The Shortest Day

Candlewick. Oct. 2019. 32p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780763686987.
K-Gr 4–This lovely celebration of winter solstice blends imagery from the long-ago revelries of northern Europeans with modern-day observations and global traditions. Originally created for a 1974 theatrical production of the Christmas Revels, the poem is filled with ear-pleasing rhythms, lyrical language, and a dramatic momentum that pulls listeners in. The gouache illustrations open with atmospheric renderings of old Europe; the curved outlines and warm earth tones bring to mind ancient cave paintings. As pages turn, the sun, perched on the shoulders of a dusky gray figure with a walking stick, strides across the horizon crouching ever lower, until it sets behind the backdrop of wooden houses (“So the shortest day came,/and the year died”). The next scene shows a line of villagers venturing into the night, “singing, dancing,/To drive the dark away.” They place lighted candles in trees, hang their homes in evergreen, and burn “beseeching fires all night long/To keep the year alive” until “the new year’s sunshine blazed awake.” Their delighted voices reverberate through the centuries, as modern-day celebrants “carol, feast, give thanks,/And dearly love their friends,/and hope for peace” in a cozy home festooned with both Christmas tree and menorah. A line of children head outdoors to “Welcome Yule!,” their silhouettes and joyful expressions cleverly echoing the villagers from long ago (the sun figure reappears on the final page).
VERDICT A treat to share aloud, this book makes a unique choice for seasonal sharing, opens discussion about rebirth rituals and holidays that incorporate light, and celebrates hope even in darkest times.

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