Holiday Spotlight: The Shortest Day & Little Christmas Tree

Two beautiful and perfect-for-winter children’s titles on review today, courtesy of friends at Penguin Random House Canada. Just in time for the winter solstice, I will be talking about Susan Cooper and Carson Ellis’s The Shortest Day, and turning to holiday board books, I will be looking at Little Christmas Tree by Jessica Courtney-Tickle. Happy reading!

So the shortest day came,
and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries
of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.

You may recognize Newbery Medalist Susan Cooper as the author behind classics such as The Dark Is Rising series, and popular fairy tale retellings such as Selkie Girl and Tam Lim. With The Shortest Day, Cooper’s lauded poem about the winter solstice is paired with the idiosyncratic illustrative style of acclaimed Du Iz Tak? artist Carson Ellis. Before Cooper’s poem begins, readers are treated to a few of Ellis’s mood-setting and atmospheric wordless spreads; gorgeous, thoughtful illustrations that highlight the slowly fading sun on the horizon of times before. The Shortest Day tells readers of the “centuries” traditions and practices that humankind took upon themselves “to keep the year alive” when the dark took over: of burning “beseeching fires”, of lighting “candles in the winter trees”, of hanging “homes with evergreen”. A gently swirling traipse through ages, The Shortest Day finds itself, by the book’s end, in what readers come to recognize as present-day. Cooper’s poem asks to readers to listen to the echoes of sounds “through all the frosty ages”- for us to carry on the traditions of giving thanks, spending time with loved ones, feasting and caroling. Carson Ellis’s artwork here is wonderfully inky and aflame all at the same time; simple yet theatrically rich with ambience (the beastly darkness! the stages of the sun setting! the emotional zeal on the people’s faces!). Ellis’s illustrations captures the fervent wish that springs from light, sound, dance, and togetherness- things we hope can battle away the darkest of dark. The Shortest Day has been released to multiple starred reviews, and it is a jewel of a read that just gets better (and perhaps even more potent?) with each and every reading. Note: There is a note from Susan Cooper at the book’s end, that adds fascinating and thoughtful background to the poem and elevates the poem’s meaning even further. The poem is also available, in full, at the back, with another fantastic enigmatic illustration from Carson Ellis!


Snow has fallen everywhere
and turned the green woods white.
A little Christmas tree wakes up
and sparkles in the light.

A lift-the-flap board book from author and illustrator Jessica Courtney-Tickle, Little Christmas Tree is a pure delight of an interactive winter and Christmas-themed board book. With a beautifully full, speckled-with-metallic-silver tree that serves as the center of the rhyming story, Little Christmas Tree is quietly sweet and eye-catching book with the added element of (very well-designed!) lift-the-flaps. Pretty seamlessly spread within each spread of the board book, there are flaps that lift to reveal parts of the natural world (e.g. frog, ivy, mistletoe, parakeet, goldfinch). The simplicity of the lift-the-flaps works very well in that they do not compete or pull focus from the scenery and the text. You could, in fact, happily read through just the lyrical story of Little Christmas Tree, and then make a return to play with the life-the-flaps, or combine the two! There are a few options here, making it a fun experience for both the reader(s) and listener(s). The digitally-created art is so appealing here; lush wintry colours (and the metallic raised specks) combine with warm colours of foxes, squirrels, berries and mistletoes to make a lovely contrast. Overall, Jessica Courtney-Tickle (whose other beautiful and bright books I must now must track down!) offers readers a cozy, let’s-snuggle-together-and-read kind of board book. Little Christmas Tree is an elegantly presented and well-written rhyming board book that offers a terrific interactive element, making it enticing for multiple readings and multiple ages.

I received copies of these titles courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada/Candlewick/Big Picture Books in exchange for honest reviews. All opinions and comments are my own.

Author: michelle@fabbookreviews

Reference & Children's Librarian. Reader. Reviewer.

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