New to Jolabokaflod? How to Plan a Really Good One

If you like books and if you like Christmas and you’re up for creating a new tradition–I’ve got something really cool to share with you. Jolabokaflod. Don’t hurt yourself trying to say that one–we can’t all be Icelandic. To be honest, I don’t know a ton about Iceland, but what I do know–I love. They treasure books. And they make books into a celebration and that is a great idea. This post is all about how you can plan your own Jolabokaflod–an Icelandic celebration of books–even if you’re from Minnesota.

We’ll talk about what Jolabokaflod is (it’s all about books!), how you can create this tradition in your own home, BOOK IDEAS for everyone in your family, and how to make it even cozier. Let’s go!

What is Jolabokaflod exactly?

First off, let’s talk about the pronunciation: Jólabókaflóðið. 

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Ha! That didn’t help, did it? Well then, let’s just start at the definition then.

Here’s what Wikipedia says about Jolabokaflod: 

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(Icelandic for “Yule book flood”) is the annual release of new books in Iceland occurring in the months before Christmas, a national publishing tradition for new titles.

Newly published books are listed in a yearly compilation called bókatíðindi (“book news”) that is distributed to all households for free; the total number of new books published was about 800 in 2007 and 760 in 2008. A further ramification of the custom stems from both Iceland’s centuries-long literary tradition, and strict WWII currency restrictions which limited the amount of imported giftware. Given that restrictions on imported paper were more lenient than on other products, books became a massively popular Christmas gift, and indeed the default gift, and thus the custom was established for the settling in and of the reading of said books.

I love the history behind this. That the restrictions of books and paper in general lead to this national celebration of books!

How to Plan a Jolabokaflod

Again, I’m not Icelandic, and I don’t mean totally Americanize the tradition, but I love the idea so much, I’m planning my own for our family this year. We love to read in our house and I love the idea of setting aside an evening, right before Christmas to indulge in some designated reading time and sharing new books. 

We mostly reserve Friday nights for Family Night. We’ll usually order pizza and watch a movie, play a board game, or go out together. But one family night a few months ago, we decided to just read together. Everyone grabbed their own books, I grabbed some picture books to read with Vera (5), and we lit the fire, added some snacks and relaxed. It was so nice! I didn’t know my kids would love it like they did. But I think even screen-loving teens enjoy an excuse to unplug, put the phones away and enjoy the peace and quiet.

To plan a Jolabokaflod in our house, I’m keeping it so simple. Choosing 2-4 new books to wrap and give each person in the family. Wrapping up our new Christmas pajamas. Giving them after dinner on the night before Christmas Eve. Adding some snacks, a fire, and a long session of family reading. 

So simple, but so relaxing!

Choosing Books Everyone Will Love

The first thing I did was go over each person in my family and choose books that I knew they would love. I created some lists here that I thought would make shopping for your own family a little easier. 

I wanted each of my kids to receive a book I knew they would love–one that goes along with a series or an author they were already enjoying. But I wanted them to receive some books that were new to them too.

I created a short list of book ideas for different interests and ages of kids.

For the Younger Crowd

Picture books are always a good investment. I think  of them as building a library I can pass on to my kids someday. When we travel back to my parents’ home, the home I grew up in, I love to look through the shelves of books that were mine when I was little. Here’s some of our favorites: 

  1. Anne Arrives: Inspired by Anne of Green Gables by Kallie George // This is a brand new book that Vera will be receiving on our Jolabokaflod night. The illustrations look amazing and I love the story of Anne of Green Gables!
  2. Mary Poppins (picture book) // This is also a brand new picture book derived from the original book. The illustrations in this one are so good!!
  3. The Story Orchestra: Four Seasons in One Day // This whole series are some of Vera’s favorites. We also have The Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty. The illustrations are amazing and she loves that you can hear a piece of the music on each page. 
  4. The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton // Pretty much all Virginia Lee Burton books are amazing, but The Little House is one of Vera’s favorites–the poor little country house that almost gets swallowed by the bit city. 

More Ideas for Little Ones: 

For Kids Who Love History

We love history in our house, so naturally, there’s a lot of historical fiction and biographies being read here. Here’s a few titles that my kids loved:

  1. The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley // My two middle kids read and loved this book. It’s about a girl during WWII in an abusive situation that’s actually finding solace in one of the world’s darkest times. 
  2. Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis // We loved reading this one aloud. It’s about a boy finding his way during the Great Depression. 
  3. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry // This was the first historical fiction book I ever read, so it holds a special place in my heart. It’s about a girl in the Netherlands during WWII having to do some hard things to protect her friends and family. 
  4. The Birchbark House by Louise Erdich // If your family likes The Little House Series, you will love this series too. I think of it as a Native American version of the Little House series. So descriptive and such a great story!

More book ideas for your young historians:

Fantasy Books Your Kids Will Love

I will admit, the fantasy genre has never been my first choice, but my children love it! Here’s some of their favorites:

  1. The Percy Jackson 5 Olympian series // There are a lot of books by this author, but the Olympian series was by far their favorite. You can get the whole series here at a really great price!
  2. The Green Ember by S.D. Smith // Full Disclosure: We have not read this series yet! But I am really excited to read it to my kids because I know they will love it!
  3. The Giver Quartet by Lois Lowry // My 13-year-old flew through this series a couple of years ago and he really loved these books. You can get the whole set in hardback at a great price here. 
  4. A Wrinkle in Time // This is a such a great classic! 

If Your Kids Like Mysteries

…and my kids do love mysteries! Here’s a few favorites from our house: 

  1. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin // You know it’s going to be a good mystery when the book begins with the reading of a will of a deceased relative. 
  2. The Nancy Drew Series // We started Sophia (then, 9) on this series last year and she was hooked! Over the year I think she’s read around 40 Nancy Drew books!
  3. The London Eye Mystery // Three friends go on a ride at the fair and only two get off. Fun mystery book!
  4. Serafina series // We loved reading these books. They take place at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC–our old stomping grounds and one of our favorite places. Serafina has a very strange upbringing, as her father is the caretaker of Biltmore and keeps Serafina hidden from the homeowners. 

Start a New Series

This would be a great way to kick off a new series! You could give the first book of the series, read it together on your Jolabokaflod night and read the rest of the series throughout the year. Here’s a few series you might want to check out:

  1. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls // My kids and I got hooked on these stories through their podcast. There’s so many of these amazing stories and perfect to read one each morning or night. 
  2. The Boxcar Children series // This is a classic! 
  3. Diary of a Wimpy Kid series // Ok, not my most favorite series, but for my kids? All three of my older kids have devoured these books! I think it’s the characters, the funny things that always seem to happen to the main character and the sibling relationships that crack my kids up and keep them coming back. 
  4. The Series of Unfortunate Events // This was probably one of our most memorable read alouds together. It’s so quirky and weird…and a bit dark for a children’s series, but somehow it just clicked with our family and we loved reading these!

Favorite Books for Tweens and Teens

The books for my tweens and teens are sometimes MY favorites too! There’s so many I could’ve chosen here, but here’s a quick list: 

  1. The Book Thief (possibly my favorite book ever!)
  2. Animal Farm by George Orwell // Great book for learning about government too!
  3. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
  4. Anything by Agatha ChristieAnd Then There Were None is my favorite
  5. Lord of the Flies— my boys loves this one.
  6. The Outsiders (one of my oldest’s Jolabokaflod gifts this year)
  7. Miss Peregrine Series–it’s a weird series, but really good if your kids like fantasies.
  8. Magazine subscriptions! Grab the first magazine from the newsstand to give to them on Jolabokaflod and they’ll have a new thing to read every month!
  9. The Hunger Games–all three of my older kids love this series. You can follow it up with the movies! 
  10. The Princess Bride–fun book to follow with a movie too!

More Book Ideas for Teens and Tweens

New PJ’s for an Even Cozier Night

We always do new Christmas pj’s the night before Christmas. This year though, we’re getting our Christmas pj’s a night early so we can enjoy them while we read our new books!

My very favorite pajamas for kids come from Hanna Andersson. They are so thick and durable, I’ve passed some of ours down and they’re being worn by the 5th and 6th kids by now! 

As our kids have gotten older and matching pj’s aren’t as cute anymore, we’ve opted for nice, flannel pants and fresh, white t-shirts. 

1. Flannel Plaid Pajamas
2. Fair Isle Family Pajamas
3. Navy Flannel Plaid Pajamas
4. Winter Wonderland Pajamas 

More Christmas Ideas You Might Like: 

Traditions You Can Keep Year After Year

When we begin and carry on traditions in our families, they should be rich and memorable–not just another thing to check off a list. Try and plan a Jolabokaflod this year if your family loves books and reading. It just might be one that sticks! 

Want to plan a Jolabokaflod? Here's how to plan a really good one. Book choices for all the kids in your family!

Enjoy your night of reading! 

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