Bibliographic Information: Pfeffer, W. (2003). The shortest day: Celebrating the winter solstice. New York: Dutton Children’s Books.
Brief Annotation: A scientific explanation of the winter solstice, followed by descriptions of ways the solstice has been celebrated throughout history.
Grade Level: 1-4
Readers who will like this: Children who are interested in science (particularly seasons and/or astronomy); children who enjoy learning about different cultures’ celebrations.
Rating/Response: 3; This book had aspects that were excellent and aspects that were less comfortable. The scientific reasons behind days growing shorter and longer are accurate and are written in easy to understand language. The history of solstice observation and celebrations will be interesting to children as they learn about early scientific practices, religious practices from ancient Egypt, Rome, China, and Inca, and will recognize some traditions that are still in practice today. The back of the book provides a variety of activities that can be done with younger elementary school children to help them understand the scientific principles that the book details. However, all of the modern children are white (as if only white people live in snowy places), and current religions’ light celebrations that happen on and around the winter solstice are not mentioned (although there are Christmas decorations in the background of one illustration). This book would have been better if it had either entirely avoided discussion of religion or been inclusive and open about current religious practices.
One question you would ask before a read aloud: Has anyone noticed that the days are looking darker and the nights are looking longer? What do you think makes that happen?
Reading Strategy: K-W-L Charts (Yopp & Yopp, p. 36)
K-W-L Charts are a tool to help children define what they already Know, what they Want to know, and what they Learned. Individually, in pairs, or in small groups, students brainstorm what they already know about a subject the teacher has brought up, along with what they want to know. After the read aloud, lecture, or research session is completed, students record on the chart what they have learned about the topic. K-W-L Charts are particularly helpful with informational texts. The Shortest Day would be an excellent text with which to introduce K-W-L charts, as most students will have some prior knowledge of celebrations that take place on or around the winter solstice.