How can I have only mentioned Lizbeth Zwerger once in the past year? She is far and away one of the most compelling beautiful illustrators working today. And, best of all, she illustrated classic stories, some of which are Christmas stories, like, The Nutcracker, Gift of the Magi, and The Christmas Carol.
The Gift of the Magi (above), by O. Henry, which I read every Christmas, is one of my very favorite illustrated books. Zwerger uses color sparingly, and captures all of the best moments: when Della first lets down her hair, when Jim stands at the door, the weight of the world on his shoulder. Their circumstances are humble, but through Zwerger's drawings we see they indeed are "the magi"--full of life and light.
Zwerger has illustrated The Nutcracker twice (in 1979 and again in 2003). Zwerger thinks E.T.A. Hoffman (the author of The Nutcracker) is "the Romantic poet par excellence" so it is not surprising that she tackles his work over and over again.Unfortunately, I cannot find a copy of the 1979 version--but her 2004 adaptation (she has had to shorten the text, with the help of Susanne Koppe) is wonderful and vibrant. I don't think Hoffman is the Romantic poet par excellence, so Koppe's textual cuts are welcome. This is a wonderful gift for anyone who loves the ballet--reimagined and truly delightful version of this glorious tale.
Zwerger's version of Clement C. Moore's The Night Before Christmas is, as is typical of her, completely non-iconic. I mentioned, when I discussed her illustrated Bible that she never picks the commonly illustrated moments from a story--rather she breaks with tradition to create a new set of illustrations. She does this again in The Night Before Christmas--there is no round, jolly Santa with cherub-like cheeks and a bright red nose. Nor is there a tiny New England village blanketed with snow. Instead we see a spare Scandanavian house, a small sled, and a more cheerful but less cliched Santa than any I've met. Which is quite a feat, considering how cliched the entire Night Before Christmas poem has become.
Zwerger has also illustrated a version of The Christmas Carol, though I've never seen it, so I cannot say if it is good (I'm sure it is though!). She has also illustrated Oscar Wilde's story The Selfish Giant, which is not strictly a Christmas story but is about the Christ Child. This book is extremely rare, so if you see it at your library book sale, or anywhere, buy it! Also, though I've plugged it before, I highly recommend her illustrated Bible. You can find these, and many more of her titles on her Author Page in the Little Lamb Bookshop or by clicking any of the titles below.