Ask Maxwell: What’s Your Best Christmas Book Recommendation?

published Dec 13, 2021
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Credit: Floris Books

I’m looking for good stories to share with my children about these Christmas holidays that are accessible, reverent, and not Hallmark cliches. Any good suggestions?


Dear Marty,

What a nice question you ask. While I wish we had comments working on the site (they will come) so others can chime in, I’m going to give you the answer where my head goes right away: Peter & Lotta’s Christmas by Elsa Beskow.

Written in 1947, two years after the Second World War came to a close, this Swedish children’s story tells the tale of two orphans, Peter and Lotta, and their first Christmas with their Aunt Green, Aunt Brown, Aunt Lavender, and Uncle Blue. As a Christmas tree is found deep in the wood with their uncle and their aunts cook and get the house ready, Peter and Lotta find themselves amazed and not knowing what will happen next. On Christmas Eve, they all decorate the tree and are having a wonderful Christmas meal when all of a sudden the fearsome Christmas Goat arrives with presents for the children. He is, however, so bracing and stern at first that the children hide under the table.

That night, in bed, Aunt Lavender reveals the story of the Christmas Goat. He is really an enchanted prince who lives in the forest, has black curly hair and sings to a lute at night so beautifully that even the birds listen to him. The children vow to find him one day and fall asleep after the nicest Christmas they ever had.

The story continues into the summer with an intricate plot, but in the end the children DO find the enchanted prince and urge him to come back the following Christmas with presents for their uncle and aunts. He agrees and hilarity ensues at the end when TWO Christmas Goats appear in the dining room and the other is revealed to be their Uncle Blue.

This lovely book stokes the imagination in a magical way and is more about kindness and family at this special time of the year than anything else. It also inspired me to dress up as the Christmas Goat and surprise my daughter and her friends for a number of years before they caught me. It’s great to be able to put yourself into these lesser known traditions and shake things up (the Christmas Goat springs from Scandinavian tradition and is connected to pagan festivals and the god Thor. Elsa Beskow seems to have taken it in even further 🙂 ).

I hope you like it and happy holidays!

Best, M

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Maxwell Ryan is a father and was an elementary school teacher in NYC before founding Apartment Therapy. He’d love to answer your question: This piece was created for Cubby, our weekly newsletter for families at home. Want more? Sign up here for a weekly splash of fun and good ideas for families with kids.

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