December 21 – The Winter Solstice

solsticebookThe Shortest Day – Celebrating the Winter Solstice by Wendy Pfeffer, illustrated by Jesse Reisch

Why does it get dark earlier at night in Winter than in Summer?  What is Solstice?  Pfeffer addresses these questions and others in this colorful book about the Winter Solstice.

In the Northern Hemisphere, near December 21, the sun reaches its lowest point on the horizon – making that day the shortest day of the year, or the day with the least amount of daylight.

This day is called the Winter Solstice.  It marks the beginning of Winter.  Humans have recognized this time of the year for thousands of years.  Long, long ago people didn’t know about the Earth’s rotation, tilting, and orbit.  They just knew that they had less and less daylight.  Some thought evil spirits caused the sun to go away, and held ceremonies asking their gods to bring back the sun.  Later people discovered patterns in shadows, or in the sun’s position on the horizon.  They celebrated the shortest day of the year because it meant the days of more light were returning.

Today people still celebrate at the beginning of winter by decorating their houses, lighting the darkness, gathering together, and exchanging gifts.


They no longer worry that the sun will disappear forever.  People know that days get colder when their part of the earth tilts away from the sun.


For more than 5,000 years, people have welcomed the Winter Solstice because it’s a new beginning.


Pfeffer’s text takes readers on a journey from early peoples fearing that the sun will disappear forever, through history to the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Romans, through England and Ireland of 1,000 years ago, to more recent times – with Sweden’s St. Lucia’s Day.

The book includes several pages with Solstice facts, information about the Earth’s tilting as it orbits the sun (including Summer Solstice, Winter Solstice, Spring Equinox, and Autumn Equinox).  Activities include charting sunrise and sunset, measuring shadows, noting the position of the sun over the year, and a way to demonstrate the tilt of the Earth making seasons.

This is an excellent book for children in preschool through grade school — with interesting illustrations, and factual information.

Happy Winter Solstice, everyone!

(I first published a review of this book in December 2012)

Snowflake Bentley

Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Mary Azarian

Snowflake-BentleyNo two snowflakes are exactly alike.  We’ve all heard that.  But, how do we know?

We know this about snowflakes because of the curiosity, patience, and work of Wilson Bentley – a man who loved snow.  Bentley was born on a farm in Vermont in 1865.

This picture book details Bentley’s life – showing him as a curious boy who loved the natural world, a teen who drew snow crystals he saw through a microscope, and a man who photographed snowflakes.

Bentley made careful records of his studies, and determined how snowflakes are formed.

“Many things affect the way these crystal branches grow.  A little more cold, a little bit less wind, or a bit more moisture will mean different-shaped branches.  Willie [Bentley] said that was why, in all his pictures, he never found two snowflakes alike.”

snowflake-bentley-insideBentley sold copies of his snowflake prints for a few cents each, or gave them away as gifts.  Colleges and universities bought slide copies of his photographs.  Bentley held evening slide shows at friends’ homes.

Bentley published his pictures and wrote about snow in magazines.  He gave speeches to scholars.

“The little farmer came to be known as the world’s expert on snow, ‘the Snowflake Man.’  But he never grew rich.  He spent every penny on his pictures.”

Other scientists helped raise money so Bentley could publish his best photographs in a book.  It was published when he was 60 years old.

Azarian’s woodcuts illustrate the text.  Several sidebars give additional information.  This book received the Caldecott Medal.  This was a favorite winter book in my house – of course, we live in Vermont and love playing in the snow.

snowflakes-in-photographssnowflake-photosYou also might be interested in Snowflakes in Photographs by W. A. Bentley, a selection of 72 of Bentley’s snowflake photos.


Snow by Uri Shulevitz

snow-bookA snowflake falls onto a gray city.

“It’s snowing,” said boy with dog.

“It’s only a snowflake,” said grandfather with beard.

The boy and his dog are excited and go out to see the snow.  Other voices – a man, a woman, the radio, the TV – say no snow.  The boy with the dog knows it it snowing.

But snowflakes don’t listen to radio, snowflakes don’t watch television.  All snowflakes know is snow, snow, snow.

People go inside as the snow falls.  The boy and his dog play in the snow – joined by some storybook characters from a bookstore.  The snow continues until the city (once gray) is covered in white.

Snow is a Caldecott Honor Book.  This is a good picture book to share on a snowy day (or on a day you are hoping for snow).