Katie Fitzgerald shares her favorite picture-book adaptations of Christmas carols.
When I was a kid, Christmas was never complete without hearing lots and lots of Christmas music. In carrying on this tradition with my own kids, I have built up quite a collection of picture-book adaptations of favorite carols. If you and your kids like to sing, or even if you just like to look at beautiful illustrations while listening to favorite Christmas songs, I have a list of books you might love.
The Friendly Beasts, illustrated by Tomie dePaola, depicts a small choir of young men who sing the English carol about the animals who lived in the stable where Jesus was born. Each animal provides a gift for the newborn Christ Child, which is portrayed in the illustrations. Tomie dePaola’s signature style adds a warmth and sweetness to this carol that makes the reading experience very cozy. This is an especially great choice for toddlers and preschoolers who like farm animals.
Also by Tomie DePaola is Christina’s Carol, an illustrated version of Christina Rosetti’s poem, “In the Bleak Midwinter,” which has been set to music by both Gustav Holst and Harold Darke. This is a book dePaola was working on at the time of his death, and it was finished using artwork he created for other projects, so it’s not the most polished of his books. Still, I consider it a treasure because it gives me an easily accessible way to share this beautiful meditation on gift-giving with my young children.
A similar book by another beloved children’s illustrator is Ezra Jack Keats’s The Little Drummer Boy. Similar to the speaker in the Rossetti poem who has nothing to give the infant Jesus but her heart, the little drummer boy can only offer a humble performance on his little drum. Keats’s collage-style art adds a unique flavor to the lyrics of the carol. The clothing of the figures—the three kings and the drummer boy himself—are especially beautiful in their textures and colors.
The Huron Carol, illustrated by Ian Wallace, is a beautiful adaptation of the carol which has been attributed to 17th century Canadian Jesuit missionary Saint Jean de Brébeuf. Saint Jean originally wrote the words in the language of the Huron people, using imagery from the Huron culture in order to explain the Nativity story. In 1926, Jesse Edgar Middleton wrote the English lyrics which are sung today and which comprise the text of this book. The illustrations really bring to life the world of the Hurons, and they perfectly complement the haunting tune of the carol.
Finally, The First Christmas illustrated by Will Moses uses the lyrics from “O Little Town of Bethlehem” to tell the story of Jesus’ birth. Notable about the illustrations are the artist’s use of an historically accurate Middle Eastern setting and his folk art style. Though the cover has a very formal look to it, the pictures inside radiate the joy of the Christmas season.
Each of these books would be a wonderful addition to a family Christmas book collection, or an excellent gift for a child to find under the tree on Christmas morning. I hope your family will enjoy them as much as mine does!
Copyright 2022 Katie Fitzgerald
About the Author
Katie Fitzgerald is a former children's librarian turned stay-at-home, homeschooling mom. She and her librarian husband live in Maryland with their five children, the youngest of whom are boy/girl twins. She has published two textbooks for librarians, and she writes about homeschooling, books and the reading life from a Catholic perspective at ReadAtHomeMom.com and on Instagram @read.at.home.mom.