Our Book-A-Day Advent Calendar

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Every Advent we set aside quite a few of our school books and replace them with books that will help us prepare for the Incarnation. It makes things beautifully low-key, and I love what a wonderful tradition it has become! In an attempt to actually plan things out this year (instead of the usual fly by the seat of my pants that I do), I'm listing our plans here. Maybe you need ideas? I hope this inspires you! These are some of our absolute favorite books! And while I can pretty much guarantee we won't get to every single thing on this list, I think we can manage most of it.

This year Advent begins on December 2, but with small adjustments I think this reading plan would work every year, since a few of these books correspond with specific feast days, but most can be read at any time. Every year we get out a different nativity (sans Baby Jesus) on each Sunday of Advent, so we'll also be reading a different nativity story to go along with that.

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December 1 (not technically Advent yet, but good prep!)

The Last Straw

A mother with squabbling children (sound familiar?) encourages them to focus on doing good deeds and I'm here to tell you this actually works so definitely give it a try!

Activity: Set up a "manger" (a box, a craft stick creation, whatever you want!) and gather "straw" (real, yarn, strips of felt, whatever) to make a soft bed for the Baby Jesus with each good deed throughout Advent.

December 2

The Nativity

This book is such a beautiful treasure. Illustrations by Sanderson will hold the attention of children while they hear the story of the Nativity for the first time this Advent.

Activity: Bring out children's nativity, set up Mary, Joseph, and donkey for their journey to Bethlehem.

December 3

The Shoemaker's Dream

Martin the shoemaker works hard all day and reads his Bible at night, dreaming of seeing Jesus. When Jesus appears to him and says He will be visiting the next day, Martin is incredulous! Through Martin's various visitors, children will learn how we serve Jesus by serving those around us. (This would work as a general winter book, as well, I don't think it would need to be exclusively for Advent)

Activity: Go through your clothes, books, toys, and choose some to give away to those who might need them more than you.

December 4

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey

A disgruntled woodcarver agrees to make a nativity for a widow and her son, whose overtures toward friendship he eventually can't resist. Absolutely heartwarming, and beautiful to boot!

Activity: Set up a tithing & almsgiving jar and make small sacrifices throughout Advent so that you can use what you collect to donate to different charities.

December 5

The Legend of St. Nicholas

This is a long-ish, captivating story about the legends behind the life of St. Nicholas. We love Demi's illustrations, and this is great preparation for celebrating the Feast of St. Nicholas.

Activity: Set up one pair of shoes for "St. Nicholas" to visit with a toy (saint blocks for us this year), book, and treat tomorrow morning.

December 6 (St. Nicholas)

The Miracle of St. Nicholas

A beautiful story of a small village in post-communist Russia, and how the villagers have managed to keep tradition alive throughout years of persecution.

Activity: Find & tithe to a charity that helps the impoverished, refugees, or people suffering from religious persecution.

Suggestions from friends:
Catholic Community Services
Building Hope in Kids
Cross Catholic Outreach
Haiti 180

December 7

The Gift of the Magi

P.J. Lynch is a beautiful illustrator (you might recognize his style from The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey), so a combination of beautiful illustrations and this timeless tale of love and sacrifice at Christmas is the perfect addition to any shelf!

Activity: Pick one family member to give a special gift to, so that each member of the family has a special friend throughout this Advent season. How can you serve this person in ways that aren't necessarily material?

December 8 (Immaculate Conception)

Mary: The Mother of Jesus

Hard to find, but worth it if you can snag a copy! Also available on Kindle. This has individual stories of events in the life of Mary, which makes it a perfect resource to have on hand throughout the year.

Activity: See if you can eat all white foods for lunch or dinner to symbolically represent Mary's purity!

December 9 (St. Juan Diego)

Room for a Little One 

Kind ox invites cold animals into the warm stable one by one, until finally some special guests arrive to occupy the same space as all these creatures.

Activity: Set up a stable and let Mary and Joseph move closer as they journey to Bethlehem. Get out second children's nativity.

December 10

Song of the Stars

All of creation cries out with gladness, rejoicing in the birth of the Savior! Short and sweet, but a good opportunity to explore the names of Jesus revealed in Scripture.

Activity: Print and color this printable, choosing a few to read verses aloud for. Save the rest for another day (or continue with one or two each day throughout Advent and Christmastide).

December 11

Shooting at the Stars

A fictionalized telling of the Christmas Truce of 1914, when French, German, and British soldiers laid down their arms for one day of peace early on in a terrible war. Perfect especially for boys, but if you have sensitive children you may want to skip this one for a while, as there is discussion & illustrations of burying dead bodies.

Activity: How can you "lay down your arms" today? Focus especially on keeping peace within your friends and family.

December 12 (Our Lady of Guadalupe)

Lady of Guadalupe

This one can be tricky to find used unless you grab it NOW, but it's usually available at local libraries (put it on hold like, yesterday) and there's also a Kindle version. It's SUCH a good retelling of the story of Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe. This version looks like a good alternative, as well. If your parish has a Spanish-speaking community, it's very likely that they'll be putting on a big celebration for today, and I bet they would be overjoyed to welcome your family!

Activity: Put a small vase of roses by a statue of Mary. Eat Mexican food tonight ;)

December 13 (St. Lucy)

Lucia, Saint of Light (back in print!)

This book explains the story behind St. Lucy, and how she came to be specially revered in Sweden. Your family might enjoy celebrating the morning of St. Lucy's feast in the same manner as families in Sweden!

Activity: Let your girls dress up and serve cinnamon buns this morning, from scratch or from a can!

December 14

Mortimer's Christmas Manger 

Mortimer just wants a house of his own, and one day he sees a new one set up, just the perfect size for a mouse! But every night he drags the figurines out, only to find them set up again when he returns. Could there be someone who needs this house more than he does? We love this sweet tale, and the kids always love to see what Mortimer finds for a real house!

Activity: Make gingerbread houses!

December 15

B is for Bethlehem 

Out of print, but such a treasure and not too expensive used! The story of the Nativity in alphabet form, this is fun for young children but interesting enough for older children to enjoy as well.

Activity: Work on making Christmas cards to send to friends and neighbors, using these illustrations as inspiration. Do you have fabric scraps you can incorporate to imitate the unique pictures?

December 16

Who Is Coming to Our House?

This one always feels like it needs to be read in a very hushed voice. A perennial favorite, the woodcut illustrations are captivating and the rhythm of the text invites even the youngest listener to contemplate the upcoming arrival of the Holy Family.

Activity: Place the animals near the stable and move Mary and Joseph a little closer. Get out third children's nativity.

December 17

The Story of Holly and Ivy

Ivy is orphaned and looking for a home. Holly is a Christmas doll looking for a child. A simple premise, beautifully written and illustrated by Rumer Godden and Barbara Cooney, respectively. Longer, so better for older children, but a story adults will appreciate as well. One of my all-time favorites. (Godden's The Kitchen Madonna is also a really lovely longer read for this time of year, perfect for independent readers or a family read-aloud over a few evenings.)

Activity: Find & tithe to a charity that helps orphaned or abandoned children, or donate to an adoption fundraiser.

Suggestions from friends:
Love Without Boundaries
Little Flower Projects
Morning Star Foundation
Covenant House

December 18

Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree 

Entirely secular, but adorable! The kids all really enjoy this book and it gets read over and over again. The top of a Christmas tree gets chopped off over and over again, making smaller and smaller trees for different families. Simple but sweet.

Activity: Find greenery to decorate the house! If you have no pine/boxwood/evergreens of your own, find a friend who won't mind you coming to pillage their yard to help make your house merry.

December 19

Christmas Day in the Morning

A young boy realize just how much his father sacrifices for him, and decides to take on the same sacrifice as his Christmas gift to his father.

Activity: Is there someone else's duty you can take on, just for today? Try.

December 20

Joy to the World: The Legend of the Poinsettia

Lucida's mother falls ill just before she can finish the new blanket for the baby Jesus. When Lucida tangles up the threads in her attempt to finish the weaving, she has no gift for the baby except a bundle of weeds. But when she presents those weeds, they turn into beautiful flowers!

Activity: Buy a poinsettia or two to freshen up the house and remind you of this story.

December 21

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree

Fair warning, this one makes me cry. Barbara Cooney is one of my absolute favorite illustrators, and her style is evident in this book. A perfect story of hope for any family, this one is particularly fitting for military families. Ruthie and her father pick out a Christmas tree in the summer to give to their church, but her father is called away to war. Ruthie and her mother must find a way to cut down the tree themselves, and ultimately receive the perfect Christmas gift to accompany their perfect Christmas tree.

Activity: Find a way you can reach out to members of the military & their families—can you bake cookies, send a care package, write Christmas cards?

Suggestions from friends:
Lighthouse Military Support Organization

December 22

Cobweb Christmas

A sweet version of an old folk tale, spiders visit Tante's Christmas tree and leave behind their webs after exploring. The webs are transformed into gold & silver, and the spiders are welcomed into Tante's home again. We don't do tinsel, but since we like to cut down our tree from our woods, there's always a spider or two who tags along, so I think this is perfect! *Kris Kringle makes an appearance, but not in a manner that would be confusing to explain if your family doesn't have Santa bring gifts.

Activity: Make a few paper spiderwebs to go with your paper snowflakes, and hang them in the windows.

December 23

The Animals' Christmas Eve

In this rhyming counting book, the animals recall the night long ago when they welcomed a very special baby into their barn. Sweet and lyrical, the perfect bedtime story right before Christmas Eve.

Activity: Make pine cone bird feeders as a gift to the birds in your area, who are probably pretty hungry at this time of year! Get out the last children's nativity & move Mary and Joseph closer to the stable.

December 24

The Night Before Christmas

Gyo Fujikawa is one of my favorite illustrators, and this classic poem is such a sweet way to tuck everyone into bed before they wake to the excitement of Christmas morning!

Activity: Hang the stockings, trim the tree, and go to bed early!

After all this time of preparation with minimal celebration, we're really ready to celebrate on Christmas Day, and all the way through the Twelve Days of Christmas. Here are those plans!

We'll probably have several of these books out early on to keep the younger crowd happy, too!


  1. Love the suggested activities to go with the books. Thanks for sharing! :)

  2. Fantastic! Thanks. Looking forward to the 12 Days post.

    1. I think this will be super-helpful to be able to look back on!

  3. FWIW, I actually prefer your alternative to the dePaola Lady of Guadalupe book. My library has both. They are both lovely, but if anyone is having trouble finding the dePaola, don't despair!


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