Prather’s Pick: ‘The Shortest Day’ teaches children the science and history behind the winter solstice
The shortest day of the year is almost here, so this week’s column features a nonfiction science book about the winter solstice. This picture book for children explains what the winter solstice is, how cultures of long ago viewed the solstice and solstice facts. Especially impressive are the included activities for the shortest day of the year.
“The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice” was written by Wendy Pfeffer, author of many science books for children. The gorgeous illustrations were created by Jesse Reisch, and the book is published by Dutton Children’s Books (2003).
The first few pages of the book remind readers of the late autumn and winter weather changes in the north and how the animals deal with the changes.
“As the sun gets lower and lower, the north gets less and less sunlight. The air grows colder,” the book explains.
Beautiful illustrations of a fox, a squirrel, a white-tailed deer and chickadees depict animals adapting to live in the cold. Children bundle up, and when they walk home, their long shadows follow them.
Readers learn that Dec. 21 has 24 hours, like any other day, but since it has the fewest hours of sunlight, it is called the shortest day, the winter solstice. Readers discover the scientific reason behind this.
The book also explains how early man saw the days with less sunlight; they thought evil spirits made the sun go away. Then, astronomers began studying the sky. Readers will learn how different cultures have celebrated the winter solstice.
The book also includes two pages of solstice facts and accompanying illustrations. And, best of all, the book ends with some activities children can try on the shortest day. For example, they can make a winter sunrise/sunset chart. Children make copies of the book’s chart on which they keep track of dates, sunrise and sunset times, then color in the hours between sunrise and sunset. When the charts are taped together, an interesting shape appears. Intriguing.
Children can also measure shadows on the shortest day, and, using an orange ball and a small lamp without the shade, children will better understand how the tilt of the earth makes the seasons. To celebrate the winter solstice, children can decorate cupcakes and hold a party — and that’s not all, they can treat the birds to a party, too. This is a great book!
Parents and teachers will enjoy using this book to teach children. You still have time to find it at the Craig branch of the Moffat County Library before the shortest day. The book can also be purchased in hardcover for $16.99, or perhaps, in softcover.
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