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THE SHORTEST DAY by Wendy Pfeffer


Celebrating the Winter Solstice

by Wendy Pfeffer & illustrated by Jesse Reisch

Age Range: 7 - 9

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-525-46968-0
Publisher: Dutton

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)