The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper

The Shortest Day of the Year

Susan Cooper, Author

Carson Ellis, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Poetry, Oct. 22, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 4 and up

Themes: Winter Solstice, Shortest Day, Seasonal Light, Legends, Holiday, Celebrations

Opening: “So the shortest day came, / and the year died…”

Publisher Synopsis:

As the sun set on the shortest day of the year, early people would gather to prepare for the long night ahead. They built fires and lit candles. They played music, bringing their own light to the darkness, while wondering if the sun would ever rise again.

Written for a theatrical production that has become a ritual in itself, Susan Cooper’s poem “The Shortest Day” captures the magic behind the returning of the light, the yearning for traditions that connect us with generations that have gone before — and the hope for peace that we carry into the future.

Richly illustrated by Carson Ellis with a universality that spans the centuries, this beautiful book evokes the joy and community found in the ongoing mystery of life when we celebrate light, thankfulness, and festivity at a time of rebirth. Welcome Yule!

In this seasonal treasure, Newbery Medalist Susan Cooper’s beloved poem heralds the winter solstice, illuminated by Caldecott Honoree Carson Ellis’s strikingly resonant illustrations.
Why I like this book:
This breathtaking and contemplative book begins in silence with Ellis’s gorgeous gouache illustrations imagining how early humans began preparing for the longer nights. There is a pause. On page 5, Cooper’s poem begins, “So the shortest day came…” and draws readers into the seasonal cycles of light and the continuity of life, culminating in the joy of the Yule.
Cooper’s poetic book is for everyone (young and old) and is a non-Christian view of the joyful arrival of the winter solstice worldwide. People of all cultures will  celebrate with song, dance, lights, decorations, and feasts with families and friends. And they will hold a hope for peace in their hearts.
Resource:  Make sure you read the author’s information about the deeper meaning of winter solstice at the end of the story.
The Winter Solstice is Saturday, December 21. You may be interested in participating in the the Global Silent Minute for peace and unity. The time on the East Coast of the US is 4 p.m., 1 p.m. on the West Coast. You can got to the Unity of Silence website to learn more. You don’t need to join anything to participate.
Susan Cooper wrote The Shortest Day for John Langstaff’s Christmas Revels, where it is performed annually accross the country. She is the author of the classic fantasy sequence The Dark Is Rising (which includes the Newbery Medal winner The Grey King) and many other books for children and adults.
Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.
*Review copy provided by the publisher.

The Broken Ornament by Tony Diterlizzi

The Broken Ornament

Tony Diterlizzi, Author and Illustrator

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Sep. 18, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Christmas tree, Ornaments, Family relationships, Fairy, Fantasy, Magic

Opening: Jack wanted this to be the best Christmas ever! “I want more decorations,” he said. “That way Santa will see our house first.”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Jack wants this to be the best Christmas ever, and he knows just how to make it happen.

More! More lights, more presents, more cookies, more treats. More. More. More! So, when Jack breaks a dusty old ornament, he’s not sure why his mom is so upset. They can always get more ornaments, so what’s the big deal? Turns out the ornament was an heirloom, precious for more reasons than one. And Jack has a lot to learn about the true meaning of Christmas.

A fairy emerges from the shattered ornament. She has the power to make the most magical Christmasy things happen. Suddenly trees are sprouting, reindeer are flying, and snowmen are snowball fighting. All of it is so perfect, or it would be if she could fix Mom’s ornament. But she can’t.

So it’s up to Jack to make some Christmas magic of his own.

Why I like this book:

There is so much heart, imagination, charm, humor and love in Tony Diterlizzi’s Christmas story. Kids make mistakes and want to make things right.  When Jack accidentally breaks his mother’s ornament,  he finds a heartfelt way to put a smile back on his mother’s face.  The message is simple and endearing – that making someone else happy is the best gift of all.

Diterlizzi’s colorful and playful illustrations are dazzling and fill this holiday story with magic and cheer. With the help of a fairy, the front door opens and elves, snowmen, nutcrackers, and reindeer leap across the pages and transform Jack’s house into a winter wonderland. Children will have a grand time studying each page to make sure they don’t miss any of the action. This book is a winner!

Resources: Visit the Tony Diterlizzi’s website where children will find holiday decorations, activities, a maze, and ornaments.

Tony Diterlizzi is a New York Times bestselling author and illustrator who has created books with Simon & Schuster for over 20 years. His pictures books include Jimmy Zangwow’s Out-of-The-World Moon-Pie Adventure and The Spider and the Fly. His middle grade novels include Kenny & the Dragon and the WondLa trilogy,

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Purchased copy.

The Queen and the First Christmas Tree by Nancy Churnin

 

The Queen and the First Christmas Tree: Queen Charlotte’s Gift to England

Nancy Churnin, Author

Luisa Uribe, Illustrator

Albert Whitman & Company, Nonfiction, Oct. 1, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-7

Themes: Christmas Tree, England, Queen Charlotte, History, Tradition

Opening: “Charlotte wasn’t like other princesses.”

Synopsis:

When Princess Charlotte left her home in Germany to marry King George III of England in 1761, she brought her family’s favorite Christmas tradition with her — decorating a yew bough with flowers and ribbons.

Years later, Charlotte became a queen devoted to charity and bettering the lives of families. She planned a Christmas Day celebration for more than one hundred children, rich and poor to mark the turn of the century. But she needed more than a yew branch to make the day special. She needed a tree decked with candles and paper baskets of treats. Though such a thing had never been seen before in England, Charlotte and her descendants would make the Christmas tree a cherished part of the holiday season.

Charlotte loved helping children so much she went on to build orphanages with cozy beds and loving caregivers. She also built hospitals for expectant mothers so more women would survive to care for their children. She had a love nature and spent long hours in the gardens of Windsor Castle.

What I like about this book:

The holidays are special time for gathering and sharing. This charming story will introduce children to the history of a cherished tradition — the Christmas tree — brought to England by a German princess.  Nancy Churnin’s richly textured story is light-hearted and will remind children and parents of the magic and wonder of decorating the family tree. Luisa Uribe’s illustrations are lively and joyful, but capture the simplicity of the early 1800s.

Queen Charlotte loved her own 15 children, but had a big heart for all children. She planned a party for 100 children to celebrate the new century in 1800. The children at court helped her cut string, and wrap nuts, fruit and toys in colored papers and hung them on a tree.  They added small wax  candles to light the tree. Charlotte was a queen focused on serving.

Resources: Make sure you read the two-page spread about Queen Charlotte at the end of the book and how this tradition continued with her children, including Queen Victoria. And check out Nancy Churnin’s website for a Teacher’s Guide and activities for children to share about what they do for others.  And talk about how early Christmas trees were decorated and how they are decorated today.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Review copy provided by publisher.

The Night Before the Fourth of July by Natasha Wing

The Night Before the Fourth of July

Natasha Wing, Author

Amy Wummer, Illustrator

Grosset & Dunlap, Fiction, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 3-5

Themes: Independence Day, Celebration, Fireworks, Family

Synopsis: It’s the night before the Fourth of July and all across the United States people are getting ready for hot dogs and fireworks. Decked in red, white, and blue, a family heads to a parade, hosts a backyard BBQ with friends and family, dodges an afternoon thundershower, and of course, watches a fireworks show. The Night Before the Fourth of July captures all the fun, excitement, and pride of the best summer holiday!

Natasha Wing brings all the excitement and fun to life in the pages of this celebration of our nation’s history. The rhyming is fun and playful.  Amy Wummer’s illustrations are lively and colorful. This is the perfect book to introduce young children ages 3-5, to our joyful American birthday party, emphasizing family, diversity and tradition. This is the 20th book in “The Night Before…” series. Collect them all!

Resources: What are you going to do on the Fourth of July? Will you dress-up, attend a parade, go to a family picnic, and watch fireworks? Will you wave a flag? Adults will find the book will bring back a flood of  childhood memories they can share with their children.

Natasha Wing is the author of When Jackie Saved Grand Central: The True Story of Jacqueline Kennedy’s Fight for an American Icon, 2017. She has written nearly 25 books in her “The Night Before…” series which deal with Easter, Christmas, Father’s Day, Preschool, Summer Camp, Kindergarten and many more delightful holidays and celebrations. She was born in Connecticut and now lives in Fort Collins, Colorado. After graduating from Arizona State University, she worked in advertising. It wasn’t until 1991 that she decided to write children’s books. Luckily she sold her first book within six months and has been writing children’s books and articles ever since.  Visit Natasha at her website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

Pick a Pine Tree by Patricia Toht

Pick a Pine Tree

Patricia Toht, Author

Jarvis, Illustrator

Candlewick, Fiction, Sep. 19, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes: Choosing  a Christmas tree, Nature, Decorating, Family traditions, Holidays

Opening: “Pick a pine tree from the lot — slim and tall, or short and squat. One with spiky needle clumps, scaly bark, or sappy bumps.”

Book Synopsis: One of the most beloved Christmas traditions begins each year with … picking out a pine tree! Then bringing out boxes stuffed with trimmings, string garlands from bough to bough, and finally turning on the twinkling lights. Once that’s all done it’s not just a pine tree anymore — it’s a Christmas tree!

Why I like this book:

Patricia Toht’s lyrical and rhyming text flows nicely and pairs beautifully with Jarvis’ joyful illustrations. It reminds children and parents of the magic and wonder of this time-honored family tradition. This story will become a favorite family read each year. It’s imaginative and will stir up so many memories.

I like that the family is interracial, with a white father and dark-skinned mother. Other characters helping in the festive activity represent different ethnicities.

Jarvis’ large, colorful digital illustration are done in pencil, chalk and paint. They are all double-page spreads that are filled with a lot of detail kids will enjoy exploring. The illustrations have a retro feel to them and illuminate the entire adventure. Once the tree is decorated, the page turn reveals the completed tree in all its splendor.

I would recommend giving this picture book to children before Christmas to give them ideas and increase their excitement. The book is filled with so much nostalgia, especially for parents who remember a time when we all had real trees.  This is also a great classroom book. Visit Patricia Toht at her website.

Resources: Every family has its own traditions for picking and decorating their Christmas tree. My favorite activity is to share a memory about many of the ornaments your family has collected over the years. The author also has some wonderful activities for decorating your Christmas tree on her website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.