December Holiday Read Alouds for Upper Elementary Classrooms

December Holiday Read Alouds for Upper Elementary Classrooms

December in the classroom is a magical time! The air is filled with excitement, the children are all smiles, and as the weather gets a bit cooler, it is the perfect time to gather together in the reading area for a good book!

But how do you pick the perfect December read-aloud that all of the students in your class can connect with? It is definitely tricky! That is why I love to make sure that my December picture book stack is well balanced to represent different holidays and traditions, especially some that my students may not have heard of before!

This list of suggested December picture books for upper elementary classrooms is a great place to get started when it comes to going beyond just the Christmas read-aloud. These books have all been read in my classroom and enjoyed by all students, no matter what holiday they celebrate, or don't celebrate.

Don't forget to grab the free printable activities that go alongside some of these picture books, just perfect to add to your December lesson plans.

1. The Little Owl and the Big Tree written by Jonah Winter

christmas read aloud for kids

This sweet tale tells the story of Rockefeller, the small owl that stayed in his large evergreen tree even after it was cut down to be the main Christmas tree attraction in Rockefeller Center in New York City. This tiny Northern Saw-whet Owl stayed buried in his hole, afraid to come out even after the tree he lived in traveled for hours to get to NYC. This book tells how this little owl was found, nursed back to health, and released back into the wild. I love this one for December because it is not Christmas focused and is a real story that the kids love! I love to read this book and then dive deep into a nonfiction article about this book as a paired passage reading activity.

2.  How Santa Got His Job written by Stephen Krensky

Santa read aloud for kids

This fun read follows Santa as he takes and leaves different jobs, until finding the right fit! Each job he takes has a problem that leads him to quit or get fired and take a new job. But each job he leaves provides him with an important skill that will help him do his job as the Santa Claus that we all know! The kids will love seeing Santa in different jobs and roles. A fun follow-up activity would be to write persuasive letters to Santa, telling him to take the year off after working all these jobs!

3.  Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree written by Robert Barry

Christmas read aloud for kids

I have read this book for years, and it is always one of my holiday favorites to read aloud each December! Written in prose and chock full of good word choice and vocabulary, this story follows the small pieces of one big Christmas tree as it is passed on to others. I love that this book can be used to illustrate how one action can have many different effects, which lends itself to lessons on kindness and the power of one kind deed.  

4. The Polar Express written by Chris Van Allsburg

Christmas read aloud for kids

No December read-aloud list is complete without The Polar Express! A truly classic tale, this story follows the adventures of a young boy on the way to the North Pole on the polar express. The adventure comes at the perfect time as the young boy is beginning to wonder about Santa's existence. As with all of Chris Van Allsburg's books, this one is cleverly written, includes beautiful illustrations, and will have the students at the end of their seats as they predict, infer, and connect as each page is read!

5. The Broken Ornament written by Tony DiTerlizzi

Christmas read aloud for kids

The Broken Ornament tells the story of a young boy named Jack who gets caught up in the Christmas rush and breaks his mom's special ornament. Throughout the story, he finds out why the ornament was so special to her and learns the real meaning of Christmas...the value of kindness and giving. After being visited by a Christmas fairy, Jack decides on a special way to try to make it up to his mom.  This book is a perfect read-aloud to springboard into discussions about the students' family holiday traditions.

6.  The Nutcracker written by Valeria Docampo

The Nutcracker book for kids

This beautifully illustrated version of the classic Nutcracker is one your students will love, especially if they have not heard this story.  Not familiar with this story? It is about a young girl who is gifted with a nutcracker on Christmas Eve. She falls asleep and dreams of a magical land with candy and sweets and is protected by her Nutcracker who has come to life! I love to read this book before diving deep into a nonfiction article about this ballet as a paired passage reading activity.

7.  Night of Las Posadas written by Tomie DePaolo

Christmas tradition read aloud for kids

This book is a religious story that tells about the tradition of Las Posadas. The tradition of Las Posadas is one that takes place in Mexico and lasts for nine days. It is a procession that re-enacts the story of Mary and Joseph looking for a place to rest and have Jesus. This story is definitely one for classrooms and families that celebrate Christmas and offers a twist at the end that will have students critically thinking!

Learning about different winter holidays around the world? You will love these activities.

8.  The Legend of the Red Poinsettia written by Tomie DePaolo

Christmas tradition book for kids Poinsettia

Have you ever wondered why Poinsettias are commonly called the Christmas flower? This story, retold and illustrated by Tomie dePaola, tells about the legend that explains why Poinsettias are associated with Christmas. A young girl has nothing to bring to church to celebrate Baby Jesus so she brings weeds. Once inside the church, the weeds blossom into beautiful and shining red and green flowers. I love the legend and the special author's note at the end, too!

9.  All of a Kind Family written by Emily Jenkins and Paul O.  Zelinsky

Hanukkah story for kids

This is a must-add to your December collection! This book takes place in New York City in 1912. It follows one family who celebrates the first night of Hanukkah by making latkes. I love how each page is filled with traditions this family celebrates and holds close to their hearts. No matter what holiday you and your students celebrate, everyone will instantly want to share one of their own family holiday traditions following a read-aloud of this story!

10.  Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins written by Eric A. Kimmel

Hanukkah story for kids

I love this story! It is so engaging and always has students at the edge of their seats, cheering Hershel on as he attempts to save Hanukkah from the goblins. This original story, complete with unique and beautiful illustrations tells the story of one man as he tries to save Hanukkah from pesky goblins who try to stop the holiday from taking place. The author's note offers insight into how this story was created and why it was written. Definitely a must-add to your collection!

11.  Oskar and the Eight Blessings written by Tanya Simon

Hanukkah story for kids

This is my favorite Hanukkah story to share. This one focuses on kindness and blessings and helps students to appreciate the small things in life. This story takes place in Manhattan on Christmas Eve and the 7th day of Hanukkah. The year is 1938 and Oskar, a young refugee from Nazi Germany is in NYC looking for his aunt whom he has never met. As he travels the city and streets of Manhattan he meets 8 strangers, each offering one small act of kindness. I love the discussions that take place around a reading of this book!

12.  Together for Kwanzaa written by Juwanda G. Ford

kwanza story for kids

This story focuses on one family who celebrates Kwanzaa. Filled with traditions and practices of this winter holiday, your students will learn just how important this holiday is! The youngest of the family is worried that her brother will not make it home in time for Kwanzaa celebrations. As they prepare for the holiday the family all comes together, making this year's celebration extra special.

13.  Seven Spools of Thread - Kwanzaa Angela Shelf Medearis

Seven Spools of thread Kwanzaa story

This book is perfect to introduce students to the holiday of Kwanzaa during the month of December, but its message is perfect for any time of the year! This story has so many positive messages and follows the theme of family, community, and working together. In this story, seven brothers most put their differences aside and work together to complete a mission their father set out for them. The powerful tale perfectly illustrates the value kindness and teamwork. The introduction to the story is a must-read as it explains the history of Kwanzaa and goes over each of the guiding 7 principles. I love reading this one each year!

Grab these free coordinating book activities:

When it comes to sharing favorite read-alouds in December, remember to share books with a wide range of holidays, traditions, and cultures. The kids love learning about different holidays, their origins, and the traditions associated with them. This list is a great way to get started, they are all student approved! Happy Holidays!

Looking for more meaningful holiday activities like these? See more here

christmas and holiday nonfiction reading activities for kids

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December Holiday Read Alouds for Upper Elementary Classrooms

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