to my Little Sister about four years ago and am adding a copy to my baby's Amazon wishlist!
posted by notjustthefish at 4:28 AM on September 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

One of my fondest memories of elementary school was our teacher reading The Best Christmas Pagent Ever to us. I don't know if I would call the illustrations lovely, but they are definitely evocative and have stayed with me in memory (particularly the one with all the Herdman kids).
posted by like_neon at 4:45 AM on September 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Moominsummer Madness, Moomin Valley in November and Moominland Midwinter. I loved these as a kid. Still do.
You can easily find them on Amazon, Bookdepository and so on.
posted by Too-Ticky at 4:51 AM on September 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

Winter Friends was a random library get. Secular, winter themed, kid & adult both enjoyed it. I've been meaning to make an ask ever since for more kids' books that have poetry without annoying sing-song meter and rhyme.
posted by neda at 4:56 AM on September 19, 2016

I love Lucy and Tom's Christmas - I think it captures something of the experience of being a kid at Christmas. It's very British, to my (Australian) eyes, and of course it's a northern hemisphere Christmas, so there's snow etc.
posted by Cheese Monster at 5:14 AM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also: Owl At Home contains the delightful story "The Guest", which is a perfect winter story.
posted by Cheese Monster at 5:35 AM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Jolly Old Santa Claus by George Hinke.

It's in reprint but the reprints are terrible. The original print is worth hunting for. It's just a lovely book
posted by Ftsqg at 5:50 AM on September 19, 2016

The Sweet Smell of Christmas. Forty years later, when I wake up on Christmas morning, I say to myself, "It was Christmas Day at last!" in the voice of my babysitter who read it to me.
posted by Melismata at 6:03 AM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Eric Carle's Dream Snow in the hardcover -- with snow overlay pages and an embedded chip on the last page that plays a beautiful wintery sound. This is a secular Santa story.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:18 AM on September 19, 2016

It's still in print, but when I was a kid I loved this version of The Nutcracker illustrated by Maurice Sendak.
posted by Kriesa at 6:40 AM on September 19, 2016

This one from my childhood is out of print: The Easter Egg Artists by Adrienne Adams. It looks like she has a few other holiday books that are equally well rated, but I haven't read them myself.
posted by Kriesa at 6:44 AM on September 19, 2016

This one is still in print under a modified title/cover (now "The Halloween Play") but I remember reading The Halloween Performance as a kid. My mom and I loved looking at the teeny little mice and their sweet costumes. It was written and illustrated by the artist of "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie."
posted by castlebravo at 6:59 AM on September 19, 2016

Seconding The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and adding The Best Halloween Ever and The Best School Year Ever. For Halloween, The Dorrie books by Patricia Coombs are perfect and just look at those illustrations! The Cranberryport series is also great.

Goodreads has a lot of lists like this and once you get past the first ten, there are usually some high quality but less ubiquitous options to choose from.
posted by soelo at 7:30 AM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Monster in the Cave - Nicholas Heller
Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas - Russell Hoban
The Mole Family's Christmas - Russell Hoban
The Tailor of Gloucester - Beatrix Potter
Christmas - Peter Spier

The above are all picture books. A wonderful chapter book that is inexplicably out of print is The Coat-Hanger Christmas Tree by Eleanor Estes.

When Spring Comes - Natalie Kinsey-Warnock

Half a Moon and One Whole Star - Crescent Dragonwagon

It's Snowing! - Olivier Dunrea
posted by Redstart at 7:45 AM on September 19, 2016

The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes. This is still in print - it's a very feminist story that was first written in 1939. It's about a mother bunny who wants to be an Easter bunny in spite of having 21 children. I found out about it when Caroline Kennedy mentioned it as one of her favorites in an interview.
posted by FencingGal at 7:46 AM on September 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Gingerbread Pirates is a favorite Christmas book around our house, one that I really, really, REALLY wish Pixar or someone would make into a seasonal for TV holiday special because its so perfect for them (PIXAR ARE YOU LISTENING??)

Halloween: Ten Timid Ghosts and Boogie Knights.

FYI, Amazon has a really intersting page of children's holiday books for all sorts of holidays.
posted by anastasiav at 7:54 AM on September 19, 2016

I suspect Frog and Toad All Year is too mainstream for your question, but it's charming (and has a short story for every season), so don't forget it!
posted by aimedwander at 8:15 AM on September 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Macaroon by Julia Cunningham
Applesauce Season by Eden Ross Lipson, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein
Brambly Hedge: Autumn Story by Jilly Barklem (but really, just get the Complete Brambley Hedge for all the great stories).

The Church Mice at Christmas by Graham Oakley
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
Toot and Puddle: I'll be Home for Christmas and Let it Snow by Holly Hobbie
Brambly Hedge: Winter Story by Jill Barklem
Merry Christmas Ernest and Celestine by Gabrielle Vincent

Brambley Hedge: Spring Story by Jill Barklem
Ernest and Celestine: The Picnic by Gabrielle Vincent
Tootle and Puddle: You are My Sunshine by Holly Hobbie

Brambley Hedge: Summer Story by Jill Barklem
posted by carrioncomfort at 8:59 AM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Holly and Ivy is my favorite winter story.
posted by Hermione Granger at 9:03 AM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Here are a couple picture books that are sorta-but-not-explicitly Halloween-y. Both can be a bit scary if read for that effect ; both can be funny if read for that effect.

The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams. Lots of participation possible with this one.
A Dark Dark Tale by Ruth Brown. Quite short, with a joke ending.
posted by ClingClang at 9:49 AM on September 19, 2016

Berkeley Breathed's Absolutely True christmas story Red Ranger Came Calling. A little wordy for kids < 5, but beautifully illustrated and slightly cynical about the Santa Claus myth for kids that are just starting to doubt while still maintaining a sense of magic and the true spirit of christmas.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:29 AM on September 19, 2016

Where the Wild Geese Go is one of my favorites. Works well for winter/Christmas storytelling, is also longer than most picture books, so you may have to read in sections.
posted by emjaybee at 12:37 PM on September 19, 2016

Happy Winter is one of my all-time favorite children's books. Apple Tree Christmas is a lovely story with beautiful illustrations. The Tall Book of Christmas contains some fantastic stories I've never seen anywhere else.
posted by epj at 12:57 PM on September 19, 2016

Strongly seconding Peter Spier's Christmas. That was my all-time favorite holiday book as a kid and I searched long and hard to find a reasonably clean hardcover copy of my own when I grew up.

I Love You All Year Long captures all the seasons in one book but it makes me so happy to think of all the fun season-specific stuff I have to look forward to doing with my kid.
posted by anderjen at 2:03 PM on September 19, 2016

For Hallowe'en, I'd love to get my hands on a copy of Grandpa's Ghost Stories (Jim Flora, 1978). This simultaneously terrified and delighted me as a kid. They don't make books like this anymore.

Flora followed it up with something more Christmassy (in a Nightmare before Christmas kind of way): Grandpa's Witched-up Christmas.

That second link (Vintage children's books my kid loves) would actually be a great source for you to search overall.
posted by Kabanos at 2:53 PM on September 19, 2016

My favourite Christmas book is Polly Redford's The Christmas Bower. You won't have heard of it. I've recommended it to many people, and I've never met anyone who has heard of it, let alone read it. I first read it at the age of seven and I reread it every Christmas.

Noah, the protagonist, lives in two worlds. His father is an executive in a big-city department store (think Macy's in New York or Marshall Field's in Chicago), and everyone expects that Noah will work there too when he grows up. But Noah just wants to hang out at the Natural History Museum, where his uncle is the Curator of Birds. Then the department store decides to hire a collection of live birds for their Christmas display, and Noah's two worlds collide .. and I won't reveal what happens next, except that it's sharply observed, wickedly funny and utterly unsentimental, and if that isn't enough to make you go out and buy a copy, it's illustrated by Edward Gorey.
posted by verstegan at 3:17 PM on September 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Favourite seasonal but not traditional Christmas novel is The Dark is Rising, really takes you to an English country Christmas.

As a child growing up in small town Ontario I loved the All-of-a-kind family novels by Sidney Taylor. Lots of illustrations and a snapshot of Jewish life and holidays on the Lower East side in New York.
posted by five_cents at 5:15 PM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed Santa Claus and His Elves as a kid. It's a translation from the Finnish, from the early '80s, and mostly illustration. The book is all about how the elves live in Santa's village, how they have children and marriages and training and jobs and big breakfasts and TV and everything. Very cute and rewards rereading with small details of every elf's actions, like a Scarry book. A little gender-normative but good-hearted. There may be penny copies with a different cover.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:38 PM on September 19, 2016

Not necessarily out of print but Over and Over by Charlotte Zolotow is a great picture book that covers a little girl's first memories of all the seasons.
posted by azalea_chant at 11:27 PM on September 19, 2016

Anne Fine's The More the Merrier (US title: The True Story of Christmas).
posted by Morfil Ffyrnig at 5:08 AM on September 20, 2016

If British books are of interest, then as well as the Brambly Hedge and Church Mice books already mentioned, please look out for Alison Uttley. There's the Little Grey Rabbit series, including Little Grey Rabbit's Christmas, Little Grey Rabbit's Valentine and more; and there's Sam Pig, including Sam Pig and the Christmas Pudding; and then there's the short story collection Stories for Christmas, which I remember fondly from childhood.

Raymond Briggs wrote and illustrated the fabulous Father Christmas books as well as The Snowman.

Orlando, the Marmalade Cat? I can't remember whether the Camping Holiday happens in spring or in summer, but both that and the Seaside Holiday are bound to be strongly tied to the season.

If you can find a copy of Johan's Year, by Inger and Lasse Sandberg, you should pick it up even though it covers all of the seasons. Johan starts school, learns to read, discovers that wasps like raspberries as much as people do, builds a house in the woods... he has an enviable year of childhood.

Oh, and if "all the seasons" is acceptable, you might like The Year at Maple Hill Farm, a large and lovely picture book by Alice and Martin Provensen.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 4:00 PM on September 20, 2016

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