The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice

Overview

The beginning of winter is marked by the solstice, the shortest day of the year. Long ago, people grew afraid when each day had fewer hours of sunshine than the day before. Over time, they realized that one day each year the sun started moving toward them again. In lyrical prose and cozy illustrations, this book explains what the winter solstice is and how it has been observed by various cultures throughout history. Many contemporary holiday traditions were borrowed from ancient solstice celebrations. Simple ...

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Overview

The beginning of winter is marked by the solstice, the shortest day of the year. Long ago, people grew afraid when each day had fewer hours of sunshine than the day before. Over time, they realized that one day each year the sun started moving toward them again. In lyrical prose and cozy illustrations, this book explains what the winter solstice is and how it has been observed by various cultures throughout history. Many contemporary holiday traditions were borrowed from ancient solstice celebrations. Simple science activities, ideas for celebrating the day in school and at home, and a further-reading list are included.

Illustrated by Jesse Reisch.

Describes how and why daylight grows shorter as winter approaches, the effect of shorter days on animals and people, and how the winter solstice has been celebrated throughout history. Includes activities.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
In a well-thought-out collection of ideas surrounding December 21 and the Winter Solstice, the author leads readers through what happens to the sun and why. Text then moves back in history to celebrations, measurements to assure onlookers that this happened predictably and that the sun would return just as predictably. She also mentions historical celebrants, such as the Druids and Incas, along with modern solstice celebrations, such as St. Lucia's Day in Sweden, and the holiday when people exchange gifts and hang stockings (but not named here). Back pages include an interesting and useful variety of ideas, from more facts about the solstice with explanatory diagrams, four projects that teachers, parents, and adults who work with children would find fresh, and two "cooking" activities, one for a human party and one for an avian one. Further reading and two websites are also included. It would take someone a while to work through the content in this easy-to-read book just because there is so much information and the some of the activities are done over time-right for studying the sun and the earth's motion over time. Reisch's richly colored pencil and pastel artwork present a cozy view of interiors and a warmth to the frozen outdoor scenes that give the content a kindly look. 2003, Dutton, Ages 6 to 10.
— Susan Hepler, Ph.D.
School Library Journal
K-Gr 4-Using clear, concise language, Pfeffer discusses important ideas behind the shortest day of the year, such as the change from autumn to winter as well as the concept of the Earth's tilting away from the sun. The historical view provides a brief look at the days of prehistoric sun worship as well as chronological interpretations of the phenomenon from 5000 to 1000 years ago. Thus, young listeners are exposed to the ideas of ancient Egyptian, Chinese, Incan, and European astronomers and their efforts to explain this scientific wonder. The modern scene of the solstice celebration, though obviously at Christmas, features family, presents, and stockings on the mantle but has no religious overtones. The remaining pages feature more complete "Solstice Facts," four simple experiments, two party suggestions, and a short but up-to-date list for further reading. While appealing to a younger audience, this treatment combines the cultural approach of Ellen Jackson's The Winter Solstice (Millbrook, 1994) and the activities of Sandra Markle's Exploring Winter (Atheneum, 1984; o.p.). Pfeffer uses an easy, comfortable tone for conveying the basic information, and the end pages will provide additional opportunities for would-be astronomers to explore the principles on their own. Reisch's realistic craypas illustrations provide serviceable interpretations of the author's ideas. Pair this title with John and Nancy Langstaff's The Christmas Revels Songbook (Godine, 1985; o.p.) for an informed celebration of the winter solstice.-Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, LaSalle Academy, Providence, RI Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Generic ancient and modern figures in the illustrations accurately reflect the superficiality of this bland account of the winter solstice’s natural signs and traditional commemorations. Struggling to confine her discussion to the northern hemisphere alone, Pfeffer uses charts and a demonstration to show how the Earth’s orbit creates seasons, shows astronomers in ancient China and (apparently) Egypt measuring the sun’s movements, describes fire ceremonies of the Incas and an unspecified, fur-clad people, then mentions old customs that have come down to modern times, such as the hanging of evergreen wreaths, and the decoration of trees. Author and illustrator make only vague references to pagan symbolism, and avoid direct references to nonpagan religious symbols altogether--until the page devoted to St. Lucia’s day in Sweden, billed as the origin of the season’s custom of giving gifts. Closing with a handful of poorly designed activities ("Around March 21, June 21, and September 21, repeat steps 1 to 5"), and a skimpy resource list, this well-meaning effort is likely to leave readers more confused than enlightened. (Web sites) (Picture book/nonfiction. 7-9)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780525469681
  • Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
  • Publication date: 9/22/2003
  • Pages: 40
  • Sales rank: 522,925
  • Age range: 6 - 9 Years
  • Product dimensions: 9.50 (w) x 10.36 (h) x 0.45 (d)

Meet the Author

Wendy Pfeffer is the author of many science-oriented children's books, including From Tadpole to Frog and A Log's Life, which won the Giverny Award for Best Children's Science Picture Book.

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