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31 Days, 31 Lists: Day Twenty-Five – 2017 Transcendent Holiday Picture Books


The holiday picture book is a fascinating object in terms of artistic quality. Most public libraries, due to space issues, will create separate “Holiday” book sections where these books are sequestered away for all time. They are pigeonholed to a particular time of the year, sometimes to the good and sometimes to their detriment. And every year publishers see they as sure-fire moneymakers and release a whole slew of the puppies in one fell swoop. Most of these are so forgettable that your brain is insulted that you even tried to input the information. Others are perfectly decent additions to the year, though no love is particularly lost on the books. And then there are those rare holiday books that transcend the season. That stand as some of the best of a given year. When I run across such books I try to make a note so that I can declare how grand they are at the end of the year.  Well, the time has come. The books are in. Here are the holiday books of 2017 that made my heart stand up and sing.

2017 Transcendent Holiday Picture Books

Herbert’s First Halloween by Cynthia Rylant, ill. Steven Henry


Hey, man. Let’s do a darned good Halloween picture book AND break down some lame gender stereotypes while we’re at it, eh? At first this book may remind you of that other tiger costumed Halloween classic A Tiger Called Thomas by Charlotte Zolotow, but in this case the focus is a bit different though both deal with being brave and fears on Halloween night. In this case, a small boy is having his first Halloween and he’s a bit on the worried side. Good thing he has a dad willing to make him a cool tiger costume, help him practice his roaring, and help him have a good time trick-or-treating. It’s not a flashy book, but its understated, gentle good humor stands it in good stead.

Little Santa by Yoko Maruyama


Just lovely. I’d actually pair this with When Santa Was a Baby by Linda Bailey in terms of picture books that examine Santa’s extended family. Only in this case, we’re not meeting Santa’s parents but his son. Christmas Eve is great for a lot of kids, but not the one who’s dad has to work that night. Unfortunately, Santa has a bit of a mishap and it’s up to someone else to fill in. Visually it looks like a companion to Raymond Briggs’s The Snowman, but without the heartbreaking ending. The cover pretty much says it all. Soft. Sweet. A good book of contentment.

Pomegranate Witch by Denise Doyen, ill. Eliza Wheeler


It’s a Halloween book, honestly, and the more lists I can put it on the better. If I had to pick a favorite book for each holiday, this would be my Halloween one. It already showed up once on my Rhyming Picture Books list.  To remind you, it’s about neighborhood kids who each year fight the local “witch” in an effort to eat one of her pomegranates. She tends to win, but one boy manages to get the red prize. My kids love this, if only because they feel very smart at the end pointing out to their father how the kids at the beginning grow up and go trick-or-treating at the witch’s house with their own kids at the end. And don’t worry. It’s far sweeter than scary.

Red and Lulu by Matt Tavares


A Christmas book you should probably put on your permanent shelf. If any book on this list today can win a Caldecott, it is this. I have this crazy dream that it might, but holiday books (Polar Express aside) always are at a disadvantage in that arena. This book isn’t silent, but might well be for all that the visual storytelling pulls you along. Two cardinals are separated when their home is chopped down and delivered to Rockefeller Center. What follows is a harrowing urban journey with a beautiful denouement. Please be so good as to head over to Seven Impossible Things to read The Evolution of Red & Lulu. This is one of the best of the year.

The Scariest Book Ever by Bob Shea


My son is three. He wants scary books and he doesn’t want scary books. For example, this year’s book I Want To Be In a Scary Story by Sean Taylor proved to be too much for him. I was worried that this book might have the same problem, but since this is Bob Shea we’re talking about it was, instead, a sheer cheery delight. This ghost is the scaredy-cat to beat them all. And, as with any Shea, it’s a killer readaloud.

The Sundown Kid: A Southwestern Shabbat by Barbara Bietz, ill. John Kanzler


I dunno. Would you count Shabbat as a holiday? Probably not, but I’d like to include this on some kind of a list and this comes close. It’s actually the best Shabbat picture book I’ve ever read, though I’d love to hear the suggestions of your own favorites as well.

This Is Not a Valentine by Carter Higgins, ill. Lucy Ruth Cummins


Methinks the boy in this story doth protest too much! This book reminds me of a line in the recent film Ladybird when a nun tells our titular heroine that paying attention to something and loving it are the same thing. It’s about how you show someone that you care even if you don’t follow the crowd and give the same standard gift (slash valentine) as everyone else. It’s clever and quiet and darn well the best Valentine’s Day book of the year, that’s for sure.

The 12 Days of Christmas by Greg Pizzoli


I think for a lot of those of us that celebrate Christmas, you tend to settle on ONE picture book per Christmas carol/rhyme/what have you. For example, my sister-in-law is squarely in the camp of the Tasha Tudor edition of Clement C. Moore’s Twas the Night Before Christmas (the only version, she points out, where the illustrator took Mr. Moore in true faith when he said Santa and the sleigh had “eight tiny raindeer” and Santa himself was a lively little elf). I tend to do the same thing, though I’m willing to be swayed. That said, I think I’ve found my favorite 12 Days of Christmas and it is all due to Mr. Pizzoli. Not only has the man managed to work a plot into this whole retelling but the layout of this book is extraordinary. For that final countdown from “12” he creates full pages for each number, making this the ultimate Christmas song/picture book read aloud title of the year. It doesn’t hurt matters any that the book is sweet, funny, and has colors that will pop across a room, no matter where you’re telling/singing it.

A World of Cookies for Santa: Follow Santa’s Tasty Trip Around the World by M.E. Furman, ill. Susan Gal


A clever way of presenting an international subject with a topic kids care about. Cookies! S is for Santa and that’s good enough for me. In this book Furman describes the myriad foods that children leave out for Santa the night before, then includes a whole slew of cookie recipes from those countries at the end. With cool art to match from Gal, consider this your nonfiction tie-in holiday offering of the day.


Interested in the other lists of the month? Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:

December 1 – Board Books

December 2 – Board Book Reprints & Adaptations

December 3 – Wordless Picture Books

December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

December 6 – Alphabet Books

December 7 – Funny Picture Books

December 8 – CaldeNotts

December 9 – Picture Book Reprints

December 10 – Math Picture Books

December 11 – Bilingual Books

December 12 – Translated Picture Books

December 13 – Books with a Message

December 14 – Fabulous Photography

December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales

December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year

December 17 – Poetry Books

December 18 – Easy Books

December 19 – Early Chapter Books

December 20 – Comics for Kids

December 21 – Older Funny Books

December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction

December 23 – American History

December 24 – Science & Nature Books

December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books

December 26 – Unique Biographies

December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books

December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books

December 29 – Fiction Reprints

December 30 – Middle Grade Novels

December 31 – Picture Books

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Tell your sister there are two Tasha Tudor editions, but not to worry – both have tiny reindeer. The Little, Brown and Company is copyright 1999; the Simon & Schuster is copyright 1975. My favorite holiday book this year is Twas the evening of Christmas by Glenys Nellist, illustrated by Elena Selivanova. It is the nativity story in the style of Moore’s Twas the night before Christmas.