The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice

by Wendy Pfeffer

Other authorsJesse Reisch (Illustrator)
Paperback, 2003



Local notes

394.2 Pfe




Puffin Books (2014), Edition: Reprint, 40 pages


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.


Orbis Pictus Award (Recommended Title — 2004)


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

40 p.; 9 inches

User reviews

LibraryThing member lauraejensen
This is a fantastic book, combining lyrical prose and warm illustrations with science and history. Provides brief information, and is full of useful activities and experiments. Useful as part of an anti-bias curriculum, a comparison unit to Summer Solstice, an exploration into hibernation, nature
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walks and more.
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LibraryThing member elmartin
The Shortest Day explains the history of the winter solistice as well as the traditions related to this change around the world. People were once afraid of the decreasing daylight, but soon began to celebrate the changing of seasons. The activities at the end of the book are a further extention of
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the wonderful story.
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LibraryThing member Kcarline143
A book that shows Dec 21st is the shortest day of the year.
LibraryThing member gallenor
A beautifully illustrated picture book explaining the reasons for the Winter solstice. I appreciated the different explanations from different cultures around the world and especially the classroom or home activities that children can participate in.
LibraryThing member MalissaLojszczyk
This book describes the winter solstice. It tells how people from different eras and different cultures interpreted, tracked and celebrated the soltices. The book includes activities that readers can do to learn more about the soltices and additional resources such as other books and websites.
LibraryThing member christiq
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, are included in
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this book.
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LibraryThing member jbaile14
Summary: This book described different aspects of the winter solstice. It had information on how the sun would rise later and later, making the days shorter and shorter and eventually colder and colder. It claimed that the suns lowest point is on December 21st which is the shortest day because it
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has the fewest hours of daylight. December 21st is the winter solstice or the first day of winter. This book then described how different cultures reacted due to changes in the day. Pfeffer claimed that astronomers had workers build a building so the suns rays would shine through a key opening on the shortest day, so people would know when it was over. Next, it described how China measured days by shadows and the Romans celebrated the shorter days with plants that symbolized life because they survived the winter. In England and Ireland they decorated trees with candles and apples to celebrate life and harvest. In Sweden there was a festival of lights and in Peru the Incas had a festival to honor the sun. Lastly, the book described that today people hold celebrations with family and friends during this time.

Review:I believe this book had a lot of good facts in it. The main message of this book was to inform readers about the winter solstice. Overall, I learned new material that I never knew about the solstice and it was provided in a story type of writing. I really liked how the author incorporated different cultures into the story to show how they celebrated this time of the year. It was interesting to hear facts about some of the traditions and where they came from. I also really liked how there was more facts about the winter solstice and why it happened in the back of the book. There was also different projects that could be completed by children for the winter solstice. Overall, I though this book was very informative and it explained the concept of the winter solstice as well; it told the readers why it happened and it explained the various positions of the sun during this time period. The visuals were helpful because it showed the different sun and earth positions during this time. For example, on the solstice facts page it shows a diagram of how the earth is positioned based on different times of the year.
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LibraryThing member ycinto1
This book is an informational book about the shortest day of the year. It explains what this means in terms of daylight to night time hours. I then goes into recounting different ways people around the world and throughout history have measured and figured out when the shortest day of the
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year was. Then the book explains some traditions that were born form this day. For example it tells about how the Romans used to hang every greens in their houses and how Some ancient cultures used to host festivals for the gods in order for the sun to come back because they did not understand why they days were getting shorter. It ends by stating that people celebrate the shortest day because it means that the days will be getting longer from that point on.


I really liked this book. I liked the variety of stories, kinds of people, and cultures it included. It went from Chinese to Romans to Incas to modern day people. The book did a good job explaining why the days got shorter in a manner simple enough to be comprehended by children. I learned a lot about the subject so I like that it was very informational. Many children's books simplify the content so much there isn't really much substance in the book, but this wasn't the case with this book even as an adult you learn by reading. Something else i really liked about this book was the fact filled pages in the back and the activities it included. Children would have lots fun doing some of those activities. The only thing i could criticize about this book is that there are some very big words that the author doesn't bother to explain. Children might be confused by that.
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LibraryThing member srogel1
I really liked this book because although it is informational and includes a lot of facts about the winter solstice, it keeps the reader engaged by including different celebrations from different cultures. If this was being read to an elementary level class, the students listening would be able to
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make personal connections based on the cultures present in the book as well as in the class. For example, the text reads "Today people will celebrate at the beginning of winter by decorating their houses, lighting the darkness, gathering together, and exchanging gifts". This particular part of the text comes later in the book in order to make a more recent connection for the students to relate to. Another reason that I enjoyed reading this book was because of the illustrations. Although they may seem plain, the colors and details on certain areas of the pictures such as the items or people catches the viewers attention and allows them to see the significant illustration to the corresponding text/information.
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LibraryThing member AbigailAdams26
One of four picture-books that Wendy Pfeffer has penned, exploring the major dates of the solar calendar - the Winter Solstice (here), the Spring Equinox (A New Beginning), the Summer Solstice (The Longest Day), and the Autumn Equinox (We Gather Together) - The Shortest Day first addresses itself
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to the question of what the solstice is, astronomically speaking, before discussing some of the cultural observations and customs, from around the world, that accompany it. The simple text touches upon the coming of winter, and how this is connected to the earth's tilted axis, as it orbits the sun, before moving on to the perception of this time of year, and its celebration, in ancient China, classical Rome, and medieval Europe. The Swedish St. Lucia's Day is mentioned, as is the Incan festival to honor the sun.

I found The Shortest Day to be a rather frustrating book, in some ways, and only awarded it three stars because there are so few children's titles devoted to the Winter Solstice, making it, despite its flaws, an important resource. I know that it is intended for younger children, but the text felt a little too simplistic to me, particularly as it concerned the cultural celebrations connected to this time of year. Why is St. Lucia's Day named, when the Incan festival (Inti Raymi, I assume) is not? Could it be because Inti Raymi occurs in June, and this would point to the inverse nature of the solstices, in the southern hemisphere? No mention was made, to my great disappointment, of some of the astonishing neolithic tombs - chief amongst them, Newgrange, in Ireland's Co. Meath - that were built around the Winter Solstice, and seem to indicate religious ideas connected to this point in the calendar. The passage on the Druids of England and Ireland, while not necessarily untrue, felt rather confused/confusing to me. One thousand years ago, Christianity was well on its way to being firmly established in both countries, and while scholars continue to debate issues of pagan cultural survival, Pfeffer's brief comment about what Druids were doing "1000 years ago" could create a very misleading impression in young readers' minds.

It's been a while since I've read Pfeffer's other seasonal titles, but I don't recall having the same objections to either of her equinox books (I've yet to read her Summer Solstice one). I'd still recommend The Shortest Day, because despite its flaws - which are owing more to inadequate, rather than incorrect information - it is one of only a few children's books devoted to the Winter Solstice, and includes a number of activities that look both fun and informative, but only with the caveat that educators and parents might want to do a little research, and have a more complete understanding of some of the information presented here.
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LibraryThing member gakers16
This book, The Shortest Day by Wendy Pfeffer, is an informational text about the winter solstice. The book defines what the solstice is and explains the science behind it. Then, the book explains how different cultures throughout time have approached the solstice, investigated the meaning behind
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it, and celebrated it.
I really like this book because it integrates history and science so well.
I would use this book in winter to teach my students about the winter solstice and integrate how other cultures celebrated this day in the past and how they celebrate it now.
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½ (38 ratings; 3.9)
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