Our 20 Favorite Nativity Picture Books

One of my favorite ways to prepare our hearts for the Advent and Christmas season with our toddler is to read Christ-centered picture books that tell the story of the first Christmas. We enjoy using our Little People nativity set to walk through the story, which helps him engage more with the story while being busy with his hands.  Here are some of our favorites from last year and the first two weeks of reading Christmas books this season. Most are short enough for infants but engaging enough to keep preschoolers listening as well, especially due to the sweet and skilled illustrations that captivate children and adults alike. I hope you find a few to check out at your public library or buy as gifts for little ones in your life!

Before I jump to the long list, here are a few ways to engage even the youngest children during these picture books:

  • Read them multiple times in a few days. Repetition helps young children so much! I pick a few books to focus on each week and we re-read those all week, then we switch to another bunch of books. 
  • Use different voices for the characters, different speed and say some words softly while others louder to bring the story alive. Kids love silly voices and over-the-top productions when reading-aloud, so have fun with it!
  • Ask easy, open-ended questions like "Do you think Mary and Joseph were tired from their long journey once they reached Bethlehem? What feelings do you think they felt when the inn keeper said there was no room for them to rest inside?" "This book has cows, lambs, ducks, etc in the stable. I wonder if there were other animals? I wonder if it was noisy or quiet in the stable?" It's okay to have a few comprehension questions, if desired (like "What was the town that Joseph and Mary traveled to?") but it can make a child feel like they are being quizzed and take the fun away from reading together if they are only listening to pass a test. Instead, engaging questions that you answer as well as more of a conversation, which is helped with starting off the question with "I wonder...", which feels less like a quiz and more like dialogue. 
  • Use props if available! We love our Little People nativity set. Elliot plays with it while I read nativity stories and we act it out as we read. It's a great way to keep their little hands busy while their minds are still engaged to the story. But even printing out pictures off Pinterest or any other site with the characters of the nativity story and using those can help too. Coloring pages with scenes from the nativity story are also great while reading aloud to kids. You may think they can't work with their hands and listen to a story at the same time, but most kids can do it, and may kids actually listen better when fidgeting/working with their hands!
  • Get them moving. We love to play hide-and-seek with the wise men. Then I will talk to Elliot about how the wise men traveled to Bethlehem to find Jesus, so we grab the star off the Christmas tree and I lead the way to our nativity set, where we place the wise men and camel before Jesus. Or have siblings race around the house as if they were shepherds running from the hillside to the stable to see the newborn that the angels told them about. 
  • Add music! Do you have bells in your Christmas decor? Grab one if it's child-friendly. Or if you have a xylophone, maracas, a tambourine, or other child-friendly instruments, invite them to make a joyful noise if you read any of the picture books below that illustrate Christmas carols. If you play an instrument, give them a mini-concert with the song from the book! 

Here are our favorite nativity picture books for the past two Christmases. Most are geared towards infants through preschool, but I have a feeling even older kids would enjoy most of these!

Who is Coming to Our House? (written by Joseph Slate, illustrated by Ashley Wolff)
We read this one almost daily last year. It is such a sweet story about farm animal's anticipating the arrival of a special family to their house in a barn.  The mouse's excitement at the end, when they meet Baby Jesus, almost makes me tear up.
Read-aloud age recommendation: Infant and up

My Merry Christmas (written by Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrated by Sara Gianassi)
What is Christmas all about? Sally Lloyd-Jones (author of The Jesus Storybook Bible) explains themes of Christmas through traditional symbols of Christmas such as twinkling lights, angels, and stars. The pages alternate between woodland animals decorating a Christmas tree and the Nativity story. Creative and delightful board book for young children!
Read-aloud age recommendation: Toddler and up

The Silent Noisy Night (written by Jill Roman Lord, illustrated by Kelly Breemer
Was it really a silent night when Jesus was born, as the age old carol declares? This adorable board book supposes it may have been a noisy night with animals in the stable celebrating the birth of the Savior. Simple rhymes in a sing-song pace, it helps little ones imagine what that first Christmas night was like. 
Read-aloud age recommendation: Infant and up

This is the Stable (written by Cynthia Cotten, illustrated by Delana Bettoli)
The Nativity story is told from different perspectives in a poetic, heart-warming way, from the animals to the angels and shepherd's proclaiming glory to God. The illustrations are unique (particularly the the star) and vibrant. 
Read-aloud age recommendation: Toddler and up 

The First Night (by B.G. Hennessy, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher)
Unique illustrations made with acrylic paint on butternut wood, with lines cut with a carving tool, then photographed  and the color transparencies were used for the book. Woah! Such intricate and masterful work used to tell the story of Jesus' first night on earth as a baby. Very simple narration short enough for the shortest attention spans, yet so deep with meaning and beauty at the same time.
Read-aloud age recommendation: Toddler and up 

Christmas in the Manger (by Nola Buck, illustrated by Felicia Bond)
A sweet board book especially appropriate for infants with its short sentence-long text a page spread. It highlights characters of the nativity story: the donkey who carried Mary, the star that lit the sky, the ox that knelt before the baby king, the gift-bearing wise men, and Jesus ("I am the reason for Christmas Day"). Simple text that will drive home the meaning of Christmas for young ones.
Read-aloud age recommendation: Infant to preschooler

Christmas Story: Usborne Young Bible Tales (by Heather Amery, illustrated by Norman Young)
A board book that tells the nativity story from Mary and Jospeh leaving Nazareth to leaving Egypt back to Nazareth when it was safe to bring Jesus back home. Not many nativity picture books tell the whole story (they mostly focus on the birth of Jesus, shepherds, and the wise men), so it was great to explain the events leading up to Jesus's birth as well as their journey away from Bethlehem. This was a bit wordier that other books listed above since it tells more of the Christmas story, but I think it'll still captivate the attention of even young children. 
Read-aloud age recommendation: Older toddler and up 

A Very Noisy Christmas (by Tim Thornborough, illustrated by Jennifer Davison)
Oh my goodness, this is a FUN book! Elliot and I love the two other books we've read by this author (Daniel and the Very Hungry Lion, Jonah and the Very Big Fish) because they are all so creative and encourage active listening. In this one, the reader (whether an older child or a parent) is encouraged to whisper anything that is preceded by a big "Shhhhhhhh" (like when the shepherds are sleeping in the field), while they loudly read anything in bold, large font (like when the angels are rejoicing). Whenever something exciting is about to happen, there is the phrase "then suddenly..." at the end of a page, so I read that very dramatically, which Elliot giggles at. This book encourages a fun read-aloud experience while sharing the story of Jesus' birth, focusing on Him as our Rescuer. It is just SO good!!
Read-aloud age recommendation: Toddler and up 

Silent Night (illustrated by Susan Jeffers)
The beautiful, calming carol is beautifully illustrated to show the story of Jesus' birth. I have been singing this one to Elliot during our morning reading time and it's such a sweet way to start our day. 
Read-aloud age recommendation: Toddler and up 

Away in a Manger (illustrated by Mike Morris)
Elliot's Little People Nativity set has this song playing whenever the angel presses down on the stable, so it was an obvious choice to find a book with the song. He loves playing the melody while I sing-read the book.
Read-aloud age recommendation: Infant and up 

'Twas the Evening of Christmas (by Glenys Nellist)
The nativity story is told very creatively using the cadence and style of the classic poem, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. The illustrations are incredible.  Elliot enjoys it, but it definitely seems a bit long for him.
Read-aloud age recommendation: Preschooler and up 

A Birthday Party for Jesus: God Gave Christmas to Celebrate His Birth (by Susan Jones)
A sweet story about a little bunny who is trying to find the perfect gift to bring to a birthday party for Jesus with other woodland animals. A great way to discuss the true meaning of Christmas. It convinced them that we will have a birthday party for Jesus on Christmas Day!
Read-aloud age recommendation: Toddler and up 

A Night of Great Joy (by Mary Englebreit)
A group of children tell the nativity story through a pageant. Their expressions are so fun and much like what you'd see in an actual pageant with child actors (like a boy dressed up as a Wise Man has a worried face as he is trying not to lose his balance when kneeling!) Darling illustrations by Engelbreit. The book itself is so joyful, but the lasting message of the newborn King, is even more joyful. The nativity story is told in a uniquely fresh way. Elliot loved this one and laughed at the unbalanced Wise Man and the red wagon with a donkey cut-out for a head that was "carrying" Mary. It was a fun way to introduce plays/pageants to him.
Read-aloud age recommendation: A bit long for infants and young toddlers. Elliot is 2 and it was great for him, but I think even up to kinder would enjoy it!

The Donkey's Christmas Song (by Nancy Tafuri)
Such a sweet story about a donkey who wants to bring a gift to the newborn baby, but thinks his bray will be too loud. As all the other barn animals say hello in their distinctive sounds, he finally draws near to the newborn and his hee-haw brings the baby laughter. He keeps him warm by laying down beside him. Obviously the Bible doesn't talk about animals greeting baby Jesus, and this book doesn't mention Jesus' name, but the barn setting and the parents look like a Mary and Joseph, so it can be assumed. Though this wouldn't be my only nativity picture book for kids (since it doesn't actually tell the story), it is still a sweet accompaniment to help kids imagine what it could have been like for baby Jesus to be born in the stable. Where there lots of animals in there? Did they make noise? The book can help adults imagine alongside their children with this sweet tale. 
Read-aloud age recommendation: Read at 2 years old, which was a great age. It's short, simple illustrations that even infants would enjoy, but I think engaging for older preschoolers too.

The Birds of Bethlehem (by Tomie dePaola)
Tomie dePaola brings a creative spin to the nativity story: a birds eye view. Different colored birds each mention what they witnessed as they tell the story of the first Christmas. We both absolutely love this book. Elliot loved calling out the colors of the birds. 
Read-aloud age recommendation: Read at 2 years old, which was a good age. It was too long last Christmas when he was 15 months. I think preschoolers would love it too.

The Friendly Beasts: An Old English Christmas Carol (by Tomie dePaola)
The beautiful carol not often heard anymore is brought to a new generation with Tomie's signature artwork style and charm. From the donkey who "carried His mother up hill and down" to the cow who "gave Him my manger for His bed" and the dove from rafters high in the stable who cooed Him to sleep, this is just such a sweet old carol. We listen/watch the Cendarmont Kids version on Youtube, which Elliot loves because it has kids singing the song next to real barn animals from the song.
Read-aloud age recommendation: Any age since even infants would enjoy being sung to. Older kids can join in the song. 

Room for a Little One (story by Martin Waddell and illustrated by Jason Cockcroft)
A kind ox welcomes in an old dog, a stray cat, a small mouse, a tired donkey, and ultimately Jesus, because "there is always room for a little one here" he says. The book ends with the simple yet powerful reminder that a Little One came for the world. The illustrations are life-like and so intricate and beautiful. This is such a sweet story focused on animals in the stable/barn where Jesus was born, but each little one that enters the stable is preparing for when the Little One is born, so it definitely doesn't just focus on animals. 
Recommended read-aloud age: I read it to Elliot at 2 years old, which seemed a great age. It's not super long, so younger children may enjoy it, especially because of all the animals. I think older kids would enjoy it too.

A Savior Is Born: Rocks Tell the Story of Christmas (created by Patti Rokus)
An incredibly unique and creative way to tell the Christmas story: sparse text (with scripture references) aided by pictures made entirely of rocks! From Gabriel visiting Mary to the wise men traveling to find Jesus, each page depicts a scene using irregularly-shaped rocks expertly placed to really look like an angel, a stable, a donkey, etc. The black background helps the rocks pop out. Elliot loves collecting rocks during our walks, so a book all about rocks was totally a winner for him. The sparse text worked for this book. I would explain certain scenes beyond the few words on the page, so the text was a great starting place. 
Recommended read-aloud age: Any age! Infants would likely like the contrasting colors between pages and rocks and the simple text, but older children would appreciate the intricate placement of the rocks. 

Stable in Bethlehem: A Christmas Counting Book (story by Joy N. Hume, illustrations by Dan Anderson)
Counting down from twelve (drowsy doves over the stable) to one (small baby), this is a gentle and quiet picture book that looks at the characters of the nativity story, animals (both those noted in the Bible, like sheep, and those that could have been there, like dogs and mice) and people (shepherds, wise men, Mary and Joseph). The watercolor illustrations are beautiful and it is just such a sweet book to review numbers while also talking about the nativity story
Recommended read-aloud age: Elliot enjoyed it at two years-old. This was a good age to start, though I think even kindergartners would still enjoy it too.

Listen to the Silent Night (story by Dandi Daley Mackall, illustrations by Steve Johnson & Lou Fancher)
It was not such a silent night with the flip, flap of Joseph's sandals as he trudged from inn to inn, the rap, tap tap on the door, the moo of the cows, the swish of the desert sand "as the camels raced toward a far-off land", and the flat-flut-flutter of the angel wings with the "wondrous message" that Christ the King is born. Reverent and rhythmic, this is such a beautiful book, both in text and breathtaking, realistic paintings. It makes you think about the many sounds on that night. Elliot and I loved this one.
Recommended read-aloud age: Older toddler and up (due to length).  

What are your favorite nativity picture books?