THE SHORTEST DAY by Susan Cooper, illustrated by Carson Ellis: My Favorite Solstice Picture Book

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper, illustrated by Carson Ellis

At my house, the winter holiday we celebrate is Winter Solstice. In our (humble) opinion, because it is a holiday based in nature, it is in a sense the “mother” of all the other winter holidays, so in a way, it honors them all.  Over the years, I have eagerly delved into each new promising picture book on the Winter Solstice.  There are some lovely ones, but none has really captured the essence of the wonder, the tradition, and the history of this special day.  That is, until I read Susan Cooper’s new (2019) picture book, illustrated by master artist, and Caldecott Honor winner, Carson Ellis.  Susan Cooper, of course, is no stranger to important awards as a Newbury Medal winner for The Grey King, one of the books in her fantasy series The Dark is Rising.  So their new collaboration sounded promising to me indeed.  And:  Great news!  It’s the perfect book for the Yuletide season celebration, and my new favorite winter holiday picture book.

So, what do I love about it?  The lyrical writing, first of all.  It reads like a poem.  And no wonder:  it is a poem, one that Susan Cooper wrote forty years ago for a theatre production, one that has been performed annually for the Christmas Revels.  Cooper describes the Revels in this way:  “[A] joyful celebration of  the winter solstice in music, dance, and words. . .Every year, on Revel stages in nine cities across America, an actor steps forward and begins quietly:  ‘So the shortest day came. . .'”

And the illustrations are magical, with their play of light and dark and emphasis on honoring our ancestors’ worlds, as well as our own contemporary families.  I love the way the images perfectly match the poem’s words emphasizing our human traditions and links to the natural world.

I only received the book yesterday, so I am a bit late to recommend it for this year’s Solstice, but check it out and see if it resonates for you as it did for me.  If so, you’ll want at least one copy on hand for next year’s Winter Solstice.  Happy reading!

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