In The Shortest Day, Newbery Medal winner Susan Cooper honors the history of midwinter "traditions that we still celebrate, whether or not we remember where they came from."
On the winter solstice, "everywhere down the centuries," a stooping sun makes its tired way across the bleak winter sky. People accomplish what they can during this shortest day of the year but, when night falls and the old year dies, these same people gather, "singing, dancing,/ to drive the dark away." Lit candles placed in trees and homes are adorned with bright green and red holly. "Beseeching fires" are tended "all night long" in rituals to try "to keep the year alive." And finally, when "the new year's sunshine blaze[s] awake," the revelers "carol, feast, give thanks,/ And dearly love their friends, and hope for peace."
In an author's note, Susan Cooper discusses how existence on planet Earth is cyclical, with lives being "governed by the patterns of light and darkness." Early peoples, she explains, developed "rebirth rituals" to feel that they had some measure of control in bringing back the sun. The Shortest Day began as a work for the theater--"a joyful celebration of the winter solstice, in music, dance, and words"--and is strongly influenced by northern European beliefs, though many faiths incorporate similar traditions. Here, Cooper's words are perfectly paired with Caldecott Honor artist Carson Ellis's ethereal gouache illustrations. Ellis's paintings masterfully juxtapose the physical world of Cooper's revelers with the spirits and beliefs they are celebrating. This gorgeous volume will remind readers they are a part of the vast history of the world. "Welcome Yule!" --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI