The Night Before Christmas

The blog has been unexpectedly quiet for the past week, and I apologize for that.  I had a few holiday posts planned, but I wasn’t quite able to make them happen.  Part of that is the busy-ness that is December in our family.  We hit the cascade of holidays in the middle of the month with my daughter’s birthday (I now have a 5 year-old!), and it was followed quickly by our wedding anniversary (8 years!).  Now, of course, it’s Christmas Eve.  We have full days planned today and tomorrow, but right now I’m waiting for my cookies to cool and I wanted to share one book related aspect of our holiday that I thought my readers might appreciate.

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse”

I knew those opening lines to this classic poem, but I didn’t know the rest of it until last year when I found a picture book version to read with my daughter on Christmas Eve.  I wanted to do the same this year, so I went looking for another picture book only to find that there are approximately eleventy billion versions of this poem for kids.  I decided to let my kidlit-geek colors show (and bring my daughter along with me into kidlit geekiness).  We checked out as many library copies of “The Night Before Christmas” as we could get our hands on in the weeks before Christmas.  I apologize to any other Hennepin County Library users who wanted one of these books.  We didn’t mean to hog them all.  We were doing very important literary comparison. :)


Here are the results of our survey:

  • Most of the picture books we looked at took us back to the time and the place when the poem was written (late 1800’s New England), and it was interesting to have my daughter look for similarities and differences in the setting–and to talk about the ways that life was different then.  We liked Tomie De Paola’s version for its old fashioned charm.
Tomie De Paola's version
Tomie De Paola’s version
  • My daughter especially liked looking for the ways that the illustrations diverged from the text.  For example, the text refers to the mom wearing a ‘kerchief, but in some of the books she appears to be wearing a bonnet, at least that’s what it looked like to my 5 year-old.  Also, the poem has Santa filling the stockings and leaving, but a couple of the books we looked at had him also leaving presents under the tree.
  • There were also the times when the illustrations took the text more literally than expected, like in Tasha Tudor’s version in which Santa is “miniature.”  He actually looks like a little elf himself, which surprised us.
Tasha Tudor’s elfin Santa
  • I have read there was some controversy about whether a children’s book should mention Santa’s pipe or include that in the illustrations even though it is in the text of the poem, but all of the books we perused did have the pipe and the “smoke that encircled his head like a wreath” except the Christopher Wormell version.
Christopher Wormell's wood cut illustrated version
Christopher Wormell’s wood cut illustrated version
  • Not that it was a contest, but the winners from my daughter’s perspective seemed to be the books that were quite different.  Rachel Isadora’s African version generated the most discussion and kept my girl’s interest longer than the others.  Until we discovered Mary Engelbreit’s version, which is too adorable for words.  It was by far the most kid-friendly version we read, and my daughter’s preference showed.  And why not?  It has elfin fairies following Santa around as helpers, even cleaning up after his sooty footprints.
Rachel Isadora's African version
Rachel Isadora’s African version
Mary Engelbreit’s adorable fairy elves

Do you read the poem with your kids?  What is your favorite picture book version to share?

More Christmas related books are in this post, if you missed it.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.  All books mentioned were library copies.

Author: Mindy R

I'm a librarian, writer, book reviewer, etc.

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