“This gorgeously illustrated celebration of Yule is a better subject for deep study and reflection than a leisure book for children”
The Shortest Day marries Cooper’s renowned poem with Ellis’ gorgeous and mystical gouache illustrations to create a celebration of Yule that travels through time and place, shepherding traditions through the centuries. Even before the text begins, a symbolic grey man with the head of a sun ages and collapses to form a mountain and a setting sun while people bent with cold and work collect firewood. As the reader is transported from the past to the present, select repetition of scenes with long-ago and modern revellers, dancing forth from houses and holding hands to embrace the sun mirrors Cooper’s assertion of the link through time. The illustrations are shrouded in darkness, befitting the shortest day of the year and showcasing the beauty and power of light and those who protect it, although the grey sun man borders on the bizarre and detracts from the Christmasy feel of the remainder of the book. The depth and sophistication of Cooper’s writing is unusual in a children’s book, decreasing comprehension and requiring more effort from its audience than may be enjoyable in a leisure setting for the picture book audience.
In this seasonal treasure, Newbery Medalist Susan Cooper’s beloved poem heralds the winter solstice, illuminated by Caldecott Honoree Carson Ellis’s strikingly resonant illustrations.
So the shortest day came, and the year died . . .
As the sun set on the shortest day of the year, early people would gather to prepare for the long night ahead. They built fires and lit candles. They played music, bringing their own light to the darkness, while wondering if the sun would ever rise again. Written for a theatrical production that has become a ritual in itself, Susan Cooper’s poem “The Shortest Day” captures the magic behind the returning of the light, the yearning for traditions that connect us with generations that have gone before — and the hope for peace that we carry into the future. Richly illustrated by Carson Ellis with a universality that spans the centuries, this beautiful book evokes the joy and community found in the ongoing mystery of life when we celebrate light, thankfulness, and festivity at a time of rebirth. Welcome Yule!
What do you know about Yule? Read the note by the author in the back of the book to learn a little more and then talk about your own Christmas traditions. Do you have any that center around light?
Beautifully written and illustrated, but not terribly exciting. Good for explaining the shortest day of the year!
Susan Cooper is one of our foremost children’s authors; her classic five-book fantasy sequence The Dark Is Rising has sold millions of copies worldwide. Her many books have won the Newbery Medal, a Newbery Honor, and the <i>Boston Globe-Horn Book</i> Award, and been shortlisted five times for the Carnegie Medal. She combines fantasy with history in <i>Victory</i> (a <i>Washington Post</i> Top Ten for Children novel), <i> King of Shadows</i> and <i>Ghost Hawk</i>, and her magical <i>The Boggart and the Monster</i>, second in a trilogy, won the Scottish Arts Council’s Children’s Book Award. Susan Cooper lives on a saltmarsh island in Massachusetts, and you can visit her online at TheLostLand.com.
For my parents