cover image The Shortest Day

The Shortest Day

Susan Cooper, illus. by Carson Ellis. Candlewick, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-7636-8698-7

Newbery Medalist Cooper and Caldecott Honoree Ellis observe winter solstice, which Northern Europeans once celebrated, by “singing, dancing,/ To drive the dark away” as one year ended and another began. In Ellis’s subtle, mythical paintings, the sun—a large gray figure with a radiant head—slips away over a landscape first bright and brown, then deep with snow. Lacy tree branches darken, and candles appear on windowsills: “So the shortest day came,/ and the year died.” Out of doors, a father and child light candles on a tree, and their community joins hands in dance, burning “beseeching fires all night long/ To keep the year alive” until “the new year’s sunshine blazed awake.” As time speeds forward, three figures skip toward a modern house. Inside, children dance and sing—both Christmas tree and menorah are present—then tumble outside, a diverse, bundled-up crowd. “Welcome Yule!” they cry. Based on Cooper’s poem by the same name, originally written for a theatrical performance, this cyclical volume offers an alluringly haunting alternative to more familiar seasonal fare—one that is sure to serve as “lights of hope” on a dark season’s stage. Ages 4–8. [em](Oct.) [/em]