The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper

The Shortest Day of the Year

Susan Cooper, Author

Carson Ellis, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Poetry, Oct. 22, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 4 and up

Themes: Winter Solstice, Shortest Day, Seasonal Light, Legends, Holiday, Celebrations

Opening: “So the shortest day came, / and the year died…”

Publisher Synopsis:

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!

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.
Why I like this book:
This breathtaking and contemplative book begins in silence with Ellis’s gorgeous gouache illustrations imagining how early humans began preparing for the longer nights. There is a pause. On page 5, Cooper’s poem begins, “So the shortest day came…” and draws readers into the seasonal cycles of light and the continuity of life, culminating in the joy of the Yule.
Cooper’s poetic book is for everyone (young and old) and is a non-Christian view of the joyful arrival of the winter solstice worldwide. People of all cultures will  celebrate with song, dance, lights, decorations, and feasts with families and friends. And they will hold a hope for peace in their hearts.
Resource:  Make sure you read the author’s information about the deeper meaning of winter solstice at the end of the story.
The Winter Solstice is Saturday, December 21. You may be interested in participating in the the Global Silent Minute for peace and unity. The time on the East Coast of the US is 4 p.m., 1 p.m. on the West Coast. You can got to the Unity of Silence website to learn more. You don’t need to join anything to participate.
Susan Cooper wrote The Shortest Day for John Langstaff’s Christmas Revels, where it is performed annually accross the country. She is the author of the classic fantasy sequence The Dark Is Rising (which includes the Newbery Medal winner The Grey King) and many other books for children and adults.
Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.
*Review copy provided by the publisher.
About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

19 thoughts on “The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper

  1. Those ancient people were smart to bust out the candles and fires for the long nights. Mom and I don’t like the dark either. We have lots of nightlights plus TV. Plus we know that the sun will always come back up. Whew!

    Love and licks,


  2. One of my favorite days in the year is the Winter Solstice because I have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and the Solstice means the days begin to get longer again. This has always been one of my favorite poems, and I always used it in the classroom. But you’re right, this book elevates the poem to a whole new level. And thanks for the info on the Global Silent Minute. I will definitely be participating in that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am so glad that this one of your favorite poems — mine too. I love the symbolism of light, unity, and peace. I will be participating too in the Global Silent minute — have been for years. Thanks for sharing, I enjoyed your post.


  3. This sounds like such a nice book! I forgot that the winter solstice was about to happen, and I didn’t know about the Global Silent Minute—now I want to participate! Thanks so much for the review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s why I asked if I could share a PR today — because it is such a special book and people may want to know more about the importance of the solstice. I’m glad you want to participate in the Global Silent Minute. I will be joining you.


  4. There’s a lovely lantern-lit solstice walk in the town I used to live in–about forty minutes from here–and every year I want to make it back to participate but don’t quite manage it. Perhaps this year I’ll cozy in with this book, instead. 😉 Thanks for sharing, and happy holidays!


  5. I’m so jealous of your art vocabulary. When I review picture books I never know how to describe what the picture is created from or with. Best I can do is ‘watercolor’ and … well, that’s about it. But now I learned a new art word – gouache (I looked it up just to see what it was.) I’m getting frustrated enough on my art knowledge to where I’m thinking of watching some youtube picture book art 101 videos.

    I’m not familiar with this book or poem and love how this review and MMGM in general exposes me to new thoughts and ideas. In the synopsis, it is mentioned how it is written for a theatrical production – was that just the poem outside of the story? Or, was it part of the book too?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I will give you a secret, I look up the artists and find out what medium they may be using. And, sometimes it is printed in the front of the book. These illustrations are worth spending time with, as they add a lot to Cooper’s beautiful poem. And, yes, the poem is the entire book — it’s also printed out in its entirety at the end.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. What a gorgeous book (and poem, and illustrations)! Forget about getting it for my grandkids. I think I need this for ME. Living in CA for many years, I find the dark wintry time difficult now in NE. This book makes the solstice a beautiful time full of hope.


  7. My five year old nephew once told me he didn’t want a shorter day, that every day was supposed to be 24 hours. When I set him straight he smiled and said “That’s much better.” I’ll have to get him this book. The pictures alone would be worth the purchase. Thanks for featuring a book with a timely message. Happy solstice!


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