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Creating an Advent Calendar, Picture-Book Style

December 20, 2011


I’m so excited to participate in this year’s Advent Tour (hosted by the lovely Kelly and Marg), since I have the perfect topic! In November, I came across a neat idea for a book advent calendar on Apartment Therapy. I immediately decided I wanted to do something similar for my five-year-old niece this year, so I sprang into action and ended up quite happy with the result. Here’s how to make your own picture book advent calendar in three easy steps.

Additional Materials

Wrapping Paper

Ribbon

Animal Sidekick (optional)

Step One: Get the books.

I spent a couple hours researching winter and Christmas-themed picture books (my niece has never been to church, as my sister is not religious, so I wasn’t particularly concerned about a Jesus-focus, but I also didn’t limit my list to secular-only topics). As regular readers know, there’s nothing I love more than putting together a themed reading list, so I had a ton of fun! Because I’m committed to diversity and feminism, it took a bit longer to ferret out books featuring non-mainstream characters (aka, most of the books I first read about centered on WASP American boys), but in the end I was happy with my list. Then came the challenging part: since I’m not independently wealthy, I was relying on the library for the books. Since we have three week checkout periods, and two renewals per book as long as they weren’t on hold, I wasn’t too worried about books being overdue before being unwrapped, but I did have to time my hold requests so as to be early enough to beat out other parents/guardians/etc. interested in Christmas books but late enough that I could pick them up just before December to make them due as late as possible. In the end, I managed, and on November 29th I went to pick up the loot.

Step Two: Transform them into a calendar.

Meanwhile, I’d also bought two rolls of pretty holiday-themed wrapping paper, a roll of plain brown packaging paper, and big spools of red ribbon and natural twine (I like the rustic look). Once I had all of my books, I became a wrapping machine! I’m not going to lie, this took several hours, so make sure you have some good DVDs/audiobooks/etc. lined up as entertainment. Once I finally had all of them wrapped, I added ribbon or twine in simple bows according to this video because my niece hates it when she can’t get the things untied! Next, I numbered them, using little cut-out circles on the decorate paper. Finally, I lined them up in a pretty wicker basket my mom usually uses for magazines and added some more ribbon/twine to it

Step Three: Enjoy!

Once I’d finally finished, I admired the effect in a haze of self-congratulation. ;) My niece loves it, although now that we’re about halfway through, she’s chastised me for not having all animal-themed books (unfortunately, being an aunt does not grant you psychic powers as to which books will be your niece’s favourite). Her absolute favourite so far is Anne Mueke and Nathan Hale’s The Dinosaur’s Night Before Christmas, which includes a hilarious appendix of dinosaur-themed rewritings of classic Christmas carols. We’ve been singing them every night!

All in all, I’d definitely recommend this if you have a few hours to spare in November and want to delight a child in your life! Since I used my (incredible) public library, the only expense was for the paper and ribbon: it ended up coming in at $15. I’m sure I’ll be doing another version next year, probably with more animal books! ;) In case you’re curious, I’ve added a full list of the books I used at the bottom of this post; while they were all listed as being in a five-year-old appropriate age bracket, we’ve found some of them are actually a bit old for her. But this is a good launching off place at least! Also, I’ve just copied and pasted the books from my library’s site, so sorry about the titles that don’t have illustrator acknowledgements. And yes, there’s more than twenty-four titles: I decided to go up through Christmas day since my niece doesn’t like that advent calendars end on the 24th, I wrapped up one for her to undo on November 30th since I was out of town the first week of December, and then I ended up with one ‘bonus’ that I just marked with a star instead of a number.

Advent Picture Books 2011

  • Mim’s Christmas Jam by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney.
  • The Christmas Witch, story and pictures by Steven Kellogg.
  • Federico and the Magi’s gift : a Latin American Christmas story by Beatriz Vidal
  • The All-I’ll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll, written by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Jerry Pinkn
  • Grandma’s Gift by Eric Velasquez.
  • Baboushka and the Three Kings by Ruth Robbins, illustrated by Nicolas Sidjokov
  • Snowbear’s Christmas Countdown by Theresa Smythe
  • La Noche Buena : a Christmas Story by Antonio Sacré, illustrated by Angela Domínguez
  • The Dinosaurs’ Night Before Christmas by Anne Muecke, illustrated by Nathan Hale
  • The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree : an Appalachian Story by Gloria Houston
  • Christmas Magic by Michael Garland
  • Tree of Cranes, written and illustrated by Allen Say
  • The Best Christmas Ever by Chih-Yuan Chen
  • Erik and the Christmas Horse by Hans Peterson, translated from the Swedish by Christine Hyatt
  • I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas, words and music by John Rox, illustrated by Bruce Whatley
  • The Snow Angel by Christine Leeson, illustrated by Jane Chapman
  • Auntie Claus by Elise Primavera
  • Santa Claus : the World’s Number One Toy Expert by Marla Frazee
  • Jingle Bells, written and illustrated by Iza Trapani
  • In the Snow, written and illustrated by Huy Voun Lee
  • Willow and the Snow Day Dance by Denise Brennan-Nelson ; illustrated by Cyd Moore
  • Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett
  • An Amish Christmas by Richard Ammon, illustrated by Pamela Patrick
  • The Mitten : a Ukrainian Folktale, adapted and illustrated by Jan Brett
  • The Polar Express, written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg
  • Jeannette Claus Saves Christmas by Douglas Rees, illustrated by Olivier Latyk
  • The Miracle of the First Poinsettia : a Mexican Christmas Story written by Joanne Oppenheim
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40 Comments leave one →
  1. verityjdo permalink
    December 20, 2011 6:10 am

    That is such a beautiful idea. And I love the idea of using library books too!

  2. December 20, 2011 6:17 am

    This is such a lovely idea! I really should keep this in mind for next year… or for a couple more years down the line when my son is old enough to appreciate books. :D

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. December 20, 2011 6:40 am

    What a fun idea! And what a fun aunt! I’m giving lots of books for Christmas, but not in such a creative fashion. Maybe next year I’ll be getting my crafty on …

    Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  4. December 20, 2011 6:54 am

    Thanks for sharing this great gift idea! I’m filing this away for a time when I need it.

    Also, love the list of books! I’m glad to see Jan Brett on there–The mitten was one of my absolute favorites!

  5. December 20, 2011 7:05 am

    What an amazing advent idea, and what a wonderful aunt you are! I think I’d like a version of this myself…

  6. December 20, 2011 7:06 am

    Oops, the above comment is from me, not the yorkshiremuseumbookclub. It defaulted to my bookclub WordPress account and I didn’t notice!

  7. December 20, 2011 8:10 am

    This is SUCH a fantastic idea! Gosh, I wish I had had you as an Aunt growing up. You would most certainly have been my favourite. :) There’s nothing better than books at Christmas, especially when they are themed around the holiday.

  8. December 20, 2011 8:14 am

    Fabulous idea! And even more fabulous because you used your Public Library. Good example for your niece. Wish I lived close enough to my grandsons to try this out. Thanks for sharing your idea.

  9. December 20, 2011 8:22 am

    What a cute idea! I love those photos too. And Thistle looks like a good helper!

  10. December 20, 2011 8:24 am

    What a fabulous idea! I have a feeling Thistle was essential to the project.

  11. elizabethannewrites permalink
    December 20, 2011 8:31 am

    This is such a wonderful idea! I’m glad my google alert for “picture books” led me to your blog. I will definitely be back.

  12. December 20, 2011 8:53 am

    I *love* this! Thank you for sharing the idea — and the titles!

  13. December 20, 2011 9:33 am

    Wow. This is an amazing idea! And your doggy sidekick gave me a big laugh. My cat loves taking part in wrapping presents, too.

  14. Wendi permalink
    December 20, 2011 9:41 am

    This is fabulous. I’m going to do this for my daughter for next year since we left all of our Christmas books with my sister when we moved from Wisconsin. This is perfect because maybe I can get good deals on Christmas books after Christmas.

  15. December 20, 2011 10:07 am

    What a terrific tradition, and how imaginative to employ the library’s resources. Not to make light of the lugging home and the wrapping (I know exactly how long that kind of thing takes, but as you’ve said, it’s a nice excuse to watch old favourites while you work) and the juggling of duedates (I’d be forced to take most of my own library books back, as we have a 50 book borrowing limit, so claiming 30 of those would leave me scrambling, and yes, I know, that makes me an addict). Congrats on the Good-Aunt-ness!

  16. December 20, 2011 10:27 am

    Eva, you have outdone yourself. This is SO COOL!!!! Wonderful, beautiful job.

  17. December 20, 2011 10:53 am

    So much better than e-books!

    Writers know a book is to love, to hold, to keep.

  18. December 20, 2011 11:25 am

    This was such a great idea, Eva! I am glad you shared it with us. :)

  19. December 20, 2011 12:38 pm

    Such a fabulous, thoughtful project and I love that you were able to use library books!

  20. December 20, 2011 1:17 pm

    What a fantastic idea. I wish I’d heard of it before this month began… maybe next year I’ll do one!

  21. December 20, 2011 1:17 pm

    I’ve seen this idea floating around a lot this season on the mommy/crafty blogs. I don’t think I’ve seen a version any more adorable than yours though! And I so LOVE the idea of using library books!!! I’ll bet she’s not the only one enjoying it either–I’m guessing Auntie Eva is having a ball, too, isn’t she? :D

  22. December 20, 2011 2:17 pm

    What a brilliant idea!

  23. Caroline permalink
    December 20, 2011 3:49 pm

    What a fantastic idea – I may very well shamelessly steal it next year for my son. Although I think he might be upset if he doesn’t get the chocolate advent calendar, too!

  24. December 20, 2011 4:00 pm

    I love this idea! This is the only kind of advent calendar that I can imagine fitting happily into this busy time of year.

  25. December 20, 2011 5:38 pm

    This is such a fabulous idea!

    Thank you so much for sharing this idea as your advent tour post!

  26. December 20, 2011 6:00 pm

    I absolutely adore this idea. I saw it too late this year to do it, but I plan on doing it next year. You have one lucky little niece!

    Merry Christmas Eva!

  27. December 20, 2011 6:31 pm

    Oh, I wish that I had thought of this before Z was too old! I especially love the idea of doing it with library books. But, alas, the other day I got him a free picture book from the iBooks store and said “I got you a new book!” He said “Is it a chapter book?” I said no and he sighed and rolled his eyes. (Later I caught him reading it though!)

  28. December 20, 2011 7:06 pm

    What a neat idea! (And what a challenge to time them all just right!) Glancing through the list, you have one of my favorites–I still reread it at Christmas–The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree. I have an aunt and uncle who live not too far from where it’s set, so even without the illustrations, I can picture it perfectly.

  29. December 20, 2011 7:07 pm

    Your niece is very lucky to have such a wonderful Aunt! This just goes to show that you don’t have to spend much money to give a really meaningful gift. This is a great idea!

  30. December 20, 2011 8:38 pm

    I love your idea. Can’t wait until next year to do this for at least one of my grandkids. Thanks for sharing.

  31. December 20, 2011 8:46 pm

    What an amazing idea! This makes me wish I had a small child in my life so I could do something like this for them. Maybe I’ll make a bookish advent calendar for myself next year. :)

  32. December 20, 2011 9:24 pm

    I love, love, LOVE this idea! I’m going to steal when I start having kiddos. :)

  33. December 21, 2011 4:55 am

    Such a cool idea and you’ve given me an idea – maybe a poem a day themed one next year?

  34. December 21, 2011 9:06 am

    wow, thats pretty and cute, what a great idea.

  35. December 21, 2011 3:38 pm

    That is so freaking amazing!!!! I so want to do this for my niece when she can read!!!!

  36. December 21, 2011 6:53 pm

    Eva, this is wonderful! I’m going to share it amongst my fellow librarians because I know your idea and support will cheer them up completely :) I love how you organized this in a fun yet frugal mannner, and have made it accessible to everyone. Plus the super wrapping makes it so very special. Your niece is one lucky girl. Now I only wish I had young kids in the family to give this to as well!

    I see some of my favourite titles in your list too — especially The Mitten by Jan Brett. It’s originally a Ukrainian folktale, and her illustrations reflect that a bit. I can’t read it aloud without starting to sound like my Ukrainian grandmother, though, it is very strange ;)

    I really like some of the suggestions in the comments so far as well: I’d love to create a seasonal poem version — great idea Jodie! And if you did want to buy the books, starting next week would be a great time to get some on sale, and check out clearance sales all year. Thanks for sharing this with so many wonderful photos as well – inspiring to see your handiwork (plus Thistle’s of course)

  37. ana permalink
    December 27, 2011 12:51 am

    Magic idea, Eva!! Thank you so much for sharing it. Can see that it would be marvellous for the 7 years old grand son next year. Can’t wait.

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